1. Any belief system must be based on faith. (All thought must have premise.)
Faith is simply a confidence or trust in something. Whether this is faith that what we see and taste and touch is actually real and is truly the way we perceive it to be, or whether that is faith in a being we are unable to see or touch, it is still a trust we cannot verify.
Likewise, any idea or thought must have something upon which it is built. No idea is self-sustaining, and therefore all reasoning must be circular reasoning, based upon some premise, which “proves” itself (or is self-evident).
This principle is difficult to prove even logically, much less materially, specifically because of… well… itself. To make it clear what this means, however, take the words “belief” and “faith” and all their connotations and throw them out the proverbial window. Instead, go with the second part of the statement, namely, All thought must have premise (which should be a tautology–a statement that is obviously true.)
Assuming for a few paragraphs that you don’t consider it a tautology, let’s examine. (If you’re already with me, then don’t expect to get anything new out of most of this post. Feel free to read on, but most of the post is for those who have never really thought through what a “premise” is. Try rejoining me at the last header if you get bored.)
Take the most obvious fact you can think of. A common (though foolish) example is “The sky is blue.” Now ask yourself “Why?” or “What caused this?” …The point here is to realize that “the sky is blue” is NOT a tautology. (In fact, the sky is blue because of the way that light refracts through air.) Now, ask yourself, “Why?” or, again, “What caused this?” Take any statement you like and ask those questions until you come to a standstill. At this point, you don’t have many options. The first option, “Well, that’s just the way it is” doesn’t really count.
Why doesn’t it count? Dig deeper. Unpack the statement just a bit. “Well, that’s just the way it is” is just another way of saying “This is the basic nature of reality. It acts this way because it IS this way.” …which begs the question “What (or Who) made reality behave as it does?” …Now you’ve got three possible answers. One is intellectually dishonest. The other two are functionally the same.
The First Answer
The intellectually dishonest answer is “I CAN NOT know what caused it or how it was caused so don’t bother asking.” …This is the essence of agnosticism. If this is where the train stops for you, then I have another tautology for you, namely. You are not capable of understanding everything there is to understand.
You’ve essentially just stated that you have learned you are in conflict with the nature of the universe and you don’t want to learn or grow any longer. If this is the case, then you have just pronounced yourself intellectually dead. (I have observed that one of the great purposes of humanity is curiosity and learning, and that if our curiosity were ever fully satisfied, our minds would wither and die.)
There are two possible choices at this point.
First: Decide that it’s worthwhile to learn what you can, even though you can’t know it all, and go on to answer two (which is probably your answer anyway, if you are honest with yourself).
Second: Decide that “You can’t know so it’s not worth asking.” …In other words, “I’m putting my head down here in the sand where it’s safe. Go away.”
And so, leaving the dead to bury their own dead, we proceed.
The Second Answer
So, we’ve just been asking the question, “What (or Who) made reality behave as it does?”
The first LEGITIMATE answer is “I don’t know.” …Which, again, isn’t really the end of the chain. Instead, ask the only question left, “How do you know that reality behaves this way?”
At this point, we’re left with another chain of logic. It probably goes something like this: “How do you know?” “Well, because science says so.” “How does science know?” “Because scientists tested it and found it to be so.” “How do you know they did?” (Which, not coincidentally, has the same answer as “How do they know their results were true?”) “Because I saw, heard, read, felt, smelled, tasted, learned, etc. that it was so.”
And so, the first of two end results to any such (intellectually honest) chain of logic is, “Because I trust what my senses tell me. They tell me that this is the nature of reality.”
Good. Now for the man on the other side of the religious fence.
The Third Answer
Again, the question is “What (or Who) made reality behave as it does?”
The second legitimate answer is, “It was created to be this way by some ultimate force (Probably God or a god). I believe that this is true.”
So what’s the point?
So far so good. We have two possible answers.
One: “I trust what my senses tell me. This is the nature of reality.”
Two: “God created it this way. This is how it is.”
OK. Fine. Now prove it.
So what are we left with, really?
We’re left saying “Trust me” or “Trust God.” Either way, aside from the simple fact that we believe it to be so, there is no possible way to logically prove anything in the world to someone who does not accept the same premise we do. (And the reason that “Trust God” people seem to argue with each other so much more than “Trust me” people is because usually there is more common ground to the way two people see the world than to the way two people see God.)
So really, what we have is two groups of people. One argues that we should trust our senses first. The other argues that we should trust God (or a god or gods or some other mystical force) first and our senses second. We start from two different premises, but both require that we trust something in order to arrive at any conclusion in the world.
No. What we have is as many groups of people as we have people, because (trust me) EVERYBODY is going to see SOMETHING about their premise a little differently than everybody else does. We’re lucky that we can agree on anything at all.
What does all this mean?
Well, first off, the above chain of logic was what originally convinced me that every belief system must be based on some sort of faith, whether that is faith in what we believe or faith in what we see and touch. We still trust that it is true.
The parallel concept, (that every thought must have a premise) also works off the same chain of reasoning. (Even if that premise is “Because I thought it.”) Most people seem to be able to agree with this concept more readily, partly because it seems so obvious and partly because most people are not emotionally invested in philosophical abstracts the same way they are invested in whatever they have faith in.
Yes, even you atheists… You might as well just get used to calling it what it is, even if you don’t like the connotations. I’ve defined all my terms. You don’t have to be afraid of me poking you in the eye and laughing because you’ve somehow admitted that you have “faith.” One thing I try to never do is hold people in contempt.
So where do we go from here?
Personally, I learned three very important lessons from this.
First: Respect peoples’ right to have their opinion, even if you don’t agree with it. Learn as much as you can about their premises and their conclusions, and about where the fault in their logic lies. Share your view. If you can, shake their hand and part friends.
Second: Know what your OWN premises are before you go running your mouth. This doesn’t just apply to what you have faith in. This is the basis of everything I do in life. This is the basis of how I make every single decision I make. The best way to avoid making an ass of yourself is to be sure that you know not just what you’re talking about, but why. An added bonus: you’ll know how to explain the why if somebody should ask.
Third: What to have faith in is the most important decision you will ever make. Once you’ve made that decision, everything else is pretty much mapped out for you. What you choose to have faith in will determine everything about your life. Everyone makes that decision for different reasons. Any decision is valid… But the wrong one may send you to hell.