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The Profound Limitations of Knowledge

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Fred Leavitt

The Profound Limitations of Knowledge explores the limitations of knowledge and argues that neither reasoning nor direct or indirect observations can be trusted. We cannot even assign probabilities to claims of what we can know. Furthermore, for any set of data, there are an infinite number of possible interpretations. Evidence suggests that we live in a participatory universe—that is, our observations shape reality.
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7. Pillar 2: Religious Faith

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CHAPTER SEVEN

Pillar 2: Religious Faith

 

Certain types of faith, such as in one’s own abilities or a loved one’s good intentions, require evidence. The faith depends on observations (sensory data) and reason, two of the other (apparent) pillars of knowledge. Religious faith, by contrast, does not seem to require supporting evidence. But see below. Belief in a supreme being who can do anything and therefore can be invoked to explain anything is a—shall I say it—godsend. Referring specifically to religious faith, Bertrand Russell wrote, “When there is evidence, no one speaks of faith. We do not speak of faith that two and two are four or that the earth is round. We only speak of faith when we wish to substitute emotion for evidence.” Faith is belief by decree.

Faith: Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks, without knowledge, of things without parallel.—Ambrose Bierce

The faithful know the truth. Their bible, pastor, rabbi, imam, or personal mystical experience tells them so. Faith is not merely belief in the absence of evidence—it is belief despite evidence, it’s the antithesis of evidence, as when creationists discount overwhelming evidence for the theory of evolution. In other cases, evidence is superfluous—according to legend, all that’s needed to convert an atheist is a foxhole. That’s peculiar, as people normally seek evidence whether serving on juries, investing in stocks, or choosing nectarines....

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