Scaffolding for Evidentialist Tower
My Christian interlocutor Rhology and I have been continuing our ongoing debate in one of his “comboxes.” Because the extent to which my readership is identical to his is certainly questionable, I shall publish our most recent exchanges here. The overarching topic at hand is faith, and the degree to which I—an evidentialist—am dependent upon it.
On Monday, September 15, 2008, Rhology published a post entitled “No faith, just faith.” In it, he writes:
Since he (the Jolly Nihilist) has chosen a faith-based position for his First Principle, why not just go with "faith is the best way to discover truth"? Obviously evidence failed him in this question and faith resolved the problem. Why not just stick with that? Why go with what failed him in this most important, overarching question of First Principle?
That pithy provocation warranted an immediate response, quoted below:
You have raised this point on at least three occasions, so, rather than letting the question fester, I shall address it presently.
You are correct in saying I take evidence’s usefulness in human approximation of truth as a supposition or a postulate. (You use the loaded word “faith” in order to try to rouse discomfort in me; nevertheless, at least in this instance, I shall grant your biased word choice.) You attempt to equate my “faith” with the superstitions of Christians, seeming to say, “See? We are bound equally by blind faith!” In actuality, however, this similarity is much overstated.
Eventually, the following analogy breaks down (at least with respect to the practical realities of construction), but, nevertheless, it remains instructive. For me, faith is most accurately analogized as scaffolding, defined as “a temporary framework used to support people and material in the construction or repair of buildings and other large structures.”
In order to confront, analyze and interrogate the world in which one finds oneself (the world of experience, whether such is “really real” or a Cartesian Demon’s construct), one must begin somewhere. I call this analytical starting point the Philosophical First Principle (hereafter “PFP”). Because a PFP is foundational—a human’s first step toward interrogating the world in which he finds himself (that being, the world of experience)—it cannot be discovered or independently proved from other propositions. It is taken as a supposition or a postulate…as a point of faith.
I employ faith as scaffolding. Only with this scaffolding in place can I lay my building’s foundation, which is “Evidence is the best, most reliable way for humans to approximate truth.” With this foundation laid, dried and completely solid, I have no further need for my scaffolding (which, again, in this analogy, is faith). Instead of faith appeals, I continue erecting my building upon the dry, solid foundation (in my case, evidentialism).
I use faith once…as scaffolding…to lay my building’s foundation. This hardly equates to a life rife with faith appeals.
You repeatedly ask, “Since he (the Jolly Nihilist) has chosen a faith-based position for his First Principle, why not just go with ‘faith is the best way to discover truth?’ Obviously evidence failed him in this question and faith resolved the problem. Why not just stick with that?”
You might as well ask a Fortune 500 executive, whose company soon shall reside in a new
The scaffolding is temporary, existing only to allow the building to be built. And for me, faith is mere scaffolding, permitting me to erect
Rhology quickly retorted with the following:
I am not equating our faith positions, actually. My faith position has actually quite a lot of justification for it, while yours does not. Your faith is blind, while mine is informed. So no, I wouldn't call them equal really.
Yes, one must begin somewhere. You begin with faith. Then you later have the gall to criticise me for having faith. It's very cheeky of you.
Nihilist: “Because a PFP is foundational—a human’s first step toward interrogating the world in which he finds himself (that being, the world of experience)—it cannot be discovered or independently proved from other propositions.”
Rhology: I hate to keep doing this, but you have said many times in the past that, for example: “If you believe those bare facts of reality require external grounding, I suggest you attempt to demonstrate such.” and “evidence (relevant facts) can be marshaled to demonstrate evidence’s utility. Because of this, my postulate is self-subsisting.”
I honestly don't know which of these you actually believe.
Nihilist: “I use faith once…as scaffolding…to lay my building’s foundation. This hardly equates to a life rife with faith appeals.”
Rhology: Why not use it more than once? If it is good for a foundation, why is it useless elsewhere? And you appeal to faith to form your very first principle. Thus all your life is based on faith - I'd call that “rife”, actually, yes.
Nihilist: “why he does not simply arrange all the desks on the scaffolding.”
Rhology: On the one hand, I see what you're saying.
However, the switching in and out of “faith is good and useful” to “faith is bad and useless” seems completely arbitrary. On what do you base your decision to switch building materials? What guides it?
My rejoinder reads as follows (with some minor modifications):
Rhology: “Yes, one must begin somewhere. You begin with faith. Then you later have the gall to criticise me for having faith. It's very cheeky of you.”
Nihilist: I suppose the factuality of your statement depends upon what you mean when you say, “begin with.” Faith is not my First Principle; faith is not the foundation upon which my worldview is erected. Instead, faith was merely the scaffolding that permitted me to lay down my foundation, which is evidentialism.
Also, I do not necessarily criticize you for having faith. You are a devout Christian and I am content to let you live a devoutly Christian life. I criticize those Christians who attempt to impose their values and moral viewpoints on others, who ought to be permitted to confect their own worldviews and live in accordance with them. After all, Rhology’s Metaphysical Foundation is precisely that; it does not overarch the world.
Rhology: “I hate to keep doing this, but you have said many times in the past that, for example: ‘If you believe those bare facts of reality require external grounding, I suggest you attempt to demonstrate such.’ and ‘evidence (relevant facts) can be marshaled to demonstrate evidence’s utility. Because of this, my postulate is self-subsisting.’
I honestly don't know which of these you actually believe.”
Nihilist: I shall respond to those quotes in reverse order.
When I say I can appeal to evidence to demonstrate evidence’s utility in the approximation of truth, I am not defending evidence with “other propositions.” Rather, I am defending evidence with evidence—defending one proposition with the very same proposition. This is why you often accuse me of question begging. However, my purpose in “begging the question” is different from what you might expect. I do not mean to confirm evidence’s utility via circular proof, but rather to show that evidentialism is a self-subsistent First Principle. The “question begging” exercise is a simple demonstration of self-subsistence. Faith (to yield, once again, to your biased word choice) is still required to lay my initial foundation.
When I reference “the bare facts of reality,” I am talking about the world of experience…the world in which one finds oneself. That world—the world of experience—simply is. It might be genuinely real or, indeed, it might be the fabrication of a Cartesian Demon. I cannot rule either possibility out. However, the world in which I find myself, irrespective of its veridical nature, is manifest, and I seek to interrogate it, using my chosen evidentialist First Principle. In short, with respect to the line you quoted, I have little patience for those who refuse to recognize the world of experience as simply existent.
Rhology: “Why not use it more than once? If it is good for a foundation, why is it useless elsewhere? And you appeal to faith to form your very first principle. Thus all your life is based on faith - I'd call that ‘rife’, actually, yes.”
Nihilist: You are conflating two ideas here, I think. When you say, “If it is good for a foundation, why is it useless elsewhere?” you seem to be referencing faith, even though faith is not my foundation—evidentialism is. Faith was merely temporary scaffolding, permitting the building to be built. It was transitory…not part of the finished structure.
Why do I not appeal to faith except to pave the way for my First Principle? Because, once I have selected a First Principle, it makes little sense to overthrow it for some other one, such as appeal to faith. If I laid a foundation for a skyscraper, why would I start building things elsewhere, rather than on the foundation I just established? Once I have a First Principle, that is to what I appeal. Faith was of utility only before the principle had been established…when I needed a place to start.
And, my life (and, implicitly, my understanding of the world) is not based on faith. Scaffolding was needed to lay my foundation, but, once that foundation was laid, my analytical processes became a natural extension of it. I appealed to faith once, to lay my groundwork; I now appeal to my principle.
Rhology: “On the one hand, I see what you're saying.
However, the switching in and out of ‘faith is good and useful’ to ‘faith is bad and useless’ seems completely arbitrary. On what do you base your decision to switch building materials? What guides it?”
Nihilist: There is no switch of building materials in my analogy. The scaffolding used to enable a building to be built, by definition, is temporary. It was always meant to be used and then removed. In order to lay down my evidentialist foundation, faith was required. So, for that period, faith was “good and useful.” Once the scaffolding was no longer required—because a solid foundation had been laid—it was taken away. This does not mean faith becomes “bad and useless” but only that its purpose had been served and it was no longer required. Faith was needed when there was no foundation of which to speak; now, I have evidentialism as a solid foundation upon which to build. Why revert back to the temporary framework?
Again, I recognize my scaffolding analogy is flawed, but I am trying to explain a point that practically invites misapprehension, even by those of sincere intent.
Conclusion: Faith indeed played a role in permitting my foundation—evidentialism—to be laid. However, once in possession of a foundation upon which to build, the temporary scaffolding (faith) became outmoded…no longer needed.
In sum, then, scaffolding was deployed, used and, finally, duly removed.