Freespace (looking good on the new Typepad platform) has an interesting post disputing the meaning of the term "faith." Here's a quote:
But the relevant use of the term “faith” is to refer to an epistemological method. That method must be distinguished from reason in some way. And that way is, that faith is an act of will. Faith means to believe in something despite the absence of evidence, or even in the face of evidence to the contrary.
It's a little unfair to define faith as a belief held in the absence of evidence and with no relation to reason. Let's talk about faith, evidence, and reason, and come up with a better summary.
Faith. Rather than an epistemological method, I think we need a pragmatic description--we're talking about the formation of beliefs, not the acquisition of knowledge. Faith is belief in God that falls short of knowledge (obviously) but musters enough conviction in the believer to motivate some change in word, deed, or lifestyle. I object to simply labeling faith as "an act of will" because one can't simply change one's sincere belief by fiat. Belief runs deeper. I'd suggest most people can't give a rational explanation of why they believe, nor can those who lack belief (although they do a much better job of trying). I'm not fond of the apologetics of emotional or intuitive faith and I dislike the tendency of believers to express their belief in statements starting with "I know . . .", but then I'm probably not the average believer.
Evidence. Of course people who believe have evidence: their own internal intuition or prayer feelings, their own philosophical/religious gut feeling about the universe, their opinions of other believers or doubters, good or bad experiences in various religious (church) or secular (philosophy class) settings. Atheistic regimes of the modern era (China, the USSR, North Korea) don't do a lot to advance the notion of atheism as the foundation for a successful state or society or, by extension, stable and happy people. It's silly to say better science education would cure irrational belief by putting better knowledge in the heads of believers when half the scientists (fiddle with the percentage if you like) are believers of one sort or another. Believers may not rely on the kind of evidence atheists demand, but relevance and weight of the evidence is a pragmatic determination we each make for ourselves.
Rationality. There aren't many Vulcans walking around; Earth is not a planet ruled by logic. Nor are there many philosophers around--when was the last time you saw someone actually consult Immanual Kant's works when facing a moral dilemma? Granted, clear thinking is better than flawed or muddled thinking, but the pragmatic thinking people employ about faith, God, and morality is not an exercise in logic or the scientific method. People do change their convictions on these matters, which shows that people do update their beliefs and do think about what they believe, but generally people justify pre-existing beliefs rather than reason toward sound beliefs. Hey, that's just how life works. Asserting that anyone who thinks rationally should be an atheist is wrong on the facts and wrong on the model depicting how people form their beliefs.
So the bottom line is I think Mr. Peterson's statement that "[t]o the religious, faith is belief on something unknown based on evidence, based on some type of observation of reality" is fairly accurate. It describes how people form faithful beliefs in the real world (as opposed to some hypothetical fantasy about how one or another ideologue thinks people should form their beliefs). Reasonable people may, of course, differ on the merits of the question. And that's not to discredit atheists or agnostics, who have their own evidence and observations to rely on for their beliefs. Finally, in defense of non-believers, I'll note that the widespread assumption that atheists are immoral nihilists is as misguided as the atheistic view that believers are irrational. But that's an entirely different discussion.
Of course, people have widely differing views on faith. I'd invite anyone reading this post to give their own perspective in the comments, including any Freespace readers wandering over here for a visit. Bloggers love visitors.