How are you defining “faith” as versus “Faith”?
If all you mean by “faith” is “trust”, as in “trust in the capacities of the engineer to have designed the bridge properly”, then clearly, there’s nothing wrong with it. But that’s not the sort of faith regularly extolled in religious contexts. It is also the sort of faith/trust that is based at least partly on evidence.
I think Nathan Myhrvold does a good job of explaining the difference between ‘Faith’ and ‘faith’, and even concedes that science includes trust like faith in a number of areas.
[quote author=“NATHAN_MYHRVOLD”] Like many bad arguments, it is based on some kernels of truth, and that is worth examining. Small elements of faith do crop into science generally, and physics in particular.
A priori, there is no reason to believe that the universe has simple laws of physics. The entire endeavor of physics is based on the belief—Paul would say faith—that:
(a) The universe is governed by a set of laws. (b) We humans can figure them out.
On an individual basis, each physicist also has a third form of faith:
(c) That through my own hunches, guesses and hard work, I can figure out some aspect of physical law.
Every discovery or invention is an unproven hunch or guess. You have to have faith in your own abilities, and your work, to move forward. But that is not capital “F” Faith of religion—it is the pragmatic working assumption that it is worth believing in yourself. Frankly, proposition (c) is far more important to a working scientist than (a) or (b). Any rational scientist with a bounded ego has to conclude that he or she is likely to be weak link in the chain. There may be a physical law, but are you going to be the one to understand it? Or, to be more mundane, will your funding grant be approved so you can even ask?
I think Paul is correct when he says that physicists have faith that (a)—(c) are true. It didn’t have to be this way. The great physicist and Nobel Prize winner Eugene Wigner wrote a brilliant essay on this many years ago entitled “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences”.
So I will concede that every physicist has (implicitly at least) faith that these propositions hold, else why waste your time doing physics? However, Paul conveniently overlooks the fact that time and time again, both propositions have indeed proven to be true! Furthermore, they are put to the test repeatedly by a process in which they can fail. A working physicist assumes that (a) and (b) hold because there is a 500 year history of propositions and tests. The net result is what we know about physics, which describes the world very well indeed.
Free speech, equality, et al. are moral concepts, and as such do not stem solely from science. There is something of an is/ought gap, after all. But that’s not to say we have “faith” or “trust” that free speech is justified. Indeed, I don’t even know what that would mean in this context. One does not “trust” in one’s moral beliefs, one simply believes them. Or if one is particularly diligent, one can attempt to go back to first principles (utilitarian, Kantian, Aristotelian, what have you) and derive them.
So let’s start with
One does not “trust” in one’s moral beliefs, one simply believes them. Or if one is particularly diligent, one can attempt to go back to first principles (utilitarian, Kantian, Aristotelian, what have you) and derive them.
So, help me out, how is Blind Moral Belief better than Blind Faith? And, how is this not an argument from personal conviction?
Additionally, how is the cognitive process of hearing one’s parents or a teacher preach about the importance of Free Speech, and then pondering this and coming to the conclusion that you agree with the principle and then accepting the principle, different than the cognitive process of hearing one’s parents or a teacher preach about the importance of “thou shalt not kill”, and then pondering this and coming to the conclusion that you agree with the principle and then accepting the principle?
Second, how is the cognitive process of ‘deriving’ something from utilitarian, Kantian, Aristotelian beliefs, different from cognitive process of ‘deriving’ them from Moses, Paul or Joseph Smith, or some mixture of the these and many other sources? How does one escape from the ‘turtles stacked upon turtles’ rational when using moral philosophy to derive moral philosophy?
If science is about finding truth from experiential data, either we have to conclude that the scientific method doesn’t apply to some of the most important decisions that a person must make, or we need to find ways to collect the experiential data to test beliefs like ‘Free Speech’. Personally, I’m ok with not testing this, which is why I’m also ok with a degree of moral pluralism, in fact a moral pluralism were my neighbors derive their beliefs from what source they may. While this may seem risky, it is most likely my faith in the goodness of people that keeps me from getting too worried with others deriving their own beliefs from their own sources. That said, this is another area that scares most religiously inclined people, as they often believe that scientifically inclined groups are going to require them to show ‘proof of belief’. Is this not the intended message of Russell’s Teapot? And, yet, who has taken the time to derive their own beliefs in Free Speech, or Human Equality, or non-discrimination based on race/gender/class/sexual orientation, etc, etc that would stand up to the Russell’s Teapot. At the end of the day, most people whip out an ‘argument from personal conviction’, which I’m ok with this as long as you allow the other people in the room to whip out theirs, and thus moral pluralism is born, and the need for societal consensus building across belief systems is necessitated.
That said, it seems we spend 10x+ the time tearing down other people’s beliefs, than we do building bridges across areas of common belief, if for no other reason than because we rarely admit our own personal convictions.