Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Faith is a necessary intellectual stance

Steve at Socon or Bust wrote about a First Things blogpost regarding excessive skepticism.

I'd like to add my two cents.

One of the most important intellectual lessons I have learned is from Dr. Phil

One of Dr. Phil's most famous questions is: how's that workin' for ya?

Now, that may sound trite, but there's a profound metaphysical truth behind what he says (as there is behind a lot of what he says).

The truth is that excessive skepticism doesn't work.

That, by itself, should be reason enough to reject it.

When I was in Grade 9, my religion teacher gave me an example on what faith is.

Suppose you had a carton of milk in front of you, and you wanted a glass of milk. How do you know there isn't any rat poison in it?

The excessive skeptic would say: you don't. And that's that.

But see, that doesn't work. It's true that you can't know that there's any rat poison in the milk. But we know that milk producers in Canada must be concerned with deriving a relatively safe product (as it's in their best interest), and that homogenization is legally mandated.

If we showed excessive mistrust in milk producers, and would not drink milk until we pverified for ourselves that each and every carton was poison-free, our society could not function. We could not drink milk.

When you open a carton of milk to drink from it, you are engaging in an act of faith.

Now we could think up of thousands of examples of little acts of faith in our lives. If we didn't have this faith, our society could not function.

It is true that sometimes our faith is betrayed. People can suffer the adverse effects of bad milk.

But just because faith is betrayed some of the time doesn't mean we should give it up entirely.

Because the alternative is an unworkable intellectual system and by extension, an unworkable world.

Consider people who display excessive skepticism of the senses. It's true that our senses, and the thinking behind them, betray us. You think you see one thing, but in reality it's another.

But just because our senses betray us doesn't mean we should NEVER trust them AT ALL. We could not live our daily lives if we could not trust the sensory input to our brains.

So yes, you will be wrong some of the time. Your brain will betray. The fear of error cannot stop you from seeking and finding the truth. You have to have the humility to accept that you made an error, and that you will continue to make errors, but that making errors doesn't mean that EVERYTHING you think is false. Even errors contain kernels of truth.

What this means is that if you are going to go on a religious search, you need to learn how to trust. Besides being equipped with principles of logic and argumentation, you have to be able to let go of your misgivings and go with the flow of your search.

It can be daunting because in the back of your mind you often ask that nagging question *but what if I am wrong?*

The answer to that is: nothing ventured, nothing gained.

I have a fear of flying. In the history of aviation, numerous people have gotten on an airplane, put their faith in the pilot, the airline company and the laws of aerodynamics, and then ended up dying in a plane crash.

So what should we do? Never risk dying in a plane crash? The alternative is to never fly anywhere, never see beyond my world, never gain that experience.

There is no risk-free life. Nothing worthwhile in life is without risk.

So if I do get on a plane, I engage in an act of faith. I put my confidence in the fact that millions of people fly airplanes every day and don't die.

And should I die, it's all part of God's plan and I must embrace it. There is nothing without reason or explanation in this universe. It's the same with tragedies. It's just that we don't know always know the explanations.

It's the same thing with seeking the truth. If you don't seek it, don't try to hold on to it, you'll never find ANY of it.

And THAT would be a bigger tragedy than being wrong.