In some contexts, Faith is simply belief without evidence. But this is only a starting point. Faith has two primary meanings. It can be used as a synonym for trust in the secular world, and notably, in a more dogmatic sense, for all-or-nothing belief in, and personal commitment to God or Allah, that is central to most denominations of Christianity and Islam respectively. This is a good example of the polysemy of language.

Students will recall the class activity where different uses of opinion and belief were explored in some detail. This unit is well worth reviewing with students before approaching the class activity below.

Wittgenstein's famous "beetle in a box analogy" provides further insight. It goes some way to finding a cure for confusing private and shared meanings of words.


The class activity is very simple. Arrange students in groups of four and ask them to pinpoint the role of faith/trust in the eight TOK Areas of Knowledge. Also task them to share one real, personal narrative of having faith (or trust) in someone, or something, from their everyday lives. 

Groups should appoint a facilitator, two reporters and a scribe. The scribe should capture highlights of the thinking in bullet point notes on the following table. Poetic (or pithy) titles should be formulated collaboratively, and recorded, for each of the personal anecdotes. Allow a timed 15 minutes for the activity.

While the students are working, in preparation for some whole class discussion, divide the white board up into 8 sectors and label them with the Areas of Knowledge. Ensure that you have sufficient colored working marker pens on hand for each group. 
Printable pdf. of the table. 

After calling the class to order, break the ice by asking a reporter from each group to relate the most compelling personal story that was heard in their group. Insist on starting with the pithy title. Allow clarification questions, and candid responses from the original authors of the stories. 

Next, ask the remaining nominated reporter from each group should come to the board and transcribe their bullet points in the Areas of Knowledge sectors. The teacher should erase any duplicates; and then unleash some whole group discussion; encompassing at least one salient example from each Area of Knowledge.

Allow students to take a short break and move around for a few minutes.

Finish the session by changing the frame. Show the Jonestown video and click through the slideshow. Ask a student with some oratory talent to read aloud the Scientific Fundamentalism quote from the New Scientist.

Trust students to make their own connections between the class activity and the stimulus material. Then, after a pause, Discombobulate them with the following Knowledge Question:

  • To what extent is faith/trust in strong, charismatic leaders always a negative thing?  Justify your thinking with specific examples. 

This Knowledge question could be addressed in a whole class discussion and/or assigned as a written assignment.


The Peoples Temple Agricultural Project, or "Jonestown," was a cult settlement in rural Guyana under the messianic leadership of Jim Jones. In November 1978, Jones led his followers in a "revolutionary” mass suicide. 918 died, almost a third were children.


Scientific fundamentalism is the belief that the world is accessible to and ultimately controllable by human reason. This is a profoundly unscientific idea. It is neither provable nor refutable. Obviously it is a leap of faith to insist that human reason is capable of fully understanding the world. We seem to have some access to its workings, but it would be wildly premature to believe that the human brain is capable of comprehending all reality…

That scientific fundamentalism is dangerous should be evident to any serious thinker looking back on the 20th century. Fascism was an anti-Enlightenment creed, but its most lethal expression in Nazism was founded on science. Hitler’s Mein Kampf leaned on the biology of Ernst Haeckel, which, at the time, was perfectly respectable. Communism, an ideology that sprang directly from the scientific Enlightenment, was based on Marx’s conviction that a science of history had been discovered. The slaughter of the Jews, Stalin’s massacres and Mao’s deliberate starving of millions were all executed by people persuaded they were justified by scientific insights.

Of course, it might be said this was bad science. But that is no more of an excuse than saying the Spanish Inquisition was bad religion. In that case, people twisted benignly intended human value systems to evil ends. There is nothing whatsoever in science - and this should be shouted daily from the rooftops of every scientific institution - that makes it immune from such abuses.
— Bryan Appleyard: Blind Faith in Science. New Scientist: October 8, 2005