Faith and Knowledge Essay

The main aim of this paper is to concentrate upon the issues of knowledge and faith, upon the connection, if there is any, between them and to consider the extent to which faith is a legitimate basis for knowledge claims, in religion and different areas of knowledge. All knowledge systems do present a sophisticated structure, where faith is actually the foundation of it. Before building any kind of knowledge system we would have to start with some basic assumptions. Often these assumptions are called axioms and they help to construct the knowledge systems as they can not be either justified or contradicted by reason.

We should mention that the structure of knowledge is an issue which was of a great interest in ancient times already. At the times of Descartes people were interested in the problems of acquiring knowledge. The origin of knowledge had a lot of various circumstances. The so-called Reformational crisis was closely connected with religious knowledge and other related events. At those times there was the Rule of Faith, but Luther was the one to create his own criterion for religious knowledge and thus the new religion was started. This Rule of Faith stated that the religious knowledge came from the words of Church fathers, Church Councils and Popes. For example if somebody doesn’t agree with the idea of Trinity coming from Church Councils, he would be considered a heretic. Luther went a little further in this matter proclaiming that all Christian people had the chance to choose themselves what was right and what was wrong, concerning the faith issues. The moves taken by Luther resulted for many people in problems connected with religious knowledge. Later on the skeptical crisis of religious knowledge developed into a skeptical crisis of knowledge itself. The question how to acquire the genuine knowledge was still not answered.

There are two actually possible ways of getting knowledge– senses and faith. Taking into consideration the statements of Plato, we might stop at the positions that senses do not lead to getting the genuine knowledge about reality and that only reason provides people the knowledge of the surrounding world and could help people start to live better lives. We could also state that “the senses provide knowledge of the world that is more basic than anything which reason tells us. Or, one might hold that both reason and the senses are poor guides and that only faith will reveal the way things really are” (1).

Skepticism as a doctrine states that knowledge is not possible at all. So people are thus divided into universal skeptics, who think that no knowledge is possible about anything and into simple skeptics who could doubt about some certain types of knowledge, for example about religious or astronomical or any other kind of knowledge.

In discussing the historical development of views concerning the nature of knowledge we should certainly stop at the period of mathematics and natural philosophy, which is now called science. The mathematicians from Europe were able to reach the better results as those from Greece (Euclid and Archimedes). The works of Aristotle were rejected and the works of Copernicus, Brahe, Galileo and Kepler, about astronomy and physics brought new visions. They seemed to bring the real knowledge and the struggle between skeptical arguments, scientific achievements and religious dogmas was growing even stronger.

Most of the philosophers of these times were working with the truth matters. They used different methods which were to help to find the truth and thus to avoid the mistakes. One of such methods was Greek mathematics. A new model of knowledge appeared together with Euclid’s elements of Geometry. “So, mathematicians and philosophers in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries began reflecting on the method of discovery which they called the method of analysis. Essentially the view which began to develop was that one would take apart the thing which one wished to understand, until one reached the basic and essential parts composing it.”(3). Later on the parts would be put together and analyzed, the new understanding could appear if these parts were put away and then put together again.

There were as well philosophers who took into account both reason and faith or senses. For example Rene Descartes considered the reason to be a stronger argument as the sense to the basic knowledge, but on the other hand he stated that senses still played some important role in the scientific researches aimed to understand the surrounding world.

As we see from all these historical examples, the contradiction of scientific knowledge and faith and the connection between them are both rather strong, and provide an endless field for researches, ideas and confrontations for scientists and philosophers of all times. “Clearly, theorists might consider humility an asset when attempting to reconstruct the origin of the universe and its life. But more importantly, humility is essential to discussions about the methodological and presuppositional roots of science itself” (3).

It is a pity that usually the scientific education has no or little time for such discussions. Matters of methods and meaning are usually left for such disciplines as philosophy and epistemology, which as a rule seem to be too esoteric for scientists who see the whole world as a combination of physical and chemical causes. We can not certainly state that scientists are to narrow-minded in this sense and not aware of the ethical considerations. The fact is that science was developed in the frames of philosophic naturalism and positivism.

The main idea of naturalism was that all events are the results of physical or natural causes. In this case the human mind was considered to be a composition of “evolutionary adjustments responding to chemical and biological stimuli”. The conclusion of the theory is that the human mind is simply a machine, not able to know the truth and only able to produce some response to outer stimuli. In this case the phrase of Professor Haldane seems appropriate “If mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose my beliefs are true … and hence no reason for supposing my brain to be made of atoms.” (5).

The school of logical positivism was as well contradictory. The positivists stated that all knowledge comes through senses and took ironically the issues of knowledge that could not be justified through senses.

Till the moment we were talking merely about scientific knowledge and faith, but we should not forget about the role and place of faith in religion. On the one hand the belief which was not examined is worth actually nothing, but on the other hand religion and spirituality are not that simple. Usually a lot of human emotions are connected with religion. Usually people do not put their emotions away and do not try to think whether they believe in God existence in the light of some evidences. But the blind faith would be as well a bad basis for the religion and thus most folks have their own reasons that they consider to be valid enough to develop their beliefs.

Most people nowadays do differentiate between secular and religious, even people who believe in Bible would hardly state that Scripture is a science. Faith and reason are antithetical philosophies. Those who advocate religious faith state the people should not look for some evidence and should believe the fact as there is a “higher authority” in the absences of these evidences. Those who advocate the reason state that all the truth can be gained only through perceptions of reasons and data of senses.

Overall, people were arguing concerning the matters of knowledge and faith many hundreds of years ago already. And still it seems rather difficult to find the correct answers to many questions related to these issues. A person would certainly fell himself at the right place and rather secure if his knowledge and faith came to certain agreement. That would be perfect if a person came through his own experience to the same conclusions as his faith stated before. But we should as well pay attention to the definition of knowledge offered by skeptics: “knowledge is partly that there has to be some form of widespread agreement, and substantial evidence with justification” (5). So it is still not quite clear how far knowledge goes beyond faith. In the definition of knowledge we see that it should present no simple beliefs but justified by reason beliefs. There is a simple example: the scientists provide the evidences that the Earth is a sphere and it is absolutely different when somebody says that he believes that the Earth is round, actually during the ancient times people believed that the Earth was flat and that some animals were holding it, they had no evidences, but they had faith. It is thus not easy to answer the question whether the faith is a legitimate basis for knowledge, as the opinions of skeptics and believers were different. A legitimate basis assumes that this is a really reliable source of knowledge, but still even scientific knowledge can depend on some specific circumstances and thus be subjective. So, we can not negate that faith plays an important role in most branches of knowledge, but it still can not be considered always true.

1. d’Espagnat, Bernard, “Quantum Theory and Reality,” Scientific American, p. 128, November 1979; and Letters Section, May 1980.
2. Bishop, Jerry, “Creation Theory Doesn’t Predict-or Postdict,” The Wall Street Journal, New York, New York, December 27,1981.
3. Polanyi, Michael, Science, Faith and Society, London, England: Oxford University Press, 1946.
4. Wolterstorf, Nicholas, Reason Within the Bounds of Religion, Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976.
5. Schaeffer, Francis, He is There and Not Silent, Wheaton, Illinois, Tyndale House Publishers, 1972.

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