Thoughts on Faith and Induction

If the problem of induction tells us that we are not justified in establishing law-like relations in science, then upon what do we base our certainty that the sun will “rise” tomorrow, or that magnetic poles of opposite charge will always attract each other? Is it possible that we simply have faith that these phenomena will occur? Is it possible, then, that science is also very much like what we consider religion? Since we cannot use induction to affirm law-like relations, perhaps it is merely our faith in causal relations that make them law-like. In other words, our having faith in causal relations prompts us to expect that those relations will persist. If that is not a very proper example of faith, then perhaps I don’t know what faith is.
Yours In Contemplation,


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8 Responses to Thoughts on Faith and Induction

  1. Tafacory says:

    I think you overextend the definition of faith. If you define it more explicitly then perhaps my following comments won’t apply. Normally, however, faith is defined by a lack of evidence. One believes or accepts something without evidence, not certainty. Lack of certainty is certainly a component of faith, but it is not the main one. Rather, the lack of certainty is a byproduct of the lack of evidence or a lack of knowledge of the evidence. So while we cannot be certain that the Sun will rise tomorrow, we are not entertaining faith, per se, when we believe it will. Our evidence comes from every previous day of our lives and the lives of others. So we can make a kind of probabilistic argument to supplement with our observational experiences which thereby negates the condition of faith. Now if you define faith more broadly, yes, everyone has to have faith about many things. But again, there’s a difference between that kind of faith and religious faith. There is a giant chasm between the two. They are similar vaguely in concepts only. Does that make sense? What are your thoughts?

    • Well, I think that we’re talking about necessary and sufficient conditions for faith. Taking induction as an example, Hume says (and most now agree) that we are unjustified in expecting law-like relations to come from looking at the past as a template; how do we know the sun will rise tomorrow? Because it always has in the past.

      This sort of reasoning seems a lot more dependent in faith than the probabilistic judgement, if only for one reason. Whereas we do certainly make those judgements about the future based on the past, we put faith in the probability that the pattern will hold. The logic at work here is not deductive, so we can’t say with full justification that what we’re working strictly within the bounds of evidence.

      That said, I think you have a good point about the narrow and wide definitions of faith. I think mine can generally be considered a wide definition. With regards to necessary conditions, well I’d have to think about it, but I’d say that a sufficient condition for faith would have to be implicit belief that something is the case without rational justification. If that condition obtains, then I argue that the person is using faith.

      Very interesting perspective on this. I thank you for your insights!

      Yours in Contemplation,

  2. whitefrozen says:

    Depends on how you define faith – for the Christian, of course, faith is the opposite of blind belief in a lack of evidence, so I don’t really have the problem of the unitelligbility of intelligibility (to quote Stanley Jaki on the matter).

  3. Ryan says:

    For me, I have more of a problem with your definition of science and your characterization of scientific thought than with faith, although I agree with Tafacory’s comments. In strict matters of science, we are encouraged not to “believe” that something necessarily will happen, but rather that the evidence we have available to us currently indicates that a particular outcome is the most likely (Tafacory’s probabilistic argument). We do not have all the relevant data, and the conditions of the system are constantly changing, most of the time in ways that do not affect the end outcome (the Sun still rises), but in ways that potentially could. The data set itself is collected through imperfect measurement and may reflect other, underlying processes that are stronger predictors but opaque to us because of our current level of understanding and our current framework. If anything, science is predicated on a profound valuing of doubt. Nothing–from past observations to present conceptions of reality and especially future predictions–is beyond the scope of reexamination and revision, including the very act of reexamination and revision, especially as new evidence becomes available. Knowledge is, in that sense, a pursuit and not an object, and while we have to, for practical reasons, use our current best judgments as the basis of thought and conjecture, we must also not hold to these presuppositions with the faith that they are correct, because that would risk blinding us to contrary evidence. What exactly do scientists have “faith” in? I think you’ve portrayed them rather unfairly.

  4. Ryan says:

    I would add that using 18th century philosophy as a means of evaluating 21st century science is rather inappropriate. Scientific thought now is not what it was then; we can’t speak about “knowing” things or having “proven” something in a peer-reviewed format without immediate, animate, and unanimous reprobation. When we publish findings, we state that the results we obtained did not occur by chance within a certain probability we abbreviate as a “p value,” with some disciplines like particle physics requiring a much stronger p value (p < .001) than most social sciences, for example, where higher p values are considered (p < .05). There could be other reasons why the results were obtained, and other explanations for the data observed, but the probability that the same data would be obtained by random chance with no underlying force is small, and in the discussion and conclusion, we present what we believe to be the most likely explanation given the current evidence, subject to refutation and the presentation of new and better evidence. That process and that system of thought is frankly irreconcilable with any standard definition of "faith."

    • If you think that it is so inappropriate, then please, solve the Problem of Induction for us. (Which is the impetus for the post.) I agree with Hume that merely because we have not yet found the solution to the problem of induction, does not mean that there is not one. But what it does certainly mean is that as a result, we DO put a kind of faith in the predictability of law-like relations without full justification. Law-like causality deals not in fractional probability, but full predictability with 100% probability, something we can’t achieve, as you pointed out, for a variety of reasons. So anyway, here is your opportunity to do what Popper, Kuhn, Lakatos, and other brilliant scientists have failed to do. It’s worth noting that I admire the work done by these men in mitigating just how much “faith” is relied upon in science (although Kuhn is a little shaky), but as the Bible says, you know, “faith the size of a mustard seed” and all that. 🙂

      Brilliant post, and I thank you for the very detailed analysis. You’ve given me some things to ponder.

      Yours in Contemplation,

      • Ryan says:

        I’m sorry if I came off as belligerent; that wasn’t my intention. I cannot solve or presuppose to solve the problem of induction by any means, but I guess what I was saying is that modern science has, for lack of a better term, punted on the question. Put simply, we have long since accepted that the generalizability of results is fundamentally limited since, like I mentioned, the sample is unavoidably incomplete, the conditions of the system are in constant flux, and the measurement and analysis are inherently imperfect. Hard and fast laws and law-like certainties in science are fallacies, and we have had to accept that our conclusions do not necessarily hold true everywhere for all things (or, more accurately, necessarily do not hold true everywhere for all things). That’s why I said it’s odd to cite Hume’s argument as a reason that modern science is built on faith; rather, his critique of induction has been accepted for many generations now. That said, in common parlance, people regrettably often speak about scientific studies “proving” X or Y, and laymen use language like “because of science, we know that…,” but this is not accepted practice within any sub-discipline. If you read an article in a peer-reviewed journal, that word “prove” will simply not appear except in the negative (“this does not, however, prove that…”) or when used as disproving some other theory. As one quick example, the recent paper from CERN which the media reported as having discovered “the Higgs Boson” was very careful to state that it had “shown direct evidence of” (not discovered) “a Higgs Boson or a Higgs-like particle,” going into a lengthy discussion about other possible explanations that might account for the observations, or potential flaws in the observations and observation technique that may have led to that data set’s collection. The very same scientists who smashed the protons to bits would not put faith in the notion that the Standard Model is therefore a perfect representation of the truth, but rather that it is the model which best explains the data currently available to us.

  5. Ryan,

    Of course I didn’t take your post to be belligerent, but rather that your purpose was to have me refine my position, perhaps. Anyway, you’re clearly well-versed in Phil of Sci so I won’t go into any further examples (like theoretical terms, etc.) to further support my theory about “faith” in science. Suffice it to say that I am merely trying to bridge the gap in my mind between God, and what I consider to be more “real” things, things (ostensibly) like science.

    Normally I feel like I would have engaged you more on this and had some more fun with the very high caliber of conversation we could have reached, but I received some bad news yesterday that has me in a state of… fear and trembling, for lack of a better description. Perhaps some day soon I will revisit this with the vigor it deserves; until then, be well.

    Yours In Contemplation,

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