To Daniel Dennett, faith evokes images of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, beliefsappropriate for children but certainly not for adults. Carl Sagan writes that while science “asks us to take nothing on faith,” religion “frequently asks us to believe without question.” From Richard Dawkins’s point of view, faith is “a state of mind that leads people to believe something—it doesn’t matter what—in the total absence of supporting evidence…. Faith seems to me to qualify as a kind of mental illness.”

At first glance the atheist hostility to faith seems puzzling. We frequently make decisions based on faith. We routinely trust in authorities and take actions based on their claims that we don’t or can’t verify. I wasn’t present at the Battle of Waterloo, but I am quite convinced that it happened. I have never been to Papua New Guinea, but I am quite sure that it is there. I trust the word of others who have been there, and I trust maps. Similarly, I express a lot of faith in air traffic control and the skill of the pilot every time I board an airplane.

So thoroughly do we rely on faith that modern life would become impossible were we to insist on evidence and verification before proceeding. How do I know my cereal is safe to eat? How can I be sure my car is not going to blow up? Why should I take it for granted that the person whose voice I hear at the other end of the telephone is really there? How do I know my vote for a presidential candidate will be counted as a vote for that candidate?

One answer is that I know because “the system” works. I eat my cereal, and I feel fine. I drive my car, and it gets me to work. And so on.

I can trust technology, banking, maps, and democracy because they deliver the goods. But this is no argument against religious faith because, for the believer, faith also delivers the goods. William James makes this point in his classic book The Varieties of Religious Experience. Faith in God, for the millions who have it, is routinely vindicated in everyday life. People come to trust God for His fidelity and love in the same way they come to trust- their spouses—through lasting and reliable experience. In fact, religious people trust God more than they trust airlines, maps, and computers, and this too is based on empirical evidence. Computers crash, maps become outdated, and airlines screw up. God does not.