“You’ve Got To Have Faith In Something”

You must have heard it somewhere. Probably half a dozen times today alone. I think I just saw it over at Hemant’s–somebody making the argument that science requires a faith of its own, what may be called a “faith in reason”, or faith in one’s perceptual or cognitive abilities, or simply faith that the universe is real and observable.

No, actually.

“You’ve got to have faith”—so the argument went,
“Though you might not have faith in my God
You have faith in your senses, your science, your tools,
That reality’s not some façade”

I need not have faith in my senses at all
My senses have earned my trust
They may fool me at times—they’re not perfect, I know,
But I’ll use them, cos frankly, I must

I need not have faith in the methods of science;
Conditional trust is enough
Today’s explanations can all be replaced
If tomorrow’s explains some more stuff

I need not have faith in the tools that I use
I will use them as long as they work
Since others reliably use them as well,
Their results don’t depend on some quirk

I need not have faith in the cosmos itself
Though I see on your face some confusion
The universe is, whether matter or mind,
Or a rather persistent illusion

If everything changes tomorrow, you see,
And the world works a whole different way
Then maybe I might have some theories to change…
But they’re working just fine for today.

The pragmatic and conditional explanations of science need not be a search for “TRUTH” which one has faith exists (although I certainly do not speak for all, and I know that a good many believe that a truth exists, whether or not we ever may know it). Explanations are not true or false, but rather better or worse–that is, explaining more observation with fewer assumptions, or needing to make shit up. Newtonian physics is not so much wrong as incomplete–it works for quite a lot of uses, but not all.

I do not need to have faith that my answers will be right forever–hell, I like the idea of finding out how I am wrong, and learning a better way!


  1. jamessweet says

    Eh, you still need to have “faith” of a sort in inductive reasoning. (I am extremely skeptical of all solutions put forward for the problem of induction) This is not really a problem, since basically everyone does, except I guess the most purely solipsistic nihilist. Discarding inductive reasoning results in a useless worldview, so… I’m not worried about it.

    Which leads to a joke:

    After the invention of interstellar travel, Earth travelers eventually encountered an alien species who did not believe in induction. Their society was a shambles, with their governments incapable of tackling even the most basic problems. The Earth ambassador asked them how they could cling to such a disastrous worldview. The alien leader replied: “Well, it never worked for us before, so….”

  2. Randomfactor says

    If I stop “believing” that the Universe exists, it stubbornly remains here nonetheless.

    That is the very definition of “reality.”

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