There are basically two camps that have sadly become polarized as the "religious" and the "non-religious" (though I would argue that some of the so-called religious are not and equally vice versa). In essence, the first perspective values faith as a benefit to life and to knowledge while the second degrades it as a crutch for the weak and an opponent to "real," testable knowledge. The former maintains faith as necessary for enlightenment while the latter calls it blind, stupid and ignorant. So who's right? Much more importantly, what's true?
The second problem with giving science a place of ultimate authority in the seeking of all knowledge is that science is simply not equipped, nor even tasked with, answering some of life's deepest, most profound and most important questions. Honest scientists will be the first to admit this, and many of them do. While science certainly and tirelessly works toward an increased and deeper understanding of our world, the way it works, and the "laws" which cause it to work this way, science could never hope to even address such questions as "Why do we exist?" or "Is there a God?" These are fundamentally non-scientific questions since they cannot be resolved simply by looking at the physical world or universe. Those who claim that science can be tasked with answering questions such as these are actually working outside of the realm of science. Science can certainly contribute to the evidence for the answers to questions such as these, but it could never dream of actually answering them by itself, and never will it be able to. It is not simply a matter of what we will discover "one day." No matter what scientific discoveries happen in the future, they still could not authoritatively answer questions like "What is the purpose to life?" Theorize based on scientific evidence? Absolutely--there are arguments both for and against the existence of God, for example, on these bases. Answer with authority? Never.
The third problem with holding science in a place of ultimate authority is that science itself relies upon the principle of faith in its endeavours. I spoke with a university student recently who explained very precisely to me that science cannot actually prove something - it can only assert based on constancy that there is a very high probability that something is true. Another way to sum up this description is that based on the very high probability of something being true, one must have faith that it is, in fact, true. To put it in other words again, science actually relies upon the concept of faith to close the gap between consistently tested results and fact. This is the same concept which I believe illustrates why faith is not only valuable, but actually essential to each of our lives.
The misconception is as described above: that faith is blind, stupid and ignorant. This is not real faith. This is just gullibility and perhaps a remarkable amount of trust. The problem is that this trust can easily be misplaced. How does one determine what and who is actually trustworthy when one believes whatever one is taught? This is not faith, at least not in the scientific sense. Faith relies upon evidence. The fact that so many of us do place faith in experts of varying fields on so many subjects demonstrates that faith in someone can be positive if that person indeed is deserving of such faith. Many of us trust our parents or close friends or spouses or even certain scientists and authors. Why? Because we believe they have demonstrated that they are worthy of our trust; in other words, they are deserving of our faith in them. Faith is based upon evidence, and this is precisely the way the concept of faith should be used both in science and in spiritual belief.
The objection of the scientific atheist here is that science often tests visible results, and belief or faith in God is not testable or visible. The problem with this point is that it is completely and entirely subjective in nature. The atheist says this because they do not believe that the world itself and all that is in it, including ourselves, is sufficient evidence for belief in God. Their point is based on a personal interpretation of the evidence. However, the majority of people in existence and in history think that the physical world is sufficient evidence. The attitude of the person who says that someone believes in God naively on this basis of "creation" is one of arrogance and pride. The physical world around us can be interpreted in different ways and as evidence for different things. Arrogance, hostility and condescension are fundamentally unscientific ways of communicating one's interpretation of these things. This is why even many atheists are now appalled by Richard Dawkins' methods of communicating his thoughts and beliefs. Faith in God can very plausibly be based on an interpretation of the visible, testable physical evidence around us, even if that interpretation is different from yours. To say otherwise is to refuse to limit your biases, especially since science cannot even apply to answer the question of God's existence by itself any more than philosophy can explain how babies are born by itself.
In addition to physical evidence, and as we have already seen with our relationships with certain people, faith can be reliably supported by experience as well. People experienced the wind long before they could scientifically explain or understand it. Their experiences did not need to be validated by science in order for them to put faith in those experiences. Just as before, the scientific atheist objects, saying that a person's "supernatural experiences" can be explained away by psychology, cultural conditioning, and simple emotions. To be sure, experiences can be misunderstood or misinterpreted with limited understanding of them. This argument, however, is again purely subjective and speculative in nature. It may be true, but there is no reason why it must be other than the objector's unchecked biases against the existence of God. Unchecked bias has no place in science or philosophy.
Additionally, one can place their faith in historical evidence, which is of course scientific and testable to the extent the quality and quantity of the evidence warrants. Similar to other fields of science, historical theories can be established by the evidence we have, but require faith to carry them to the point of being called facts since we can never fully prove past events which are no longer within our grasp through direct experience. If one proclaims faith in Jesus' resurrection as a historical fact, for example, one has a surprising quality and quantity of evidence when compared to many other reported facts of history we place our faith in today. You may have a different assessment or interpretation of the relevant evidence, but there is no reason why someone may not disagree with your interpretation of these same facts.
As we have observed, the primary reason why so many people devalue the position of faith in our society is because of both a fundamental misunderstanding of what faith actually is and an unwillingness to limit one's biases concerning matters involving spiritual beliefs based on evidence. If somebody determines that in their assessment of the available evidence, the physical world around us, their personal experiences and the historical data all point in the same direction, this is a completely legitimate view and indeed strengthens their perspective considerably from a scientific perspective. This view certainly cannot be spoken of as a "crutch" or as only for the "weak." Yet, this is exactly how the concept of "faith in God" is commonly treated. It would appear that this kind of talk is actually only based on extreme, unchecked bias. You are not obligated to agree with one's particular interpretation of the facts, but you are obligated to acknowledge this as a legitimate and fairly held view if the facts are fairly accounted for. Your viewpoint relies just as much upon faith as anybody else's does, as noted above.
Faith is not an enemy of progress. In reality, progress is impossible without placing your faith in the "facts" you believe in. Historian C. Behan McCullagh puts it well, although referring specifically to the practice of history, when he says "It is a convention we all accept that sound inductive inferences regularly lead us to truths about the world, and it is a convention we take seriously, on faith." McCullagh rightly points out that even our belief that reason and investigation can lead us to truth is only secured by faith.
Perhaps surprisingly to some, the Bible puts it well also: "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1). The word 'assurance' in this passage literally means "substance." The phrase 'hoped' for literally means "expected." Finally, the word 'conviction' literally means "evidence." In other words, "faith is the substance of things expected, the evidence of things not seen." The Bible's view of faith is much more based on evidence than most people realize.
I have thus far explained that you cannot establish science as the only path to knowledge because it is constantly changing and in question, it is not equipped to answer all questions of the universe, and it uses faith itself to establish scientific "facts." I have also demonstrated that biases can prevent some scientific-minded people from accepting any supernatural beliefs about the world as legitimate interpretations of the evidence. Likewise, however, it is important to note that biases can also prevent some spiritually-minded people from accepting any scientific discoveries which contradict their worldviews. As usual, biases operate in both directions, and any spiritually-minded person who is unable to accept that science can actually help us to learn about the world we live in is equally guilty of allowing their biases to control their faith rather than placing their faith where the evidence leads.
Michael Guillen, former ABC News Science Editor and award-winning Harvard University physics instructor, posits in his book Can A Smart Person Believe in God? that there actually exists a "Spiritual Quotient" (SQ) in addition to the more commonly recognized Intellectual Quotient (IQ). He contends that the reason for the tension between science and spiritual belief has more to do with spiritually intelligent people failing to improve their IQ and scientifically intelligent people failing to improve their SQ. He argues that the ideal is a balance of the two, engaging both one's IQ and SQ in order to fully understand the world we live in, not just one or the other. In fact, he claims that overemphasis on science without regard for spiritual reality is a one-dimensional and lacking view of the world, and likewise an overemphasis on spiritual reality without regard for science. He argues that the two work in combination with one another, not in contrast. However, regardless of where you fall on the spectrum of IQ and SQ, you employ the principle of faith.
The truth is that everyone places their faith in certain people, beliefs and facts. Regardless of whether you consider yourself to be of a specific religion or an atheist or don't associate yourself with any of these groups, you place your faith in certain things every single day, either because you can't prove them with 100% certainty or because you simply have no reason to think you need to (such as with the chair you're sitting in right now; I'm assuming most of you didn't check before you sat down to make sure the screws weren't loose).
The question we must ask ourselves is not actually "Is faith valuable?" It unquestionably is valuable if we plan on making any progress at all, and beyond that, essential, even in scientific research. The questions we must ask ourselves are whether we are placing our faith accurately where the evidence leads us while doing our best to limit our biases, and whether our beliefs are actually warranted by the evidence we place our faith in. If our faith is in fact blind, then our worldview is apt to receive quite a shock when it encounters counterarguments for which it is not prepared to endure. If, however, our faith is based upon evidence and the interpretation of that evidence, we are on much sturdier ground, and if we are willing to follow the evidence where it leads, even when it contradicts our biases, we are better off still. This is what faith is really all about. Not ignorance or blindness or naivete. Rather, faith involves a particular belief or conviction based upon an objective (as much as is possible) interpretation of the physical, experiential, historical and logical evidence which surrounds us. This should be the approach of both the scientist and the philosopher, and both should find good company with the other.
So, what evidence do you place your faith in? Why?