Doubt and Faith

I've been thinking for several years about contrasting the capacity to doubt and the capacity to have faith. This can be thought of as a dimension along which we move for everything we question or accept. Obviously, with regard to some religious types in the context of their religion, they are pegged at the extreme faith end of the spectrum. The profession of extrapolator is a conscious choice to have doubt about everything, and this is being close the other extreme. In day-to-day practice, we have unconscious faith about nearly every detail. General semantics teaches us, though the notion of "consciousness of abstracting", to be aware that we do take so very many things for granted, but that we should be prepared for being wrong - from the minutest of everyday details to the really big questions.

In traditional philosophy, knowledge can be classified according to three primary sources.

  1. That which I can directly apperceive as true - clear observations.
  2. That which I can conclude by a sequence of steps, each of which I can directly apperceive, and the memory of having followed the entire sequence. - valid reasoning from clear observations.
  3. Knowledge by authority - that which is given to us that we do not doubt.

Religions take knowledge by authority as having primacy over the other two forms. Science, on the other hand, discounts this source of knowledge except in so far as any authority derives its knowledge from the first two types.  For science it is imperative that we have the capacity to check out any source, and any source must ultimately be traced back to a reasoned sequence, each of which can be directly perceived as true. As a practical matter, in science as well as in everyday life, the lion's share of our activities presume our knowledge from other sources is authoritative. It's only when we do original work, or when we follow in detail another's original work, that we are coming back to the first two forms of knowledge.

For Religion, the capacity to have faith is predominate.  Knowledge by authority is taken as primary.  New generation initiates are expected to "take on faith" the proclamations of immediate prior authority.  Questioning or doubting these teachings is not only not allowed, it is the basis for expelling the questioner from the order.

But for science, the capacity to question the source and reexamine the reasoning is taken as primary.  New generation initiates are expected to re-examine the reasoning of prior authority so as to see and understand the individual steps.  Every authoritative statement is backed up by identifying its source authority, the reasoning steps, and the observations that form the basis of the reasoning.

The above represents the "extremes" of the spectrum.  As a practical matter, we normally accept the statements of authority unless something happens to cause us to question them. There are economic reasons to operate this way. It takes much more energy to "re-invent the wheel" than to accept what came before. Evolution, which is stingy with energy, favors the least energy expensive path.

It is highly likely that the need to depend upon authority, in a time-binding class of life, has its basis in the long history of biological evolution that weeds out the less efficient users of energy. See my "Philosophy of Mobile Life", noting particularly the need to habituate stimuli which lead to neither benefit nor detriment. "Accepting authority" by depending on others for knowledge serves both time-binding needs and energy conservation.

 Ed Korczynski in his paper at the 2003 Conference on general semantics, said:

However, any possible value derived from a belief comes at a heavy price: . Mental blinders to new experiences, and susceptible to manipulation by "leaders" of the belief.

This agrees whole heartedly with the general semantics notion of "extensional orientation" and constant flux as well as with the precept of extrapolator training cited by Mark Clifton,

"But answers also carry in themselves their commands and their penalties. The penalty being that when one thinks one has the answer, he stops looking for it. The command being that he must conduct himself in accord with the answer. (Eight Keys to Eden)

So, what is the right balance between faith (in what) and doubt (in what), when, for day-to-day details as well as for the really big questions?


This page was updated by Ralph Kenyon on 2017/02/24 at 19:19 and has been accessed 6541 times at 41 hits per month.
Quantification in logic discourse...
  1. Let direct observation be represented by O(xi).
    Let Knowing xi be represented by K(xi).
    If O(xi).then K(xi). 
  2. Let a reasoning step be represented by r(x1,x2).
    Let O(r(x1,x2)) represent seeing that x2 follows from x1.
    Let a reasoning chain be represented by r(x1,...,xn)
    Let remembering such a chain be represented by M(r(...)).
    If O(r(x1,x2)) and K(x1) then K(x2).
    If M(O(r(x1,x2))) and M(O(r(x2,x3))) then M(r(x1, ... x3)) 
    (Note: We observe directly the validity of a single step, but we only remember having gone through a sequence of steps).
    If M(r(x1...xn-1)), and O(r(xn-1,xn)), then K(xn).
  3. Let an "authority" be represented by Ai.
    "If Ai(x1) then K(x1)" represents knowledge by authority. (If an authority asserts xi then I know xi.)

For religion:

  • K(x1) if Ai(x1), and Ai(x1) if Ai-1(x1), . . . where presumably A1=  God is the "first cause" answer to infinite regress.
  • Authority is taken as primary.  We are expected to take the word of Authority without question.

For science:

  • Ai(x1) if there exist Ai-1(x1) (if there is an immediate prior authority).
  • Ai(x1) if there exist j such that Ai-1(x1), Ai-2(x1), ... Ai-j(x1) where j is finite.
  • Ai(x1) if  K(xn)  - Some authority has knowledge
  • A(xn) if O(xn)  - Some authority has direct knowledge 
  • A(xn) If there exists x1...xn such that  M(r(x1...xn-1)), and O(r(x1n-1,xn)) - some authority has reasoned knowledge
  • Reasoned knowledge is always based on initial observations - which we call empiricism.