Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Epistemic Faith

How do we come to beliefs and knowledge? Faith you might say? You have but to look at the list of failed deities and religions to understand that this kind of Faith is a failed methodology. 33,000 sects of Christianity, thousands of religions, thousands of 'gods', gods we find utterly absurd today such as the gods of the water, the moon, the air, and thunder. All were created in a Faith that wasn't based on evidence but on superstitions and presumptions.

So what has worked? Science? No, more fundamental -- removing known sources of factual error, removing known sources of cognitive biases, and removing known sources of illogic from our conclusions. Evidence is the only way we have to distinguish between competing claims. And it must come from our collective efforts - no single individual can know enough or be careful enough, this is the foundation of Peer-review, without which we fail (demonstrably) in the fundamentals of removing error, bias, and illogic.

It is out of these things that science is born. No effort is better for leaving in error, ensuring bias, and applying illogical constructs. Indeed, it would be a self-defeating proposition to assert that it would be.

That's my epistemic foundation. And from that I can tell you about a different kind of Faith, a Faith that demands it be held to the highest possible standards of evidence and scrutiny of methodology. A Faith that has proven itself successful in the advancement of knowledge when it is applied with rigour. A Faith that produces a convergence of belief on the evidence rather than a bifurcation of belief based on imaginary musing. It doesn't promise all answers nor pretend to certainty nor guarantee a false emotional security.

That's the kind of Faith I follow. And from it we have walked, not on water, but on the moon; cured intractable diseases, not by a laying on of hands or a casting of demons into pigs, but by laying on of knowledge about the true underpinning of disease and mental illness (genetics, prions, viruses, bacteria, poisons); and fed the multitudes, not through magical incantations, but by applying our understanding of offspring selection, genetics, and evolution to our food supply.

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