Faith as a basis of knowledge in religion and natural science
by: Aaron Bhole
This is Aaron's essay on the Theory of Knowledge for the International Baccalaureate Program. He was required to: Analyse the strengths and weaknesses of using faith as a basis for knowledge in religion and in one area of knowledge from the Theory of Knowldge diagram (natural science).
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The difficulty in addressing faith as a basis for knowledge is largely due to the varying definitions of faith. The religious definition of faith is best summarized in, “Faith is the assured expectation of things hoped for”, This definition portrays faith as believing in a higher power or god without having tangible evidence but rather spiritual and emotional evidence. However, faith is not limited to religion, and for the purpose of addressing the strengths and weaknesses of using faith as a basis of knowledge in religion and natural science, I will be using the Oxford Dictionary’s definition of faith, “Complete trust or confidence in someone or something.”
Now that faith is defined, I must then address the definition of knowledge. I will be using the definition located in my Theory of Knowledge textbook, Plato’s definition of knowledge, which states knowledge is “justified true belief.” According to Plato, an individual’s certainty or strong belief alone does not qualify as knowledge. Rather a belief must be justified through reliable evidence, and truth can be determined through several theories: Correspondence Theory: “A proposition is true if it corresponds to a fact”, Coherence Theory: “A proposition is true if it fits in with our overall set of beliefs”, or Pragmatic Theory: “A proposition is true if it is useful or works in practice.” In regards to faith, believing something does not necessarily make it true. Truth is objective and must be beyond a reasonable doubt, while faith is subjective to the individual.
The evidence that religions provide for the existence of a higher power is often through scripture, yet this defense is the informal fallacy of circular reasoning. An example is Christianity’s belief that God created the bible, yet also claiming the bible as evidence of God’s existence. Other people who have faith in God may claim that human understanding of God’s existence is limited and unknowable; therefore reason cannot answer the question of God’s existence, where faith can. This use of faith is weak and touches on the fallacy of ad ignorantium and the idea that the lack of evidence disproving God means that God must exist. Religious faith seems to be a strong emotional commitment which can create the problem of authority worship. Faith may also alter and distort other areas of knowledge which can be dangerous. People may perceive only what they want to believe in the form of confirmation bias.
I have relied upon reason to disprove faith’s basis of knowledge, and the question arises, does reason have the best claim to knowledge? I would tend to agree being a rationalist, but reason is not infallible. An example would be: I have not witnessed any evidence supporting the existence of God, existence requires evidence, God therefore does not exist. Although there is a valid structure, I am using the ad ignorantium fallacy. Reason can be wrong when the premises are false. Another failure occurs through deductive reasoning, “We cannot be sure that the laws of logic do not simply describe the way we think rather than the way the universe is.” G.K. Chesterton claimed “It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all…reason is a matter of faith”. Chesterton’s doubts are very abstract and almost invalid as abandoning logic would collapse knowledge and all fields of study. Inductive reasoning can also be questioned as we believe based upon previous experience, but there is no guarantee that the same occurrence will happen again. Yet, it is extremely unlikely that tomorrow gravity will suddenly stop working, and we will float into cold, empty space.
I have witnessed faith’s knowledge claim in several articles that I have read. One such in regards to evolution quotes a biology teacher, “‘Faith is not based on science,’ Mr. Campbell said, ‘And science is not based on faith.’” The idea Mr. Campbell brings up is dangerous. It separates the two worlds of religion and science, and promotes relativism or the idea that truth is relative. An issue raised is what are problems with relativism’s claims? Besides relativism’s illogic origin by being an absolute while claiming there is no absolute, relativism also claims there is no truth. However, “(not knowing) the truth is not the same as saying that no truth exists”
The concept of evolution is a tricky theory in natural science. Any scientific theory actually has some basis of faith as we trust or have confidence in its correctness. In the above mentioned article, scientists attacked advocates of creationism for not being critical thinkers by believing in evolution, but in the process, they showed that they themselves are not critical thinkers. Darwin’s theory can be questioned as another article points out “The classical Darwinist account of evolution as primarily driven by natural selection is in trouble on both conceptual and empirical grounds.” However, Darwin’s evolution driven by adaption remains stable. An example of where religious faith and scientific faith meet occurs with young earth creationists. An article introduces Marcus Ross, a Doctor of Geosciences. His dissertation was centered on, “marine reptiles that vanished at the end of the Cretaceous era 65 million years ago” Yet, Dr. Ross also believes that the earth was created by God and is 10,000 years old. Cognitive Dissonance, “The feeling of discomfort that results from holding two conflicting beliefs” arises. The solution is, “Something must change in order to eliminate or reduce the dissonance.” Dr. Ross must choose.
Natural science is based on the belief that the universe is orderly and that human beings can uncover and understand natural laws. The scientific advancement is actually driven by people losing faith in previously held theories and discovering faith in new theories. So it seems that both religion and natural science are based upon faith, or rather core intuitions about the nature of reality. But religion’s faith has yet another problem. Since knowledge is justified true belief, “Faith (alone) is not an adequate or reasonable defense of any belief or belief system which purports to have any empirical connection to the reality which we all share. Faith is also an unreliable and irrational basis for singling out one religion and claiming that it is true while all other religions, as well as any competing secular philosophies, are false.” So, faith, being a strong belief, is not a basis of knowledge alone. Rather faith must cohere with beliefs everyone share and have evidence in order to be justified and true; therefore being considered knowledge.
I am an ordained agnostic minister, and a fellow clergyman said, “Every citizen has an obligation to recognize that just because you believe something doesn't make it so” Truth appears to have degrees. It exists and is obtainable, but currently we are unable to prove God’s existence. However, I do believe that God’s inexistence is closer to the truth than his existence, but since I lack justification, I cannot say that I know he does not exist. However, in regards to young earth creationists, there is plethora of evidence showing that the world is older than 10,000 years. Although God may exist, in this case, I can say that the bible is wrong and faith alone is not a basis of knowledge. The Pragmatic Theory of Truth, “A proposition is true if it is useful or works in practice” supports the truthfulness of apathetic or pragmatic agnosticism. Despite its value, I do not completely agree with apathetic agnosticism, as it promotes complacency and the idea that the truth is unknowable and searching for it is meaningless. Rather I defend my personal belief as an agnostic atheist.
Cherry, Kendra. "Cognitive Dissonance - What Is Cognitive Dissonance." Psychology - Complete Guide to Psychology for Students, Educators & Enthusiasts. The New York Times Company.
Cline, Austin. "Faith is Unreliable & Unreasonable: Faith is Not a Source of Knowledge." Agnosticism / Atheism - Skepticism & Atheism for Atheists & Agnostics. The New York Times Company.
Dean, Cornelia. "Believing Scripture but Playing by Science's Rules."The New York Times, February 27, 2007.
Fodor, Jerry. "Why Pigs Don't Have Wings." London Review of Books 29, no. 20.18 (2007): 19-22.
Gray, John. "Meditation 37 - Do we have a misplaced faith in religious belief?” The Church of the Apathetic Agnostic.
Harmon, Amy. "A Teacher on the Front Line as Faith and Science Clash" - NYTimes.com. The New York Times.
Lagemaat, Richard van de. Theory of Knowledge For the IB Diploma Full Colour Edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.
Oxford University Press. "Definition for faith" - Oxford Dictionaries Online (US English). Oxford Dictionaries Online.
- Heb. 11:1
- Oxford University Press, "Definition for faith - Oxford Dictionaries Online (US English)." Oxford Dictionaries Online.
- Richard van de Lagemaat, Theory of Knowledge For the IB Diploma Full Colour Edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011, 24.
- Ibid., p. 447
- Richard van de Lagemaat, Theory of Knowledge For the IB Diploma Full Colour Edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011, 133.
- Amy Harmon, "A Teacher on the Front Line as Faith and Science Clash - NYTimes.com." The New York Times.
- Richard van de Lagemaat, Theory of Knowledge For the IB Diploma Full Colour Edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011, 450.
- Jerry Fodor, "Why Pigs Don't Have Wings." London Review of Books 29, no. 20.18 (2007), 9.
- Cornelia Dean, "Believing Scripture but Playing by Science's Rules." The New York Times, February 27, 2007.
- Kendra Cherry, "Cognitive Dissonance - What Is Cognitive Dissonance." Psychology - Complete Guide to Psychology for Students, Educators & Enthusiasts. The New York Times Company.
- Austin Cline, "Faith is Unreliable & Unreasonable: Faith is Not a Source of Knowledge." Agnosticism / Atheism - Skepticism & Atheism for Atheists & Agnostics. The New York Times Company.
- John Gray, "Meditation 37 - Do we have a misplaced faith in religious belief?” The Church of the Apathetic Agnostic.