I have two blogs I maintain currently: Perspective and Navigating by Faith. Perspective and faith loosely characterize my journey over many years: trying to find perspective and understanding the value, the necessity, and the integrity of a faith grounded in reality, both observable and unseen.
Many people believe that faith is the opposite of fact and at odds with science and reason. I strongly disagree. I have come to believe that faith is inescapable for finite beings – both religious ones and non-religious ones alike – and faith lies at the core of everything we believe to be true.
I was listening to a podcast discussion recently when one of the participants said something like this: When we approach any evidence, we approach it with a perspective. This is a non-pejorative way of saying that we are all “biased”.
As finite beings we are all necessarily “biased” by our own perspective, our own experiences, our own knowledge, understanding and ability to grasp, synthesize and categorize what we know and understand. Our perspective is influenced and filtered through our location in the world, our place in the culture and society in which we live, the history that we remember, and too many other things to summarize them adequately in a short blog article.
The discussion in the podcast that prompts this writing focused briefly on the fact that we all bring assumptions to the table when we consider anything. Those assumptions, however intentionally or surreptitiously developed, are the bedrock of each of our worldviews. They are the foundations on which we stand. They are the filters through which we see the world.
Those assumptions are developed, to a greater or lesser degree, by some combination of our external influences, our internal leanings and reactions to those external influences, and our consciously or unconsciously chosen compass points we use to guide ourselves in sorting out the information we encounter.
At the most basic level, those assumptions are axiomatic. They are truths we take for granted. We cannot prove them, and we rarely question them without crisis. We are fortunate if they hold us in good stead, if they are well-enough grounded in reality and fact to be of benefit to us in our dealings with the circumstances of our lives.
If those basic assumptions are not well considered and well-grounded, we can be blown about by every wind. If they are not based in fact and an accurate grasp of the nuance of reality, they can prove little consolation or comfort in times of crisis. If they are not well-anchored in timeless truth, they can leave us adrift when we need to count on them most.
The unique perspectives in light of which finite beings approach any evidence is necessarily limited and biased because we are limited and finite beings. At best, we can only hope to orientate ourselves in the direction of truth. We don’t define truth. We don’t establish truth. We don’t’ generate truth.
This is necessarily the case with finite beings who can only approach reality from a particular location at a particular time in the context of a particular cultural, historical, and philosophical point of view.
If I was omniscient and all seeing, I could have ultimate confidence in my perspective. My perspective would be objective and factual. My perspective would be the measure of all reality.
But no human being can validly make that claim (though we may and often do think and act like we can). In all honesty and humility, we must each admit that we come at evidence from a perspective with bias born out of our own experience, cultural context, limited knowledge and limited understanding.
We don’t know what we don’t know.
As a necessary corollary to these things, which I believe with all the certainty that I can possibly ascribe to these things, we are creatures of faith. All of us. We have no choice put to adopt our fundamental principles on faith. We do not have the requisite perspective to have more certainty than that.
My conclusion in this regard is based on fact (that humans are finite beings) and “logic” or philosophy, which reasons from the fact that we are finite to conclude that our perspective is limited thereby. Because our perspective is limited, we must rely on faith in making our conclusions which, themselves, derive from the fundamental assumptions we also take on faith. We can’t escape these limitations because they are inherent in finite creatures such as ourselves.
Some people even in this modern age, however, have boldly claimed that science is the study of all the reality that exists. Further, they say, therefore, we no longer need philosophy or theology. (I have heard Neil deGrasse Tyson say this very thing.) I am going to push back on that idea in this blog post.Continue reading “Thoughts on Perspective, Science and Faith”