To me, “faith” is neither good nor bad, though it *tends* towards the latter. Especially “unexamined faith,” or faith based not on facts but feels. “Faith in science” I am generally good with, because science is a process that has repeatedly proven itself to be a reliable way to understand, utilize and, most importantly, predict the real world. “Faith in Supernatural Entity X” is something I’m less understanding of because history has shown that that’s a *terrible* way to get a handle on the future. And if some such faith or other actually works as a dandy way to predict the afterlife… well, the data on that is wholly lacking.
With that, a dandy way to examines ones faith is to ask “what sort of thing could conceivably occur that would convince me that my faith is wrong?” For people who believe there are no gods, it’s of course quite conceivable that if there *was* a god, that god could do something that would prove that gods existence. Of course, “god” is a pretty vague descriptor, covering anything from “superpowered human-like critter from ancient myth or old Star Trek,” on up to “creator of the universe.” Some people claim that there is no such demonstration that could prove the existence of an all-powerful universe-creating god, because anything that such a god might choose to do could conceivably be done by sufficiently advanced, yet non-god, aliens who just want to screw with us. However, I can think of two demonstrations that would be hard to argue away. And appropriately, both come from science fiction. The first was described in Carl Sagan’s “Contact:” buried deep within constants like pi are undeniable messages. Pi can’t, so far as I’m aware, be tinkered with; if there’s a message in it, it could only have been put there by an intelligent agent that created the universal constants. This is close enough to “a god” for engineering purposes, though it of course does not nail down the specifics of that god finely enough to decide if I should avoid shellfish and mixing cotton and polyester.
The second example was somewhat similar. As eventually described in the underrated “Stargate: Universe” series, fifty million years ago an incredibly advanced alien race discovered that there was an intelligent message embedded within the cosmic background radiation. The message was fragmentary, so in order to collect the whole thing they needed to send out an automated starship to the far end of the universe, apparently collecting data all along the way. A message in the CBR, especially if detected across billions of lightyears, would also be a good sign of an intelligent universe-creator.
If either of these notions were borne out, it would be difficult for an honest atheist or agnostic to claim that there was no universe-creator. Of course, the further nature of that creator, including whether of not it gave a rats ass about critters like us, would remain unknown, unless that message was *really* detailed.
But on the opposite end of the scale: assuming you have some religious belief or other, what sort of event would, if it were to occur, cause you to go, “whelp, guess I was wrong.” If you were a Muslim and the Ka’aba was successfully nuked into vapor, would that do it? If you’re a Catholic and R’lyeh rose from the depths, Cthulhu took over the world and Deep Ones swarmed up out of the sea and turned the Vatican into a spawning ground… would that do it? If you’re an evangelical and Satan shows up, tangles with the second coming of Jesus and the angels and wins, takes over the world and turns out to be not such a bad feller, would that do it? If you’re a Mormon and letters were dug out of the LDS Church archive that are verified as having been written by Joseph Smith back in the day, where he tells a pen pal that he was creating a new religion as a way to make money and nail some hot chicks, would that do it? If you’re Jewish and all of a sudden the old Egyptian gods show up en masse, take a look around and say “we were only gone 4,500 years, and look what you’ve done to the place” and promptly re-order the world to their liking, would that do it?
History has provided billions of examples of people who have lost their faith for reasons *far* less spectacular than the rise of ancient alien chaos gods or the discovery of messages in universal constants. Generally those de-faithing incidents arise from unplanned-for exterior yet deeply personal events… the loss of a loved one, a trusted priest or religious hierarchy turning out to be scumbags, discovery that a long-held belief about some historical or scientific fact is just plain dead wrong, that sort of thing. These are hard to plan for. But I think it’s always worthwhile to put one’s own faith to the question. The scientific method involves you coming up with an explanation you like…. and then YOU go about trying to prove it wrong. You design a series of experiments with the goal of finding the flaws. But to do that, you need to have some idea of what would prove your scientific hypothesis wrong.
So: what would prove your religious hypothesis wrong?