Skepticism, Truth, and the Need for Faith.

I find little value in any viewpoint that takes a radically skeptical view of truth, because it is nigh impossible to live out such belief. We cannot function and perform our day to day tasks while living as though we cannot know anything. It is impractical, and completely goes against how we live our lives.  I do however see the value such radical skepticism has, in that it allows us to be challenged in our thinking and not just take what we think, or what seems intuitively true for granted.

There are some Atheists out there who don’t claim they have such a radically skeptical view of Truth, but do however say that we shouldn’t live by faith in anything, whether that be religion or otherwise.  These Atheists desire to take a large step away from faith, what they see as the basis for religious belief (which in turn they see as a bad thing) and instead claim they want hard evidence for anything they believe.  They desire the kind of evidence they claim we get from science.  This kind of thinking is not necessarily a radically skeptical view of truth, but it is a strong form of skepticism, which I find untenable.  It says that you can’t take anything on faith, and instead must be able to prove it through (mostly empirical) evidence.  This is simply a false way of viewing the world.  There are multiple things that everyone (even people who do not believe in any religion) take on faith (unless presented with valid reasons for thinking otherwise) everyday.

For example, when you are driving down the road, you take it on faith that the people driving around you have gone through the proper methods of acquiring a driver’s license.  You take it on faith that when you sit in a chair, it will support your weight and not collapse on you.  You take it on faith that the food you bought at the supermarket is not poisoned or in any other way going to harm you.  Sure, we may have think we have valid reasons for thinking these things to be true, but what are those reasons?  We are inferring that a certain belief about a current situation is true based on the results of previous situations.  We have bought food from the store before and it has never been poisoned or harmful, and therefore trust that it is not poisoned or harmful, (that is unless the safety seal is broken, or is past its expiration date, which would constitute good reasons for thinking that it would be harmful to eat). Every other chair we have sat in has been sturdy and supported our weight, and therefore, when we sit in a chair, we have reason to believe that this chair is going to hold our weight (that is, unless it is wobbly or otherwise looks untrustworthy).  We trust these things are true because of our past experience.  This kind of inference is known as an inductive argument.  An inductive argument is the kind of argument used in science to arrive at a conclusion based on the data collected in experiments.  They have a hypothesis, and they test that hypothesis over and over and try and see if the results support or deny that hypothesis, and if it continues to do so every time the experiment is repeated.  There is a problem, however, with claiming that you can gain knowledge from this kind of inductive argument without using faith.  This problem is known as the Problem of Induction.

The Problem of Induction is this: How can we know for sure that regularities that are observed within a representative sample (say, that a large number of emus which have been observed in many different places on several continents over a long period of time have been flightless) should increase the likelihood that the unrestricted generalization, or hypothesis, is true (therefore, all emus are flightless).  The only way you can justify belief in this inductive inference is by appealing to another inductive inference, namely, that a certain regularity which has been observed across a sufficiently large and representative sample means that it is likely that the regularity applies in general.  This however, is circular reasoning, since it assumes the very inference used to make the inductive inference being claimed.  This means that it is taken on faith that the regularities observed in a representative sample will continue to hold true in the future.  Sure, you can say that you only hold these true until it is falsified, at which point you would have to adjust your hypothesis, but this again leads to no true knowledge, and still leaves you with faith.  You don’t know that the food isn’t poisoned, you are simply taking it on faith that because it wasn’t poisoned any time before that it isn’t poisoned now. This adjustment of belief based upon new evidence also doesn’t account for the next set of problems I see with claiming to have knowledge in science without appealing to any kind of faith.

Before one can even begin to do science, you must take a laundry list of presuppositions on faith as true  (J.P. Moreland can be credited with the following list of Presuppositions).  The philosophical presuppositions of science include the existence of a theory independent, external world; the knowability of the external world; the existence of truth; the laws of logic; the reliability of our cognitive and sensory faculties to serve as truth gatherers and as a source of justified beliefs in our intellectual environment; the adequacy of language to describe the world; the existence of values used in science; the uniformity of nature and induction; and, the existence of numbers and mathematical truths.  All of these must be taken on faith to be true before you can even begin to formulate a scientific hypothesis which is then tested and retested.

As has been shown, faith is an intricate part of our lives, and we must accept that we have intuitions about the way the world is, and we simply have to trust that these intuitions are true unless and until we have reasons to doubt these intuitions about the way the world works.  If we are skeptical about everything, we can know next to nothing, and truly living without knowledge is not possible.  It is therefore necessary to live our lives taking certain things to be true on faith.  There can be good (that is to say, justified) reasons for our taking certain things to be true on faith, but we are nevertheless taking things on faith without evidence.

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9 responses to “Skepticism, Truth, and the Need for Faith.”

  1. willbell123 says :

    We can go off past experience and common sense for your examples, a god concept gives us no past experience to go off of, and is utterly opposed to whatever we can know from common sense.

    • Derek J. Brent says :

      I know we go off past experience for those examples, that is the very point that I am making. You have to take it on faith that past experience is representative of future events. Let us look at a different example to illustrate this point. If you were to flip a coin once a week for a whole year, and every time you flipped that coin it came up heads, does that justify believing that it will be heads the next time? not necessarily, because the past events have no bearing on the present situation. Every time you flip the coin it could just as easily come up tails as it did heads. So you have a reason to believe that it will come up heads, because every single one of the fifty-two times you have flipped it before it came up heads, but does that reason justify your assertion that the next time it is flipped it will be heads? the answer is no. the same is true with the Supermarket food. Just because it has not been harmful to you before does not mean that it will not or that it cannot harm you again. you accept on faith that the food you get from the supermarket will not harm you.

      “a god concept gives us no past experience to go off of, and is utterly opposed to whatever we can know from common sense”

      there is not a single place in this article where I make an appeal to God as justification for certain beliefs. I don’t even mention the word “God” in the post once, so I am not sure what it is that you are arguing against with your last statement. What I am arguing for is that it is impossible to live your daily life without taking certain things on faith. It is not possible to do science without taking certain presuppositions on faith as true, whether you do so implicitly or explicitly.

      • willbell123 says :

        What I am saying is that we can understand presuppositions about science, and understand that they obviously correct given past experience, but for your religion, we would not only have to take it on faith, we would have to deny our common sense and past experience, so it is more than just a leap of faith to believe in god, but a denial of common sense. And the thing is that it is a bigger leap of faith to believe that your next step is going to result in falling through the ground or you are going to get food poisoning next time you eat food from your supermarket.

  2. Jonathan Turner says :

    Living (or apparently living) without any idea of the ultimate truth of what is going on here is entirely possible. It’s simply a question of making a clear distinction between absolute and relative truth. I can know nothing about the reality of the world in which I appear . . . and yet, as long as I keep appearing in that world, the relative truth that is available to me is incredibly useful to function in that apparent world. It’s a question of pragmatism.

    I do not need to trust that my intuitions about the world are ‘true’ in any kind of absolute sense – I just need to recognise that if I want to pursue scientific investigation, I need to proceed as if my so-called ‘knowledge’ about the world were actually true. . . though of course never forgetting that the basis of all scientific theory is ignorance because I can never know the source of consciousness within which this whole show appears.

    • Derek J. Brent says :

      Jonathan, thank you for your thoughtful comments. Please continue to comment here and engage in conversation. That is what this whole blog is about; discussion with others, whether or not they share my views. alright, now on to my response.

      “Living (or apparently living) without any idea of the ultimate truth of what is going on here is entirely possible.”

      I agree. What I am arguing against in this post is that you can live everyday life without faith, even though that faith is not in an ultimate Truth, in a god or gods or whatever, I am saying that you take things on faith every day, and that taking things on faith is legitimate.

      “It’s simply a question of making a clear distinction between absolute and relative truth.”

      There is no such thing as relative truth. Truth is simply conformity to reality. If something is true for you but not true for me, then it does not conform to reality. If something does not conform to reality, it is not truth. It may be opinion, (I like vanilla ice cream, you like chocolate ice cream), but truth is not relative.

      “the relative truth that is available to me is incredibly useful to function in that apparent world

      What “relative truth” are you referring to here?

      “It is a question of pragmatism.”

      I agree, it is a matter of pragmatism. we are saying, either you reject inductive argument because you cannot justify it, thereby leaving us with little knowledge, or you accept the stance of pragmatism that you can’t justify it, and must simply take it on faith that inductive arguments work, thereby having the chance to gain all sorts of amazing and useful (as well as amazing and useless, and boring and useful, etc.) facts about the world.

      “I do not need to trust that my intuitions about the world are ‘true’ in any kind of absolute sense–I just need to proceed as if my so-called ‘knowledge’ about the world were actually true.”

      I agree with the second part of what you are saying here. Okay, so maybe you don’t have to trust, that your intuitions about the world are absolutely the way reality is, (i.e.that there are other minds, that there is an external world independent of my experience of it, etc) but proceeding as if your so-called “knowledge” about the world is actually true, is believing something that cannot be epistemically justified; that is to say you are taking it on faith for the purposes of scientific investigation. The problem with not calling this faith (and with saying that we don’t have to trust it), is that we never discard this (unjustified) belief that there are facts about the world that we cannot know (because we cannot justify these beliefs about the world, and so take them on faith as true). We just continue to pursue our scientific investigations about the world, the entire time taking these presuppositions on faith. We don’t have to absolutely know that they are true, because we cannot know that, and yet we take them on faith as true.

  3. Jonathan Turner says :

    The ‘relative truth’ to which I refer is what is commonly termed ‘truth’, ‘fact’ or ‘reality’ in conventional scientific enquiry. Anything that explains the workings of the apparent world in which I apparently exist is relative truth. It’s ‘relative’ rather than ‘absolute’ simply because it can only ever describe or explain the APPEARANCE of reality. Questions concerning the TRUE nature of that appearance – whether it exists independently of my perception of it; whether consciousness is prior to the appearance of matter and energy or vice versa – are unanswerable and beyond the grasp of relative truth . . . and hence beyond the grasp of science. The only thing that I can truly know in an absolute sense . . . is that I AM. I EXIST.

    • Derek J. Brent says :

      “Truth”, “fact,” and “reality,” are not words that mean what you are saying they mean, whether or not they are in relation to science or other forms of knowledge acquisition.

      “Anything that explains the workings of the apparent world in which I apparently exist is relative truth.”

      This is not the definition of relative truth. I must note, however, the irony in the fact that by trying to redefine relative truth, you are actually performing an instance of relativism, though the definition of “relative truth” still doesn’t mean what you here state that it means. I think what you are looking for when you say “relative truth” is something more akin to a theoretical understanding of the world. Truth, by its very definition, means:

      1. the true or actual state of a matter
      2. conformity with fact or reality; verity
      3. a verified or indisputable fact, proposition, principle, or the like
      4. the state or character of being true.
      5. actuality or actual existence.
      (Taken from dictionary.com)

      Relative truth is a self defeating concept that says that truth is always relative to some particular frame of reference, such as a language or a culture, or personal preference. it is self defeating, because as soon as you make the statement that there are no absolute truths, you are making an absolute truth claim that there are no absolute truth claims; a self defeating proposition.

      You realize you are making my point when you put “TRUE” in all caps to illustrate that what you are referring to when you say relative truth is not actually a truth statement at all, and to differentiate it from the actual definition of truth (or true) you put it in all caps. When you used the word “true” in all caps, you are using the actual definition of true, and showing that what you are talking about before is more akin to a theoretical understanding of the world.

      “whether it[the external world] exists independently of my perception of it…are beyond the grasp of science”

      I completely agree. I make that point when I state in the post that in order to do science, you have to assume several presuppositions, one of which is that there is a world outside of your perception of it that is external, and theory independent. You have to assume that this is the case, (even though you can’t show or prove it with science) because if it is not the case, then science is pointless. If you are not actually understanding and grasping the world around you then doing science is utterly pointless.

      “The only thing that I can truly know in an absolute sense . . . is that I AM. I EXIST.”

      If you want to take an extreme or radically skeptical view of truth, then sure, the only thing you cannot doubt is that you exist. This means then, that you can’t truly have any knowledge outside of this fact. This is why I state in this post that you must live your life believing things you cannot have absolute certainty of, and hence, must live with faith that certain things are true. Sure, you can choose to believe that the only fact you know in an absolute sense is that you exist if you want. However, as I have shown in this post, a life where you have little or no knowledge is not a liveable life.

  4. Jonathan Turner says :

    I use the terms ‘relative’ and ‘absolute’ in relation to truth in the way that they are employed in many Eastern philosophical, spiritual and mystical traditions. Apologies for any confusion.

    I don’t expect science (or any other apparent source of so-called knowledge) to take me any closer to the absolute truth of what is going on here.
    Here’s why:

    [Editor’s note: I have deleted the quoted section of this comment for a number of reasons, mainly because it was not a direct response to my previous objections to his comments, but was instead a 5 page, single spaced excerpt from a book the commenter wrote, that I guess he felt indirectly answered my question, but which I felt did not add to the discussion. I have no desire to promote his book on my website, either directly or indirectly. If you desire to read excerpts from it, you can do so at his blog, but I will not allow him to use my blog to promote his book.]

    • Derek J. Brent says :

      Jonathan,

      Now that I am on Christmas break and back from relatives houses for the holidays, I have had a chance to read your massively long comment. I want to note that I edited out the majority of your comment for a number of reasons, with the main two being that I did not feel it was a direct response (seeing as how it was a 5 page excerpt from your book) and I have no desire to allow you to promote your book on my blog. If you want to promote your book, you can do it on your own blog, but I do not feel any obligation to allow you to use my comments as a space for a 3,000 word excerpt from your book.

      From what I can gather after reading your original comment, it seems to me that you do in fact take a rather skeptical view of truth and reality, and you seem to embrace post-modernism. From this, it appears that having a rational conversation with you is out of the question, because you don’t believe that your reason, rationality, or consciousness can be trusted, and as such, you aren’t even sure if you actually wrote a comment here, let alone what it said. You don’t believe your senses can be trusted, and so seeing the words on the page of your book wouldn’t convince you that you wrote them, let alone that there is any merit or truth in them when they doubt that reality can be trusted.

      The point I am trying to make in this comment, and the point I was making in the original post, is that this view of the world is not feasible or livable. When (if) you walk down the street to the store to grab a bagel for breakfast, you are being so outrageously contradictory to your own worldview (at least as you have painted it here in the comments) as to be utterly ridiculous. If you walk down the street, you by your own admission can’t trust your sensory perceptions, your memories, or your knowledge of where the bakery is, and so are completely lost. Next, you can’t even trust that you are actually experiencing hunger pains, and so have no idea if you even need to eat or not. Finally, you can’t even trust that there is a bagel to eat, money to buy it with, a bakery to buy it from, or a street to walk down to get to the bakery.

      In short, you do not live your life as though your reason, rationality, and empirical senses are untrustworthy. You do not live as though your memories and experiences are untrustworthy. You could not, otherwise your life would be unlivable. Instead, you seem to adopt a post-modern mindset that is self-contradictory. You claim nothing can be known (stating it in a way that indicated you think you actually know this), and yet write a book as though we can know and trust what it is that you are saying!

      I hope you realize the inconsistency between what you claim as (and about) truth and how you live out this belief. I hope that you can one day experience the Lord Jesus Christ, and come to know the Way, the Truth, and the Light in a way that reveals to you the source of all knowledge and life and existence. I pray that God may touch your heart with Truth, and Love.

      in search of Truth,

      Derek J. Brent

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