We may define “faith” as a firm belief in something for which there is no evidence. Where there is evidence, no one speaks of “faith.” We do not speak of faith that two and two are four or that the earth is round. We only speak of faith when we wish to substitute emotion for evidence.
[The above quote is the sort of thing Bertrand Russell wrote for popular consumption. It is very simplistic, but frequently found in the polemics of sceptics and atheists. In his serious writings he dropped the anti-religious fundamentalism and struggled to do intellectual justice to his subject. Here is one example passage from dozens that can be found in the books in which he is writing as much for himself as for the reader. In terms of the complexity and difficulty of his subject (involving fact, belief, evidence, knowledge and truth), his remarks here reveal just the tip of the iceberg.]
What character in addition to truth must a belief have in order to count as knowledge? The plain man would say there must be sound evidence to support the belief. As a matter of common sense this is right in most of the cases in which doubt arises in practice, but if intended as a complete account of the matter it is very inadequate. “Evidence” consists, on the one hand, of certain matters of fact that are accepted as indubitable, and, on the other hand, of certain principles by means of which inferences are drawn from the matters of fact. It is obvious that this process is unsatisfactory unless we know the matters of fact and the principles of inference not merely by means of evidence, for otherwise we become involved in a vicious circle or an endless regress. We must therefore concentrate our attention on the matters of fact and the principles of inference. We may then say that what is known consists, first, of certain matters of fact and certain principles of inference, neither of which stands in need of extraneous evidence, and secondly, of all that can be ascertained by applying the principles of inference to the matters of fact. Traditionally, the matters of fact are those given in perception and memory, while the principles of inference are those of deductive and inductive logic.
There are various unsatisfactory features in this traditional doctrine, though I am not at all sure that, in the end, we can substitute anything very much better. In the first place, the doctrine does not give an intensional definition of “knowledge,” or at any rate not a purely intensional definition; it is not clear what there is in common between facts of perception and principles of inference. In the second place, as we shall see in Part III, it is very difficult to say what are facts of perception. In the third place, deduction has turned out to be much less powerful than was formerly supposed; it does not give new knowledge, except as to new forms of words for stating truths in some sense already known. In the fourth place, the methods of inference that may be called in a broad sense “inductive” have never been satisfactorily formulated; when formulated, even if completely true, they only give probability to their conclusions; moreover, in any possibly accurate form, they lack self-evidence, and are only to be believed, if at all, because they seem indispensable in reaching conclusions that we all accept.
Bertrand Russell (from Human Knowledge: Its Scope and Limits, 1948)
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