In Skepticism and the Veil of Perception (2001), Michael Huemer defends:
(PC) If it seems to S as if P, then S thereby has at least prima facie justification for believing that P (p. 99)
What’s an example of somebody who doesn’t have such prima facie justification? Huemer gives the example of a religious believer. He writes,
Compare the case of religious faith. Suppose a person has been presented with a certain wafer, which for all the world appears to be an ordinary piece of bread. Nevertheless, he believes it is a part of the body of Christ. Why? Because he has been told very solemnly, by an authority he respects, that this belief is essential to his religion. But why does he accept that religion, when it contradicts the evidence of his senses? I am not speaking here of those Catholics who have sophisticated philosophical arguments to defend their religion, but of the average Catholic, who takes his beliefs on faith.
To take a “leap of faith” is precisely to choose to believe something that does not appear to be the case, or even appears false. If I believe that there is a cup on my desk because I am seeing it, that is not called “faith.” If I choose to believe that there is a cup on my desk, even though I can’t see anything there, that is a leap of faith. Faith is typically associated with authority–for example, someone else tells me that there is a cup here even though I don’t see anything, and I decide to take their word for it. (No one would just decide on their own that the communion wafer turns into the body of Christ.) This decision could be prompted by a feeling of respect for the authority figure, a desire to remain part of the community he represents, and even moral beliefs about the virtue of holding certain beliefs and/or the vice of questioning them. (pp. 109-110)
This example is the first of three ways that a belief counts as unjustified according to (PC). Huemer writes, “a belief may be unjustified if (a) one forms it for reasons other than how things seem (e.g., self-deception), (b) one has evidence against it that one chooses to ignore, or (c) one has reasons for thinking one’s belief-forming method was unreliable.”
I’ll make two preliminary points, and then I’ll present an argument. First, Huemer intends for this case to be a case of (a), but it seems to be more like an example of (b), where the believer has evidence against his belief. (Huemer seems to stress this when he speaks of the wafer, “which for all the world appears to be an ordinary piece of bread.”) I’ll put this point aside.
Secondly, I’ll note that Huemer seems to be attempting to capture a sense of the word “faith” according to which the faith of many believers (specifically, “the average Catholic”) turns out to be unjustified.
Now I will argue that the religious believer’s belief is justified. Compare the science student who believes that his pencil is composed of atoms which are composed of protons, neutrons, and electrons, and there is a lot of space within each atom. The science student looks carefully at his pencil, and it for all the world seems to him that the pencil is not composed in such a way. Basically, he takes it on the authority of his science teacher. This belief seems to me to be as much based “on faith” as the religious believer’s belief. Furthermore, the science student’s belief not only seems to me to be justified, but it also seems to be a case of knowledge! Once the student comes to accept and believe his science teacher, he knows that his pencil is composed of atoms. I’d venture to say that most adults today (and even some readers of this blog) formed their beliefs about atoms in this way. And if the student’s belief is justified, it seems that the religious believer’s belief is as well.