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Is Faith an Acceptable Means of Attaining Knowledge?

  1. Apr 1, 2004 #1

    loseyourname

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    I'm going to go out on a limb here and say no, but I'd still like to see what arguments you guys can produce for and against. My guess is you've probably discussed this before, but I'd still like to see it.
     
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  3. Apr 1, 2004 #2

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    I was reading the newspaper during my lunch break today, and there was an article in it that maybe bears on what you are talking about. I don't have the paper with me, so this is by memory. A woman in Texas is on trial for killing her two sons, aged 6 and 8. She killed them by bashing their heads with a rock. Because of her faith in the existence of the biblical God, she felt that when she tripped over that rock in her yard, it was a sign from God that she was supposed to kill the boys with it. That is, she believed she was gaining knowledge of God's will supernaturally, albeit through a rather commonplace natural occurence.


    This is not an April fool's joke. This really was in the paper today.
     
  4. Apr 1, 2004 #3

    loseyourname

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    I fully believe that. Have you read Jon Krakauer's new book, Under the Banner of Heaven?

    Still, though, I don't want to get into really extreme examples to discredit the idea. It would be more fruitful to attack it at its base. The argument I typically use is that although people might come to different conclusions using reason, reason has a means by which, at least in theory, they may come to agreement. Properly applied, people using logic should come to the same conclusions all the time. It's just that it's difficult to properly use it all the time, there are so many places in which one can make mistakes, plus it is necessary to postulate certain axioms and basic beliefs on which you might base a deduction, and these may differ from school to school.

    Still, faith has no similar mechanism by which competing faiths might come to agreement. There is absolutely no way to falsify, or even evaluate, a faith-based argument. Is this enough to completely invalidate it?
     
  5. Apr 1, 2004 #4

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    I have not heard of the Krakauer book, but I'll keep an eye out for it.

    Years ago I read a book called Monkey on a Stick, the true story of an Eastern religious cult that took root in the United States. Fascinating, in a macabre way.
     
  6. Apr 1, 2004 #5

    loseyourname

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    I'm pretty sure it's a bestseller, though personally I'm waiting for it to come out in paperback.
     
  7. Apr 1, 2004 #6
    Acceptable?

    Acceptable by whom? I think your choice of words is not so good here. Sure, it's acceptable to religious people, theologians and the like. I would say, though, that it is not acceptable by the secular...uhm... section of the community. Therefore, I would say that it is not acceptable in a court of law, which is clearly separate from the Church.

    Maybe a more appropriate question would be whether or not it is an appropriate means of attaining knowledge, or even whether or not it can be a way of attaining knowledge. I would say no.

    Looking at it strictly from a Aristotelian point of view, we cannot acquire any "real" knowledge about things from examining the transendent (i.e. faith). We acquire it through examining the world around us through our senses/perceptions.

    Looking at it from a Platonist point of view, contemplating the divine is how one gains real, absolute truth about the world. We acquire knowledge about the abstract Form of things, a world of knowledge that we cannot, having afterwords attained absolute knowledge, travel back to the physical world.

    Because I believe that the knowledge of the divine, of the form of things, can never be translated to knowledge of the real things around us, I don't believe that faith can be a means by which to attain knowledge.

    So I've given an outline of two principle argument...anyone want to extend this?
     
  8. Apr 1, 2004 #7
    Unfortunately, all belief systems ultimately boil down to a question of faith. Either you believe that the speed of light is finite and equal to c or you don't (that's why it's called a postulate). However, the difference between science and religion is that for science, faith is only the first step. Before a theory is adopted as a viable model for physical reality, it must first be corroborated by empirical evidence. In my opinion, science and religion are fundamentally different, not because one is founded on faith and the other is not, but because one uses observation to buttress predictions, which were founded on a (often mathematical) leap of faith.

    This brings me to my point on faith in general. I have a friend, an engineering major, and also a devout Christian. Not being religious myself, I was naturally curious as to why he'd be so eager to imbibe such seemingly outlandish propositions as resurrection and cloud riding anthropomorphized uber humans. So, being as disingenuous and uninvasive as possible, I approached him with a question regarding the prospect of an "objective" morality. I asked him that if we were to treat religion as guidelines for living one's life, that is, as suggestions for making decisions based on some fundamental and immutable doctrine (the history and experiences of the messiah or whatever), would there ever be a situation in which abiding by these religious decision procedures would yield a sub-optimal solution to a given problem (in other words, could his religion ever be wrong )? He said no. In other words my friend stipulates the existence of an objective morality. Any free thinking and scrutinizing individual could supply a veritable infinity of situations in which one set of behavioral heuristics would be better than another in solving a problem, but my friend would have none of it. He truly believed that his way of life was correct and that, I suppose, all others must be wrong. This is not really a testable hypothesis, and is therefore founded pretty much solely on faith. My friend is peaceful and kind (although somewhat ignorant), and poses no real threat to anybody. However, blind faith, when taken to an extreme, is a real danger to everybody, including those espousing the philosophy in question. I think it's important to believe in one's own fallibility, that is, to leave one's behavior open to testing and experimental verification. Nobody can be "objectively" correct because humans are never free from perspective. Blind faith is, to me, an illusory form of objectivity, and should be questioned and debated in every facet of every human society.
     
  9. Apr 1, 2004 #8

    Njorl

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    Knowledge precludes faith. It is not possible to have faith in something you know to be true. Faith requires the potential for doubt.

    Njorl
     
  10. Apr 1, 2004 #9

    loseyourname

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    I think you underestimate the difference between religious faith and inductive faith, point. We have good reason to believe that the speed of light is constant, and certainly mathematical axioms are known to have a good basis. Knowledge deduced from these basic beliefs is known to be testable and repeatable. There isn't the same "leap" that is made with religious belief.

    Addressing Njorl: A religious person would likely disagree with you. I don't it's fair to simply say that knowledge necessarily precludes faith. As point points out (no pun), at some point one must make at least a tiny leap. Nothing is completely certain outside of your own existence. You must be careful not to completely exclude the possibility of any knowledge whatsoever.
     
  11. Apr 1, 2004 #10

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    Point,

    It might prove interesting for you to (gently, of course) ask your friend about the biblical commandment that goes, "Suffer not a witch to live." If he has read that part of the Bible, I wonder what he makes of that. There have been times and places where believers took it quite seriously, as you know.
     
  12. Apr 2, 2004 #11
    loseyourname, I agree that mathematical axioms "have a good basis". In fact, I would categorically assert that mathematical operations, if performed consistently, will always be true. However, this is not because of some intrinsic property of the structure of the universe, this is because we defined the rules for generating true statements within the framework of mathematics. The speed of light being constant is not just a statement about mathematics; it is a statement about an unobservable characteristic of physical reality. We can only even notice the existence of "light" (self inducing oscillating electric and magnetic fields, propagating through space at a speed c) by looking at how it interacts and affects the behavior of other, more tangible components of the observable universe. The only reason why we say that the speed is light must be measured to be constant from every inertial reference frame, is because this statement, when expressed mathematically, predicts values which can be tested against and verified through experiment. If someone were to come up with a theory that stipulated the speed of light to be variant, depending on some as yet to be discovered properties of a system, we would be hesitant to adopt it unless we could test its predictions experimentally and the theory itself were either more precise or simply more fecund in the number of testable predictions it produced than special relativity. Even if special relativity were superceded by some other contradictory physical model, people might still use it because it has been proven to work under certain circumstances (engineers can still use Newtonian mechanics to build bridges, but they certainly can't use it to talk about observations made over astronomical scales of space and time).

    I agree that science and religion are founded on disparate notions of faith. There is nothing about science that obviates supersession, whereas denying the tenants of religion is heresy. Either Christ was the messiah or he wasn't. If you don't believe Christ was the messiah, then you aren't a Christian. If you don't believe that special relativity is an adequate model for physical reality, you can still be a scientist, but you are charged with coming up with a mathematically consistent model that is either more precise or more fecund. With science, we still must have faith that what works today will work tomorrow, and again loseyourname, you are right, it is far easier to belief this than it is that Christ turned water into wine, but only because we've seen physics "work" time and time again, but I doubt any of us have seen water turned into wine (my life would be radically different if I could major in that!).
     
    Last edited: Apr 2, 2004
  13. Apr 2, 2004 #12
    I think that what Aristotle actually said was that certain knowledge, knowledge that which does not require faith, is identical with its object. That is to say certain knowledge requires that the knower must become one with the known. This is only possible by exploring that which transcends (or underlies) the world of our senses and perceptions.

    Did he say we couldn't 'travel back'? I didn't think so.

    Agree. Faith, in its everday sense, cannot be certain knowledge. As someone said earlier, faith implies the possibilty of doubt. However 'faith' can have much more subtle meanings that its everday one, and faith may be a necessary precurser to certain knowledge, a necessary means to an end.
     
  14. Apr 3, 2004 #13
    It's almost like asking if an idea can be a fact.

    If we ever get down to the bottom of it all... how much will absolute existence (fact) prove to be an idea?
     
  15. Apr 4, 2004 #14
    All of it according to some people.
     
  16. Apr 4, 2004 #15
    you must have faith. Faith in self!

    once you have faith in self, you can accept any experience and expand. this in turn builds a belief system that requires more faith in self, etc etc

    faith in your belief system is the basis for manipulating your reality.

    peace,
     
  17. Apr 4, 2004 #16
    An idea containing an idea containing an idea... ad infinitum?
     
    Last edited: Apr 4, 2004
  18. Apr 4, 2004 #17
    I agree completely, and think it's an important point. What can we ever learn or know if we don't have faith in out own rationality and our own experiences.
     
  19. Apr 4, 2004 #18

    Kerrie

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    there is a certain amount of faith that those who are blazing the path of science are doing so ethically and delivering true facts to us...that a scientist is using the utmost objectivity in interpreting results.

    we have a huge amount of faith in the media, at least here in america...it's amazing what power the news, for example has over us...
     
  20. Apr 4, 2004 #19

    loseyourname

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    Speak for yourself. I have no faith in the media.
     
  21. Apr 5, 2004 #20
    Faith in ourselves, will only lead us, to one undeniable fact.

    We didn't cause the universe.

    We don't even cause our own thoughts.
     
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