Tuesday, July 27, 2010

“Leaps of Faith:” The Scientist’s and the Religious’: Part #2 in the Series “Science and Beyond Science”

I will not be expounding or discussing the regular use of the phrase “leap of faith.” Instead, I intend to argue that every line of thinking, everything formulation of an idea, takes its own leap of faith. I intend to shift the burden of proof to the scientist – or, at the very least, to somewhat even the playing field.

What we often refer to as a leap of faith is nothing more than recognizing the plausibility of the following statement: “I do not have enough faith in science and physics to accept that all of reality can be known through the narrow confines of the scientific method.” Why would it be the case that all that is true and real can be epistemologically proven? We go outside of epistemology to make this sort of statement.

Let me use an analogy. Let us imagine a house that is a mile away from us, the viewers and observers. Let us imagine that we have certain tools, like binoculars and computers – we even have a heat-sensing tool that allows us to discover somewhat of the nature of certain things through the walls. Now we observe. We can see through the windows quite easily; we see certain people as the pass the windows. We can see the outside of the house; we can see people if they come outside, or anything they bring outside. We can use the heat-sensing tool to recognize other forms of things within the house. But there is a limit to what we can see and observe from our position. Let us imagine that there is a dresser in a room, and this room is without windows; the dresser exudes no heat. With our tools, we would not be able to scientifically posit the existence of the dresser. This would be the case for many of the items within the house. However, it would be somewhat foolish to assume that only what we could prove empirically from our one-mile distance actually existed. There are things within the house that necessarily cannot be sensed or proven using the tools that we have. Now, it may be reasonable to state the claim, “I only accept the existence of something within the house that I can prove empirically.” This is rational. However, that does not translate into claiming the overstatement: “Only what I can prove empirically exists.” This is nearly as ridiculous as another observer, without any reason whatsoever, claiming that there exists a clown in the basement.

I think this is like empirical proof. Our tools for sensing and understanding the material world around us are vastly powerful. But they are only able to understand reality as it conforms to their abilities of sensing. Just as the dresser in the house was necessarily outside of the reach of the tools, so too might there exist other properties of reality that are outside of the reach of the empirical sciences. Like with the analogy, I think it a reasonable claim to say, “I do not believe in what I cannot prove empirically;” but to go beyond this and claim only “what I can prove empirically exists” is not logical.

I’m not boiling down the “leap of faith” to a statement of logic or probability. However, I’m reassigning the onus of proof. If a scientist wants to claim that nothing exists but what can be known through the sciences, he is making his own leap of faith – a leap, I may say, that is not scientific. A religious person, on the other hand, who makes his own leap of faith, at least makes one in line with religion. His leap is one based on moral and religious conviction. In other words, the religious man’s leap of faith is justified by his set of rules – belief, religion, faith – but the scientist’s leap of faith, in this instance, is not justified by his set of rules, such as the scientific method, laws of physics, etc.

As with every analogy, this one limps; however, how it limps can be helpful to additionally understanding the subject. In the said example, the dresser undetected by the tools of investigation was a completely different object than, say, the people that had walked past the window. This would seem to argue that there are, perhaps, invisible objects that our senses cannot detect. Now, I’m not saying that this isn’t the case; but at the moment, that’s not the objective of my argument. I’m more concerned with understanding that there may be principles of objects we can detect by our senses that have non-material properties – properties of final causation, purpose, or moral order, for example. There may be principles and structures of reality that do not conform to empirical diagnosis – and, not only would be it outside of the bounds of science to say these don’t exist because they can’t be empirically proven, it will also be a self-proving point. Science cannot make the claim that only science can make claims about reality.

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