How can we be certain of anything? What if your mind is an artificial intelligence programmed to think it is a human being living in the 21st century; how would you know the difference? Furthermore, how could we know anything about forces and entities outside our laws of physics—for example, the existence and characteristics of God(s)? The uncertainty concerning the authenticity of claims, opinions, and perceptions—both scientific and spiritual—has challenged philosophers for ages. The fourth and fifth chapters of “Philosophy Made Simple,” by Richard H. Popkin and Avrum Stroll, discussed the Philosophy of Religion and the Theory of Knowledge. I discovered two overlapping principles, which go about solving the issue of uncertainty completely differently: skepticism and fideism.
Skepticism has its roots in Rene Descartes’ famous meditation that attempted to find one absolute truth for which all other truths could be founded upon. To his dismay, he learned that most things carried some level of uncertainty—some iota of suspicion that could call into question its legitimacy. He had reason to doubt all beliefs except one: I think; therefore, I am (Cogito; ergo, sum). His rejection of ideas that have any element of uncertainty—of doubt—is the basis of skepticism. A skeptic in the religious sense is an atheist, abandoning the belief of God since it cannot be evidenced rationally to a satisfactory level. A skeptic in the theory of knowledge, like David Hume, discards any beliefs that cannot be proven perfectly (i.e., proven to such an extent that no possibility precludes its correctness). This turns out to be just about everything. What we call “reality” could be a magic spell tricking some creator spirit into playing the roles of every character of its favorite narrative—or it could be an elaborate computer simulation created by future humans to read their history with absolute accuracy. There is reason to doubt everything we know.
The only way to be productive in this world—and not succumb to a paranoia fueled by existence itself—is to have faith in some beliefs. The theory of fideism agrees with skeptics on the problem of ever rationally knowing anything, but arrives at a polar opposite solution. Instead of relying on reason to determine the truth, people should use their intuitive faith to define the truth. Those aligned with fideism believe that science is better suited for the measurement of facts, while faith incorporates the human element—transforming experiences into wisdom and feelings into truth. This theory does not apply merely to believing in a Supreme Being or other deities; it works on everyday knowledge. You, too, are likely in the camp of fideism if you believe that the Earth was made from star-dust, that the last year of your life actually happened, and that it is, in fact, air that you are breathing.
The pursuit of certain knowledge, doubtless veracity, or absolute truth, has perplexed philosophers since recorded history (and likely before that too)—yet there will always be reasonable, rational doubt in any sound belief. The truth is likely that any absolute truth is ineffable: forever out of reach of our limiting vocabulary and our other primitive means for communication. Absolute truths are better experienced subjectively and held steadfast by faith.