Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence.
- Richard Dawkins
By itself, this quote by Dawkins is entirely rational. However, it is many times used to attack Dawkins and New Atheists on the basis that as humans, we (atheists included) often have faith in things outside of religion. While this is entirely true, such other examples of faith when compared to religious faith are at best apples to oranges comparisons, and at worst apples to dump trucks comparisons.
For instance, to have faith that you will make it to work on time because there will not be an accident on the expressway this morning is devoid of evidence, but for it to turn out to be untrue would not be shocking, or defy any laws of nature, or negatively impact yourself beyond being late for work. It is harmless positive thinking.
To have faith that when you go to sleep at night, your cat walks around the house on its two hind legs and recites poetry, is baseless and delusional, but still harmless.
To have faith that the universe began in a moment of singularity, whereby the most violent of eruptions unleashed matter and energy that took billions of years to dissipate, cool and evolve into what we witness today, may sound as unlikely the cat analogy to some, but nonetheless this is a popular concept, and the fact that it is proposed is as harmless to the individual and society as the cat analogy.
To have faith that there is order and design in the universe, and because we are all ultimately composed of recycled bits and pieces of the universe, we are each a tiny piece of the governing intelligence of the universe, might sound equally unlikely as the cat analogy, but is still equally harmless to the individual and society.
To have faith that an infallible, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, eternal, anthropomorphic, judgmental, non-communicative, invisible, and humanly impossible to understand god is the reason we and the rest of the universe exist, and that it personally cares deeply about everything you and every other human past, present and future does, and that the unfathomably immense universe that exists outside of our miniscule planet is superfluous to the mundane circumstances of our own earthly existence, and that your eternal fate in an afterlife involves either extreme suffering or absolute peace depending on the strength of your faith and your devotion to said god and its followers during the course of your lifetime – this is the pinnacle of absurdity and profoundly harmful not only to the mentality of the individual, but to society on a global level. The fact that there is not one, but thousands of such obtuse and carelessly cavalier faith systems overlapping and competing with one another, makes this kind of faith the most dangerous threat that humanity will ever know.
I don't have faith or faith in anything.
Other than the Big Bang, I can't say as I do either. I do have reasonable expectations, and occasionally even mildly unreasonable ones. However, I do realize that most non-religiously affiliated examples of faith are relatively innocuous. Religious faith is a whole different animal.
I MIGHT have faith that I won't keel over in the next half-second ... there, see, I made it!
OR ... I have a reason to believe that something untoward will not happen because of previous patterns or performance which SUGGEST that my trip to work today will be little different from today's commute. Some of that is based on my own actions, like looking for traffic before making a turn and not following too closely behind the car in front, and so on. Some things I don't have control over, like the driver behind me who IS following too close and might just rear-end me if I brake too fast. There are thousands of variables to these equations, but mostly, we can live with them and fairly successfully.
As for "faith" in the Big Bang ... I know a bit about the BB, and if I trust in people like Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson and Lawrence Krauss when they assert that that's how this shootin' match began 13.7 billion years ago, it's because they have the evidence behind them as well as the scrutiny of thousands of other scientists who have also looked at the background radiation and the movements of the stars and verified those calculations themselves. It's also worth noting that the BBT is supported by physical fact and theory which predates the fooforaw which disqualified the steady-state universe hypothesis and put the BBT in the driver's seat.
If I trust in any particular concept or proposition, it is on the basis of fact and experience which is consistent with that concept or proposition. For instance, if a friend tells me there's a faster way to get to a customer's site, I might be skeptical, but I can listen to his idea, test it and either accept it, saying, "Yeah, that shaved a good 10 minutes off of my travel time," or "No, the time difference wasn't worth the change in route," or whatever, but regardless, I have a means to TEST the proposal. This is where the big guy with the beard runs into trouble every time, because there is no fact, evidence or experience I can tie exclusively to the dude. Worse, the holy books which are supposed to describe who he/she/it is and what he/she/it is about are so little in common between them and are so frequently self-contradictory that I have no reason to give them any credence whatsoever ... and I don't.
Unfortunately, I live in one of the worst traffic areas of the country and my daily commute is about 60 miles each way. There are tens of thousands of decisions being made by drivers downstream of me and outside of my vision that could ultimately impact the timeliness of my commute. About the only word that could adequately describe a positive feeling that I will not be delayed by a traffic accident is "faith". I guess my point is that "faith" is a relatively benign word when it is used to describe anticipation for events in the real world. When it is used in anticipation for supposed supernatural entities and events, it takes on a whole new meaning. When it is used in reference to the demands of organized religion it becomes a downright ugly word.
For the record, I too trust the brilliance of those responsible for sythesizing the BBT and related matters of science. The beauty of that trust is that it cannot harm me or anyone else, and if a better theory comes along I am free to change my mind.
I'm not an expert on this subject but I liken the type of faith we athiests have to statistical probability. We (not just us, but everybody) have a very fast processor in our head that evaluates evidence and situations to determine the best way to proceed. I may continue full speed into a red light, knowing it will change to green just as I enter the interesection. Why? Because I've seen it do just that a thousand times as I drive home from work. Could it do otherwise, causing me to crash into oncoming traffic? Sure, but the odds of this happening are extraordinarily low and even I would not do it if cross traffic were near. Before someone jumps in to contest this as foolish, we do the same thing everyday with all kinds of dangerous situations. How many people would think it reasonable to get into a contraption that is rocketed at 600mph through the air? Yet, how many of us have flown a commercial flight lately?
My old roommate, on the other hand, would say the light turned green because god loves her (that banging noise is my head hitting my desk). The devil is responsible for the next light being red, although it may be gods mysterious will (more banging).
So yes, I do think there are degrees of faith. Unfortunately, "faith" is not the right word for someone who lives their life without belief in the supernatural. I'd say a more correct word would be something along the lines of "confidence" or "trust". To say we have "faith" would imply we trust in what is unseen. I think that's a distortion of our reliance upon empirical knowledge. I suppose someone might step in to say that actions directed by mathematical models, based on rigorously demonstrated proof would not be considered empirical knowledge. That's beyond my understanding right now.