In my last post I listed a bunch of rules and methods which I believe are useful in attempting to make truth less elusive.
In this post I want to go back and explore something I had alluded to in my first few posts. Some of these foundational methods rely on both good reasoning as well as the fact that the methods have shown to be successful and reliable in the past. However, in epistemology there is the idea that if you keep breaking your beliefs like these down by questioning the reasons for them, you will finally get to foundational beliefs which can no longer be proven. One example would be the question of whether or not the external world around us is real or just an illusion. There is simply no proof we could provide for this. It could possibly be that the world around us is a virtual Matrix type world and all our senses are illusions. In epistemology, this idea that we can continually break down our beliefs into these “foundational” beliefs which we cannot give reasons for is called the problem of infinite regress. This actually becomes very important because I will bring this up again very soon when I talk about William Lane Craig’s “Holy Spirit epistemology”, which I have strong reasons for rejecting.
It shouldn’t surprise us that philosophers are somewhat divided on how to solve this infinite regress issue, and I’m still not clear on all the details, but from my readings it seems that many agree that there are some very basic foundational beliefs that are so self-evident that we are justified in believing them without a proof. My own honest approach to this is that if I don’t have a proof then I truly don’t know for sure whether or not they are true. However, if I did not take them to be true (e.g. do I exist?) then everything I even talk about becomes entirely useless and impractical. Also, it seems that basic beliefs such as these can be taken as true and can then lead to consistent and objective conclusions and predictions about our world when we build upon these beliefs. The agreement on the laws of math and logic as being true are also examples of this and they have been used in many fields of study to come to solid predictions about the ways in which our world works. If we don’t assume that some of these basic beliefs are true then even our very own language becomes totally meaningless. Another test I often use in deciding whether or not something is a foundational belief to be assumed is to think about how many people I have met or how many books I have read that give good reasons to doubt the truth of those beliefs. Examples like “I do exist”, “this external world is real” or “the rules of math and logic are true” pass this test with flying colors. So in summary, while I can honestly admit that I don’t have full assurance, I take them as true because doing otherwise creates an entirely absurd world for me.
And that is where the word faith comes in. If someone defines the word faith to mean what I just said in that last sentence of the previous paragraph then I don’t have a problem admitting that I do have faith in these basic beliefs. However, the vast majority of religious (or spiritual if you like that better) people who use the word faith actually mean something more than just that. First of all, note that I can honestly admit that I don’t know these things with 100% certainty, but I just assume them to be true and build from there. Also, while I am not capable of dreaming up how, if evidence was shown in the future that proves these beliefs wrong I would adjust and change them. While I know there are some religious people who can express this same sentiment about their doctrinal beliefs, a great many of them do not admit to this. Further, faith is also typically used to justify so much more than these very basic beliefs. It is used to justify beliefs which do not satisfy the criteria above. More about that in my next post.