Over the last couple days Mr. Loftus has been providing his reliably ignorant commentary on what he calls “faith” over at his blog. I pointed out that it was ignorant and provided the simple definition of faith that I first explained and defended here: viz. assent to a proposition that is conceivably false. Adam Hazzard protested that I couldn’t really mean that. He wrote:
If (1) faith consists of assent to a proposition that is conceivably false, and
(2) Any proposition is conceivably false, then
(3) faith consists of any assent to any proposition.
Is that really what your definition aims to establish?
I replied as follows:
Not every proposition is first-order conceivably false. For example, I cannot conceive directly how 7+5=12 could be false. However, even propositions like that are second-order conceivably false as Descartes pointed out with his evil demon thought experiment. Unfortunately for Descartes that left him in the Cartesian circle, and even his cogito proved insufficient to extricate him from that morass. The result and conclusion of epistemology in the modern era is indeed a fallibilist one. And fallibilism entails faith. So I’m presenting nothing more than a relatively innocuous fallibilism which, I would have thought, those who brand themselves as scientifically minded would be anxious to align themselves with.
Faith is a cognitive risk assessment. You assume a risk by sticking your head out the door in the morning. You assume a much greater risk by downing a six pack and then racing your Yamaha V-Max in heavy traffic. But all life entails risk to your bodily person. And all assent to propositions entails risk. Some risk is low. 7+5=12 is as low as you can go. But it is still conceivable (second order) that you could be wrong in assenting to the truth of that proposition and that untoward consequences could flow from that fact. The perceived risk may be equivalent to the risk of getting hit by a meteorite whilst sitting on your couch and watching “Dancing with the stars”, but it is a risk nonetheless.
What so-called “skeptics” often miss is that risk pertains not simply to the things you believe but the things you fail to believe. There is no risk free doxastic position. And that is simply the human condition.