Tuesday, January 9, 2007

We All Rely on Faith

Thank you to Dev Thakur for this post http://christusmedicus.blogspot.com/

As an atheist struggling to philosophically dissect faith, one argument that helped to convince me of the reasonableness of faith went something like this: We all rely on faith every day, to function at even a basic level in this world. (This could otherwise be stated: it is impossible for a human being to interact cognitively with the world solely by gathering data empirically.)

Ridiculous but illustrative example #1: If a child decided to empirically test every aspect of his experience instead of trust and obey those who love and take care of him, he would die.

Ridiculous but illustrative example #2: If a student of physical chemistry insisted on verifying every scientific principle she learned or used personally, instead of relying on the authority of scientists' descriptions of their previous work, well, she'd run out of time before she could contribute anything original to the field.

At a more fundamental level
, we rely on faith in order to believe that our sensory experience even correlates with physical reality. All of Richard Dawkins' beloved evolutionary science depends upon the presumption that he and other scientists can make observations that actually correspond to reality. Obviously this cannot be support empirically.

Secondly, scientists base their work on the assumption that when certain patterns in the physical world are observed with great consistency and laws can be determined that predict future behavior, these laws will continue to predict the behavior of the natural world in the future. We tend to believe this because "science works," but in concluding that the future must behave like the past because we have been able previously to use the past to predict the future, we are assuming an unproven principle in order to prove that same principle. This is logically fallacious.

Empirically, we have no reason to believe that tomorrow the laws of physics will not randomly and drastically change, as if they had an expiration date on them.

There is, however, an epistemologically justifiable reason to believe that the laws of physics will be relatively constant, though it is not an empirically-based reason. We can have faith that the universe was formed by an intelligent Creator who has created a stable universe that we can study and work to understand. Scientists implicitly assume this without admitting it . . . if there were no extra-empirical guarantee of the value of empirical study, why in the world would anyone suffer through the hard work of research?

To summarize my rambling thoughts:

* The entire enterprise not only of science but of learning from past experience in general would be meaningless if it were not for (1) the fact that we can trust our sensory experience and (2) the fact that we can trust the patterns we gather from our experience and data collection to hold true for future situations, so that we can predict something about those situations.

* Both (1) and (2) cannot be empirically supported -- any attempt to empirically support them is pre-emptively thwarted if we cannot assume (1), but even if we assume (1), any empirical arguments we muster for these propositions is thwarted by the fact that we cannot trust them to be of any value if we do not previously assume the truth of (2).

* Of course we all implicitly know that (1) and (2) are true (because we act presupposing their truth, regardless of what we proclaim). But we can only logically justify our acceptance of (1) and (2) if we believe in the reasonableness of the universe. The only choices I see are to

o humbly accept this basis
o refuse to accept this basis but blindly accept propositions (1) and (2) anyway to justify science, à la Dawkins
o bury your head in the sand about the whole issue

I was reminded of all these thoughts by an excellent post by John C. Wright entitled Why I am not a Deist. I loved this part:

If you ask me to prove to you God exists, I will ask you to prove to me that your conscience exists. If you cannot prove it, why should I waste my time and effort presenting evidence before a jury which very well might have no conscience? How will I know your verdict will be honest?

I highly recommend you read his entire essay, especially if you found my rambling thoughts even somewhat interesting. His writing is much better.

I got the link from this post by The Curt Jester.
posted by Dev Thakur @ 12/01/2006 11:10:00 PM

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