William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

What Faith Is Not

Archbishop Thomas Collins of Toronto, quoted in a Christmas newspaper article1 discussing the virgin birth of Jesus, said that he had “never seen a quark and nor has anyone else. They are, he said, like so many other things we take on faith, beyond our human comprehension.”

Another example: I have been on a plane and have heard a fellow passenger say that he has “faith” that the pilot will land us safely.Quark

These are common uses of the word faith, and the sense in which it is used (akin to trust) in our two examples is well known. But I believe these uses are improper, are a distraction, and have caused much unnecessary argument.

It is not faith that drives my belief in quarks and it is not because of faith that I believe the plane will land safely. I believe in quarks and safe flights based on evidence. (How that evidence drives belief does, however, hinge ultimately on faith; see below). Even stronger, quarks are not beyond human comprehension; statements like Collins’s are paradoxical because humans in the first place proposed quarks, thus they comprehended them.

I am most certainly not arguing that quarks are real, or that all planes will land safely. We know that some planes crash, and the evidence for quarks is elusive to most of us. But there is evidence, and an enormous amount of it, that most planes will make it home fine, and other evidence which shows that quarks are real. Both of these beliefs, therefore, are the result of reasonable arguments (unarticulated, almost certainly, for most humans, but that fact does not matter here).

A common (and stupid) misconstrual of faith is found in, for example, the Skeptic’s Dictionary:

Faith is a non-rational belief in some proposition. A non-rational belief is one that is contrary to the sum of the evidence for that belief. A belief is contrary to the sum of the evidence if there is overwhelming evidence against the belief, e.g., that the earth is flat, hollow, or is the center of the universe. A belief is also contrary to the sum of the evidence if the evidence seems equal both for and against the belief, yet one commits to one of the two or more equally supported propositions.

That web page also approvingly quotes Mark Twain, who said, “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.” We can dispense with these blatant misuses of the word immediately. Believing what you know is false is idiocy or contrariness or obstinacy or insanity, not faith. This definition says more about the authors of the definition than it says about faith. Twain should rather have said, “Faith is believing what I, Mark Twain, believe ain’t so.”

Incidentally, the Skeptic’s Dictionary’s definition of non-rational belief as a belief “that is contrary to the sum of the evidence” is not controversial, and the two examples it uses are fine. But it false, and against all experience, to say it is irrational to “commit to one of the two or more equally supported propositions.” If this were true it would therefore be irrational to carry an umbrella when the forecast is for 50% chance of rain. (It would also be irrational to weight propositions by how much you would gain or lose depending which turned out to be true; this is the technical subject of decision analysis.)

It is mere abuse to say that faith “is a non-rational belief in some proposition.” This is no sort of definition at all, only an aspersion on a perfectly good word. This petulant casting is almost certainly the result of an overreaction to the gross misuses of faith from the “other side,” i.e., those who are religious. The Dictionary quotes one of these people, UC Davis Professor Richard Davis, who says, “A statement like … ‘everything evolved from purely natural processes’ cannot be supported by the scientific method and is a statement of faith, not science.” Davis is obviously wrong, and uses the word faith in the same sense as the person claiming the plane will land safely.

Misuse of faith by the religious is common, e.g., Archbishop Collins’s quip. When this misuse happens, it is usually because the religious are seeking to counter certain scientific statements which they believe threaten their beliefs. As a weak counterattack, some religious devotees attempt to argue that much of science is also taken on faith. Sort of a “We’re all in this thing together, so leave me alone” argument. This is unfortunate, but is no reason to dismiss the word altogether. For example, physicist Paul Davies, writing for the New York Times (quoted on the Skeptic’s Dictionary) said, “..science has its own faith-based belief system. All science proceeds on the assumption that nature is ordered in a rational and intelligible way.” Davies’s first sentence is true, his second is false (in the now familiar manner). Why is the first one true?

This is faith: the belief in a thing for which there is no (empirical) evidence.

For Christians, misuse of faith most likely begins with Hebrews 11:1, which reads, “…faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” This use of evidence should not be seen in its empirical sense, but some have attempted to take it this way by, perversely, requiring faith in evidence, which is what Davies is trying to do in his second sentence.

But Davies’s first sentence is true: every atheist, scientist, and mathematician has faith in certain statements, rules, and propositions they believe to be true but cannot prove; further, these things are impossible to prove. That is, there is no, and can be no, empirical evidence for them. Nevertheless, they still believe that they are true. It is even necessary that they do so. These propositions form the very basis of logic, probability and statistics, as well as physics, chemistry, and on and on. All belief begins in faith.


1This post ran originally on 26 December 2007, a time when this blog was young.


  1. William Briggs writes:

    the law of identity (A is A)
    the law of noncontradiction (A is not not-A)
    the law of excluded middle (A is either A or not-A)

    Nice to find another admirer of David Stove. Unfortunately, Stove never provided balance along with the humour and much food for serious thinking. Alan Chalmers’ “What is this thing called Science?” University of Queensland Press goes a long way toward providing that.

    Keep up the good work 🙂

  2. For some reason “What are these statements?” after “William Briggs writes” was dropped.

  3. Briggs

    February 13, 2008 at 6:24 pm

    Mr P. Git,

    Didn’t Stove also write about Chalmers’ book somwhere? I seem to recall it in, maybe, “Popper and After”. I’ll have to look it up.


  4. William

    Stove loathed Popper, and by extension Chalmers. Chalmers was a student of Popper, though by no means a sycophant. Chalmers was also involved in the Philosophy War. See “The Sydney Philosophy Disturbances”:


    Few books have contributed as much to philosophy as Stove’s “Darwinian Fairytales” and Chalmers’ “What is This Thing Called Science?”

    The only other book of Stove’s I possess is “The Rationality of Induction”. Thanks for reminding me I need to acquire more 🙂

  5. Ok, I’ll bite. Please enlighten me and tell me what exactly it is that I “believe” and that I have no empirical evidence at all of?

    Because that’s the juice which is missing, and without which, only with faith can someone believe in your post ;).

  6. I often find myself wondering what is it that keeps me hooked to this blog, despite so often disagreeing with the opinions of the writer. I think part of the answer is in posts like this. Great read!

  7. Certain people take it on faith that government spending of borrowed money can permanently improve the economy. For some values of “permanently.” Whatever “improve” means.

  8. Grzegorz Staniak

    October 28, 2011 at 12:01 pm

    The definition of “knowledge” is one of the most stable definitions known in philosophy, practically unchanged since Plato, i.e. about 2300 years old: justified true belief, known as JTB (modern philosophers have found a number of technical border cases which seem to necessitate an extension of this definition, some JTB+, but it’s not really clear yet how it should be done). By reducing this definition you get two kinds of “faith”: justified belief and belief, alone and unqualified. You can call them “rational” and “irrational faith” respectively. Now, the difference between religious faith and other kinds of “faith” consists exactly of the “justified” component. We all rely on “faith” (the rational one) in everyday life, work, science etc. etc. Problems begin when we start accept things there’s no justification for, or even things there’s evidence against.

  9. Briggs

    October 28, 2011 at 12:27 pm

    Luis, Grzegorz,

    There are things which we believe, and must believe, in the absence of all empirical evidence. Example: the a priori. See this post for a sketch.

    It is also easy to show that it is rational to believe in “things there’s evidence against.” Trivial example: given some evidence we conclude the probability of rain is 49%. Most evidence is against rain. But nobody would say it is irrational to carry an umbrella (perhaps you are wearing suede).

  10. My goodness….all this over what is really a broad-based feature of English & many other languages: many words have multiple meanings, and which meaning is often discernable from context, the speaker’s/writer’s definitions (which may be overt or discernable from the context), etc.

    This essay creates debate, argument & counter-argument, founded on mis-matching one person’s definition against another’s, or more precisely, superimposing one person’s definition on a slightly different one used by another speaker. Mistranslations, in other words, accepted as factual re-representations, which they are not.

    All good fun for a place like this…but as a habit it can be dangerous if it intrudes into formal contracts, interpersonal relationships where the ‘fingerpointing’ of who said what can often become indistinguishable from certain manifestations of significant personality disorders such as NPD & BPD.

  11. Briggs

    October 28, 2011 at 12:46 pm


    You’re welcome to clarify the alleged mismatches or to show how my argument is in error. Merely to say it is isn’t, of course, a proper reply.

  12. Grzegorz Staniak

    October 28, 2011 at 12:47 pm

    Mr. Briggs,

    Yeah, there’s a whole system of initial assumptions underneath most of the notions and ideas that we use, but that’s not necessarily relevant in this context. And if we talk about relative weight of evidence for and against, we’re back to criteria of certainty. I should’ve qualified this as “convincing/conclusive/prevalent evidence against” or some such.

  13. A wonderful essay, and yet I find myself disagreeing with the ending:

    These propositions form the very basis of logic, probability and statistics, as well as physics, chemistry, and on and on. All belief begins in faith.

    Earlier, faith is defined as “the belief in a thing for which there is no (empirical) evidence.” Yet, there is a great deal of empirical evidence that science, mathematics and their applications (technology) work. When I was just a slip of a lad I sat in a university library one day for hours with a three-foot stack of books trying to find the “truth,” and eventually concluded:

    The truth is what works. And William James wasn’t even in the stack!

    I would argue that the reason we accept “certain statements, rules and propositions” is not faith, as defined here, but pragmatism. Ultimately, not accepting them would kill us. Curiously, even the most hardened atheists who would claim they have no “faith” at all seem willing to do almost anything to stay alive.

  14. I’m not quite sure of your point in the penultimate paragraph. The writer of Hebrews 11:1 says that faith — something commonly considered an abstract result of belief — is a concrete argument (i.e., substantial evidence) for the existence of the invisible. A plain reading says that faith *should* be taken in the empirical sense, doesn’t it? Your criticism of requiring “faith in evidence” is valid, but I don’t see how you get it from the passage. What am I misunderstanding?

    But I disagree with “This is faith: the belief in a thing for which there is no (empirical) evidence.” To be actual and more than fantasy, faith must have some empirical evidence. The great Christian apologist of the last century, C.S. Lewis, makes a case for his religious faith on several lines of empirical evidence: historical, personal, sociological, psychological, etc. Lewis had great faith because of the evidence he could not dismiss as untrue, not in spite of it.

  15. Briggs,

    The umbrella is bad example. There is a difference between believe it might and and believe it will.

    For most people (actually, all I think) faith in a deity is really faith in authority. You believe it because someone told you it was so and you believe that someone. For many people, the only evidence available for science is that applying it works. But that is really technology — not science. Science tells us how and why plants grow vs. whether or not they will grow or the better methods for growing them. People knew the latter long before they knew the why(s). Belief in the how and why though is a leap of authority-based faith for those who haven’t seen the evidence. It effectively is no different than believing in God.

  16. Dav,

    I thought the umbrella was a great example. Faith can absolutely mean believing something might happen – degrees of faith exist. Someone might say that there’s is a 1% chance it will rain, while another says there’s a 100% chance of rain. Faith is carrying an umbrella.

  17. You missed the url in your link mr Briggs.

    I have yet to see a good argument on why I *must* believe in this abstract and theoretical notion of the “a priori”. I believe in none of this, as far as I am aware. I assume many a priori assumptions in every proposition that I make (such as assuming you understand the language you are speaking for instance), but all of these assumptions do not require faith. Perhaps some of them I take for granted, and never questioned. What is important however is that this possibility is always present: I can always question my “a prioris”, and they are always meaningful questions, with possible answers to be found.

    Perhaps I won’t find answers for all of them, I have no doubt about that. However, the fact that I take some for granted does not give you permission to say that I take them on faith. It’s a more simple matter really: I take them as more probable than the alternatives, perhaps by prejudice or by the feeblest of evidences. Nevertheless, never by “faith”, since I can always question them, and can arrive at the most agnostic of answers. The fact that I can be pretty much agnostic on many things does not exclude me from choosing one assumption over the others and construct propositions based on it.

    None of this requires faith. If however you are saying that I must believe in “the process” that I am speaking of, no such thing is also true: I have nasty suspicions over my thinking methods every day. You do recognize this as a good thing, too, I’m sure: it’s the basis for any thriving philosophy. For instance, I have nasty suspicions that this “a priori” you speak so “holy” of is a poor construct that you do not understand very well, so you deem we have it “by faith” (the philosophical version of goddidit).

    I am still waiting for a reasonable argument.

  18. DAV, science does not tell us “how” and “why” things are. Science is merely a construct that compresses information about the universe in the most effective manner. Do not assume science deals with metaphysics and you won’t reach the conclusion that it deals with metaphysics. It’s as easy as that.

  19. “Trivial example: given some evidence we conclude the probability of rain is 49%. Most evidence is against rain. But nobody would say it is irrational to carry an umbrella (perhaps you are wearing suede).”
    It is not irrational because the expected gain is greater than zero (the hassle of getting wet -times its probability- is greater than the hassle of carrying an umbrella –times its probability). A probability below 50% is irrelevant. The odds of dying without my seatbelt are slim (but non zero based on evidence), but the potential loss is very high, so I wear the seatbelt. That is the rational thing to do.

  20. Yes David, the examples here displayed are abysmal. If this is the best Mr Briggs can do…

  21. Briggs

    October 28, 2011 at 5:35 pm


    Rats, busy day. Link fixed: here it is.

    Quick argument to show faith as trust also empirical. We trust in/have faith in a physicist telling us there are M-branes because of all the times physicists have told us a thing was true, it turned out to be true. Faith/trust is rational based on experience, i.e. empirical observations.

    But the a priori is not—yet you can’t get anywhere (see the link) without the a priori. It is the foundation—a foundation which we must have faith in the sense I use it. I.e. believe is something for which no empirical evidence exists.

    Although it is irrelevant to whether what I claim is true, I am by far from the first philosopher to make this claim.



  22. The payoff pitch from the link: “Empiricism, a.k.a. experience, is not enough. You must have a start in intuition. This goes for math, logic, induction, and non-deductive logic. All your knowledge begins within intuition.”

    Taking my thinking the one important step further–thank you very much!

    Faith without works is dead. But works without faith is…impossible?

    Strangely, all of the comments have gone full italics since Adam H. We will see if that continues.

  23. Mr. Briggs,

    A useful exercise is considering the difference between the assertions “I believe the gun is not loaded”, and “I have faith the gun is not loaded.” Once you observe the gun chamber, you believe completely, and your faith goes away.

    From this we can define “belief” as “a statement of confidence that a proposition is true, given the evidence, where the level of confidence is proportional to the amount of evidence”.

    Similarly, we can define “faith” as “a statement of confidence that a proposition is true, given the evidence, where the level of confidence is inversely proportional to the amount of evidence”.

    This definition is valid for the usage where overwhelming evidence (or strong, or a preponderance, or damning, or convincing, or whatever the measure) increases confidence and thus belief.

    This also valid for the usage where, unlike angels, humans cannot directly observe God, and thus humans must have faith that God exists. (Armed with evidence, angels require no such faith.)

    Finally this is also valid for the usage you outlined in your essay: if we constrain the type of evidence to “empirical evidence”, then empiricists could (and do) express confidence in terms of belief. The special case where there is absolutely no empirical evidence, such as a first principle, would be for an empiricist the domain of faith.

  24. Faith is a difficult concept, and because of so many people maligning religion in all its forms (using faith as a club), the meaning has gotten confused or lost in the rhetoric for society in general.

    My Oxford dictionary (hard copy) says:
    Trust: A firm belief in the reliability, truth, strength etc… of a person or thing.
    Faith: (1)Complete trust, unquestioning confidence. (2) Strong belief, especially in a religious doctrine.

    I like the first part of Faith(1), but not the second part. The second is correct, but I’m betting most people forget or ignore, that the focus is on the subject, religious doctrine.

    Mark Twain was a comedian. Technically correct or not, he’s using the common usage of faith (as in when someone wields it as a club) to openly say what is meant when they use this type of argument. Some will believe it; some know it’s not correct. But it’s funny either way.

    You say “Misuse of faith by the religious is common…”.
    I would say “Misuse of faith is common”.

    Your representation of Hebrews 11:1, is also (I believe) not correct. Though I suspect many Christians do as you say.
    The evidence spoken of ‘is’ the faith, not that faith is based on such-and-such evidence. But that their faith, is the evidence, of things unseen. In this context the things unseen are a given, and the faith is the evidence of it.

    I do love this site Mr. Briggs. And I’m amazed you come up with so many mind bending articles so rapidly. Thanks much.

  25. I’m with Robert on this one.

    “A wonderful essay, and yet I find myself disagreeing with the ending:… All belief begins in faith.”

    This traditional grounding in nonjustified assumption(s) is rendered obsolete in pan-critical or comprehensively critical rationalism as formulated by Popper’s followers like W. W. Bartley.


    David Stove had a poor grasp of Popper and thus distorted his reasoning to bash PoMo nonsense, when Popper would have had – had he lived longer – nothing to do with it.

    Thus, as an American, I mostly encounter Stove cited approvingly by Objectivists like Will Wilkerson and Diana Hsieh. (Ironically, the latter arrive at a similar stance as Popperians do while attacking his anti-justificationist route.)

    Aussie Rafe Champion corrects this ignorance in brief here:


    AND AT LENGTH and squarely aimed at Stove, here:

  26. Archbishop Collins clearly has faith (Greg’s definition 1) that “that the Son of God was born to a virgin Jewish woman in a stable in a not-so-great part of Bethlehem about 2,000 years ago”, much more than he should for someone who studies these things. See Diarmaid MacCulloch cast much doubt on it here:
    or the translation issues of the word ‘virgin’ in the gospels here:

    ‘belief’ involves the trust of others in things you cannot confirm yourself. normal.
    ‘faith’ is a declaration that you will not investigate or question certain things. pathological.
    (your definitions may vary)

  27. The last link to my post above
    concludes with an example of the egregious nature of charges made ala Stove against Popper. The claim that Popper is among PoMo promoting irrationalists is challenged by Rafe Champion. Finding no one so influenced, the offending and misleading paragraph is expunged:

    Postscript. A False Claim about Popper

    The masthead of the David Stove Neo-Positivist Clubhouse, a Yahoo discussion group, once carried the following extract from a book review.

    “Stove’s greatest contribution to philosophy was his attack on the irrationalism that infests modern philosophy of science, in particular the sort of relativist and ‘social constructivist’ views so current in sociology of science and postmodernist humanities departments, in which modern science is regarded as no better (or worse) than voodoo or astrology or reading chicken entrails. Much of Stove’s effort in this matter was expended in attacking what he saw, quite rightly, as the source of this silliness, namely Karl Popper’s view that while we can refute theories, we can never have any reason to think that a theory is true or, more to the point, that we can never have any reason to think that one theory is more likely to be true than another”.

    If Popper’s views are identified as the source of the postmodernist silliness it should be possible to find some exponent of that silliness who attributes his or her stance to the influence of reading Popper, or who has taken on board Popper’s ideas (if not directly from him) and consequently moved to adopt the irrationalist or social constructivist position.

    I am not aware of any person who has taken that route. I cannot understand how a person who has understood Popper’s ideas on critical rationalism and the critical method in science could possibly move in that direction. Unless of course they repudiate the logic of Popper’s position, for good reasons or bad, in which case they can hardly be said to be acting under his influence.

    The members of the discussion group were asked over a period of weeks, possibly months, to come up with an example, otherwise the group manager should remove the false claim from the masthead of the group. Feyerabend was the only name put forward, however he is not a valid candidate because the rejected Popper’s critical rationalism, root and branch. On the face of the evidence presented (nil) the claim in invalid. Similarly David Stove’s criticisms of Popper are invalid and should be retracted.

    Rafe Champion, February 2003

    Note added in 2011 – the discussion group disbanded some time ago and the offending para is not replicated on the David Stove site.

  28. mr Briggs, I still don’t see any reference to “a priori” in your link… but there’s the assertion that ultimately things hang on “intuition”. I say this is nonsense and does not describe how things work out in reality. In reality, every proposition hangs in the prior knowledge of the proposer, if he’s being careful – if he isn’t he is probably making stuff up as he goes along, something that is also not completely stupid, if one is at least aware of it – and if we go back sufficiently enough we realise that the first propositions we make are imitations of what authorative figures teach us when we were young.

    “Now now”, you might say, “isn’t that process just the rephrasing of what I am saying? After all, the youngsters have *faith* in what their parents teach them”. This is, of course, nonsense no2. Every time an authoritive figure tells us something important, we make an obvious inference that it is more probable that he is telling the truth than not. If however this figure errs a lot, the youngster “matures” a lot sooner realising that he cannot take anyone’s statements for granted.

    However, if one matures to the point of having a competent philosophy of thinking, one realises that there is no “bottom” assumption that one has to take for granted. This is the ancient idiocy of metaphysics, and should be abandoned, right along with astrology and alchemy as errors of thought. There is no “special” proposition to be declared holy and dogmatic. There is no “exception” to the rule of “question everything”.

    What does exist however is an infinite number of assumptions that we take every day, because we are simply incapable of questioning every single one of them all at the same time. All of these assumptions “hang in the balance” until they are questioned and revised. And they are constantly so. It’s like living inside a building that you are yourself erecting and correcting at the same time (some people call it “the human condition”).

    Even this process I am trying to simplify enough for this conversation I do not have any “faith” in. It works, and apparently, it works better if we think it without any holy “a prioris”. It works, thus I accept it, until someone shows me something better. Which is not only possible, but almost inevitable: life is just that rich.

  29. Grzegorz Staniak

    October 29, 2011 at 7:25 pm

    @Luis Dias

    It’s not about “holy and dogmatic” propositions, it’s about the foundations of philosophical systems. Whatever you might think, once you start the questioning and revisions of your everyday assumptions, you’re bound to reach assumptions that simply cannot be reduced or derived — they just have to be assumed based on your arbitrary decisions or “intuitions”. You can’t avoid it, once you subject your knowledge to a disciplined analysis.

  30. Perry at Bishop Hill said

    Faith is much better than belief. Belief is when someone else does the thinking.

    — Bucky Fuller, in Playboy magazine (1972)

    With mathematics, we know that at the bottom there must be axioms. With physics, the bottom line is a *faith* that the universe is rational, under a rule of law. With religion, there is a faith that there are exceptions to the rules of physics.

    To the common man, faith begins much higher up the scale. Going back to the Archbishop’s Christmas article, I always find it amazing how many people believe Christ was born on the 25th of December.

  31. Grzegorz, call it what you wish. They seem synonymous to me: a “foundation” that can only be assumed, never reduced or derived, seems too much like “holy” and “dogmatic” for me to accept it. I have been told by you and others that this is the case, but I never get to see any real examples of this.

    Perhaps you want me to accept it by faith ;). I will do no such thing.

    (about the nonsense that physics has to accept that the universe is “rational” under a rule of “law” we can talk later… what a silly description of physics!)

  32. Grzegorz Staniak

    October 31, 2011 at 1:52 pm

    @Luis Dias

    However “holy” or “dogmatic” it sounds to you, you do it yourself, like everybody else — you accept certain initial assumptions of your philosophical views without any proof. You don’t have to take my or anybody’s word for it — just try to analyze the justification of anything that you’re certain of. Soon you’ll hit a “because that’s how it is” that cannot be further analyzed, an axiom of your system of knowledge/beliefs. See for yourself.

  33. “The definition of “knowledge” is one of the most stable definitions known in philosophy, practically unchanged since Plato, i.e. about 2300 years old: justified true belief”

    Really? I seem to recall that Plato held that knowledge implied finality.

  34. Yes that s so easy to do. “i won’t tell you how, but if you look hard enough, you will see that I am right.if you still don’t see it it is because you haven’t looked hard enough…”

    This is of course an unacceptable answer. I am not demanding from you a good answer, notice, but making it clear that the one you gave me won’t do. Your answer implies that my “system” of logic or philosophy is perfect or flawless, but I have no such illusions or aspirations. If you however accept human reason as a product of a flawed brain, you will understand that there is no need of a bottom turtle. Its turtles way down and when you notice you are on the first turtle where you began, but perhaps its not exactly the same one, etc. whenever I stumble in something that I can’t understand without saying “its what it is” I never ascribe this limitation on arriving somewhere special in the building of my own philosophy, but rather I ascribe it as failure pof my imagination.

    Likewise, when someone tels me they arrived at such point I think they are just unimaginative and excusing their own failures with some philosophical bull.

  35. Grzegorz Staniak

    November 1, 2011 at 7:45 pm

    @Louis Dias

    One quick question: you regard the human brain as “flawed” based on what criteria?

  36. First, the easy point: Archbishop Collins’ statement, “They are, he said, like so many other things we take on faith, beyond our human comprehension.”, to which our host took exception. If he had said “beyond our own human comprehension”, or simply “beyond my comprehension”, he would have been right. Even if he had said it’s beyond most of us. This is true for most of us, perhaps most of the time, because we cannot all be experts in everything. Therefore, we have to take some things on trust, and depending on who you trust your beliefs will vary.

    Second, language (say English) does not have a set of formal definitions, despite the existence of dictionaries. The dictionaries are after-the-fact descriptions of word meanings which are moving targets. Language works (to some extent), and is a good example of a bootstrap, yet as Ken says above, it can lead to rhetoric, politics, and he said she said. and endless debate without answers.

    Finally, the silly thing. I will concede that philosophy does not need axioms or foundations, but then it must be written off as mind games. The fact that science can not show turtles all the way down merely shows that there is a limit to what can be known.

  37. Greg, I say the human brain is flawed given the extensive empirical historical evidence of its hilarious outputs throughout time. Even the philosopher dr. Stove who is generally admired by our host has a very comprehensive story on this phenomena. If you look at the output of philosophy of the past, you will see that the vast majority of it is just terrible thinking. And yet at the time it was appreciated. This also teaches me not to find current philosophy “findings” too seriously.

  38. Outlier, science is in itself turtles all the way down for the simplest reason that it is and always will be incomplete. When it becomes “complete”, if that is even possible, it stops being science.

  39. Grzegorz Staniak

    November 5, 2011 at 6:10 am


    OK, so your “flawed” brain is capable of producing ideal criteria, according to which, based on the evidence of its past productions, you declare it as “flawed”. Don’t you see the paradox here?

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