Faith with no doubt vs Faith only in doubt

Anil Krishna

The notion of faith evokes an immediate association with religion. Faith is considered integral to truly experiencing the joys of religion. Faith is the ability to overcome doubt. It is fueled by humility, obedience and trust. All these are virtues. I would like to argue in this article that every thing I said about faith applies to science, and arguably, more to science than religion!

Faith is integral to science. The big difference in science is that the faith is not placed in the end result. The faith is placed in the means to the end, the process of getting there, the method. Faith is placed only in the validity of doubt and methods to counter it. Doubt is the origin of science. This doubt, fueled by curiosity and bolstered by unyielding faith in the validity of doubting, eggs on the scientist to the end result. Which, of course, is open to doubt.

Faith in religion does not stem from doubt. It stems from individual or collective notions. It often stems from an individual's notion that is guided by what will appeal to collective notion, the masses. Religious faith asks one to give up ones prejudices. Coincidentally, science asks the exact same from its followers. Religion, though, makes up for your loss in giving up your own prejudices, by replacing it with communcal prejudices. Science leaves you high and dry. You have no easy replacement. That is the most crucial difference between the two approaches to knowledge. In one, you are handed a solution on a platter. In the other you are often handed an idea, a theory or a hypothesis, that is itself open to your scrutiy and validation and occasionally, you are handed nothing.

Why would one choose the scientific way, when it is ridden with potentially wrong solutions, laced with heavy doses of doubt, and provides no guarantees for any success? Would it not be easier to accept solutions which can be sufficient to lead a happy lifetime, with no double-guessing, no opportunity for pattern-less chaos, with no doubts? Unfortunately, though many solutions have been proposed often in the form of religions, the solutions have not been able to present a uniform set of answers that could completely anhilate doubt from all minds. And the problem is not with the solution provided by any religion. The problem is the attempt to provide such a solution. The very nature of how relegious ideas develop, make it hard to be communicated across all geographies and cultures. But even if there were only one religion, one set of solutions, that everyone in the world had attempted to put their faith in, it would still not work. And that is because, the attempt is to place faith in the solution. There is no way to verify or recreate the solution to satisfy one's own curiosity. And that brings us to the heart of the matter. One's own curiosity implies the notion of individuality. Every individual is different and capable of thinking for herself or himself. When a solution reached by one or, hypothetically, even a majority of the people is presented to "everyone", there certainly will be someone whose individuality will not be truly satisfied with the solution. Uniform religion that provides ready solutions, therefore, will continue to be inadequate.

The alternative is to nurture this individuality - the inherent ability and, indeed, the urge, to doubt. There is no solution that is beyond any individual's grasp. There is no requirement for collective faith to be placed in the solution. The faith is placed is the means, where the means only refer to doubt. The means do not refer to a particular approach to finding the answer. The faith is not placed in anything beyond the individually verifiable. And that often stops at the realization that the answer is either not available or not sufficient. With such a weak framework of guide rails, it could be argued that we will never get anywhere. But that is the kind of freedom that an individual craves for. The lack of guide rails is an opportunity, rather than a restriction. The downside is that it takes a lot more courage to truly follow the scientific method. There are no guarantees that you will ever get anywhere. The temptation to build rigid guide rails, to take you somewhere, is often overpowering. The temptation to get to an answer, before the battery runs out, that is, within a lifetime, is also another pitfall. Truth does not have such stipulations, and to dive into the vast expanse of science with all its half-baked solutions, caveats and sparse guide-rails takes tremendous courage and tremendous faith - faith, in your right to doubt - faith in fact, in nothing, except doubt itself.