Monday, February 6, 2012

Does science require faith?

Last week a picture was circulated around my neighborhood of Facebook.

This one right here.

It immediately spawned two conversations with believers and I, of course, gleefully joined in the fun. Both discussions were interesting in their own way, I do love a good argument, but one of them really stuck with me because it underlined one of the many difficulties people have when discussing science and religion, and that problem is language.
It started out simple, we were having a discussion about whether or not there was evidence for souls (protip: there isn’t), when this guy popped in:

That's right, his contribution to the discussion on creation science, neurology, quantum physics,and souls, is "We may not be able to prove anything, but you don't know anything either". Now, as is typical of Internet arguments, everyone stopped the interesting argument we were having to engage the new guy. We all tried our own tactics of logic and reason, an atheists favorite game, but it didn't go anywhere. We tried explaining the difference between blind faith and verifiable evidence...

Wait, wat?
And here is where we run into a little problem that the English language has created for us. This gentleman is someone I've known casually for a few years. He's not an idiot, but he's clearly not highly educated either. He was surrounded on all sides with researched and practiced atheists, and in these things everybody just wants to be right, so all he was left with was something that he felt couldn't be disproved: the only things that we truly have evidence for are the things that we ourselves have experienced, all the rest requires an element of faith, thus, faith is both normal and prudent. 

But that isn't what faith is at all. There is a difference between faith and reasonable belief, and all real science is based upon reasonable belief. He goes further to say that he WOULD listen to us, but he doesn't have to because none of us are scientists. 

Notice that someone 'liked' this. That's when I knew we had a problem.
When I leave to start my car in the morning, it's not faith that I have walking out the front door. I know barely anything about the mechanics of my vehicle, but I have a reasonable belief that everything is in working order and enough rudimentary knowledge of the physics behind it to expect it to continue functioning. The difference between myself and a mechanic or engineer who designs motor vehicles is collected knowledge and experience. If I do know something about how a car works, let's say the car battery, it is not considered invalid information just because I can't explain the rest of the car. And even the engineer herself didn't start off at the beginning, she jumped into a career where people were already building and designing cars, learned everything she had to, and started working in the field where she continued her education.She doesn't have to know how to make car paint, just how to apply that knowledge. There is just too much information for one person to know everything. Science works the same way.

A final parting shot from our antagonist...

So now, not only are we uneducated, but all of our knowledge that he doesn't understand was acquired through science fiction as opposed to valid sources. Not only this, but he raises the stakes. Now we have to prove Evolution (This has already been done, just speak to the nearest biologist or use google if you have any questions), disprove souls (It's impossible to disprove something that doesn't exist, which only underlines how we've been wasting our time here), and become brilliant scientists with MANY accolades. That's right, unless Neil deGrasse Tyson himself wonders into this conversation, golden boy refuses to listen to anything we say. 

I think I'll let someone else have the last word about this conversation...

I try to stay away from direct insults, but that doesn't mean I don't agree with them.

And it all comes down to our antagonist's understanding of what the word 'faith' means. Faith is a belief not based on truth. It is not faith to believe that the sun will rise in the east tomorrow, that is an expected occurrence. To burden 'faith' with every nuance of "things that are believed" is to make the word lose all meaning. There is also a misunderstanding of how scientists use the word 'theory' and how the rest of us do. In science a theory is a highly tested hypothesis, so even things we consider facts like gravity are always considered theories. When your typical person uses the word theory, they mean some idea they've just had, and it is easy for those uneducated in scientific terminology to confuse the definitions. This ignorance is frequently exploited by the Intelligent Design crowd who like to cast doubt on evolution because it is considered a theory, highly tested and verifiable as that might mean, and your average citizen has no idea that there's any difference.

Well, now you do. To be clear, science is not a construction of faith because there are people testing it for weak spots every single day. It is stretching the definition of faith to say that my knowledge in science is based on faith because I myself am not a scientist. I hope that clears everything up, although I doubt it will for our friend here, because I don't have many accolades. Yet.


  1. Excellent work. You touched on each important point from that conversation. What sucks is that while it'll certainly solidify the stance atheists and agnostics take, it'll somehow lend further excuses to believers to pick at. Like any other use of logic in a situation such as this, scientific logic will never make a strong enough case to convert unless the person in question is ready to break free of the dogmatic chains that bind.

    1. People argue to win, you don't hear many people telling stories about how someone out-logic'd them. I honestly think he walked away from that conversation thinking he made valid, logical points and that it was our closed mindedness that kept us from seeing things his superior way.

      Pretty much exactly the way we feel.

      Oh well, if even only one person understands the relationships between faith and science better after reading this, both the conversation and writing this blog was totally worth it.

    2. I just had an argument the other day about the difference between a theory and a hypothesis.

  2. I would have thought that a dictionary would have been your friend. Faith has TWO key meanings :
    1) "belief that is not based on proof". This is the religious usage where there is no rational basis for the belief.
    2) "confidence or trust in a person or thing". This is the scientific usage. The person may have speific qualifications (e.g. medical), or a process may conform to standards (e.g. ISO 9001). That faith gives you the confidence in the outcome.

    As long as people understand that the two meanings are RADICALLY different there is no issue - but why I tend to use :
    - Faith - meaning (1) above.
    - Confidence - meaning (2) above.

  3. God, Jesus Christ, and I all love you. Do not let you pride stand in the way of a loving relationship with God. You didn't make yourself, you aren't just a body, you are a soul and have a body, and God made your soul in the image of him. Let God shine through you, not the darkness of evil. We humans together are supposed to be the dwelling place of God. I tell you this because Jesus paid much too high a price, for us to pick and choose who should come, AND WE ARE THE BODY OF CHRIST. Consider Pascels Wager for all you who need reason. Godbless.