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.