Is Science Based On Faith?

In the comments to my recent post on rationality, Tony Goodson said “Science is just as faith based as Religion!!”

Tony, I’m glad you said this, because it’s hearing rubbish statements like “Science is just as faith based as Religion!!” which has forced me to become more vocal about this whole issue. If that’s the kind of nonsense that people still believe these days, then as a society we are in a pretty bad situation. The fact that some Christians run around telling each other these things is just another example of why I believe it is a negative force in the community.

Science is the OPPOSITE to faith. The scientific process is all about finding evidence to prove or disprove a theory. Science is always moving forwards, trying to disprove earlier theories, searching for new theories, trying to gather better data.

Faith and religion only survive by IGNORING evidence and by desperately clinging to bronze age ideas. They are completely opposite ways of looking at the universe.

Developing a hypothesis in order to test it against the evidence is a completely rational approach. It has NOTHING to do with faith.

The “Big Bang” theory, again, has NOTHING to do with faith. I’d love to know who is spreading this kind of meme and how they get away with it.

The Nobel Prize in Physics last year was awarded to two Americans for precisely measuring the faint light that revealed the seeds of today’s galaxies and superclusters. Which, according to MSNBCaffirmed the big-bang theory to even the most stubborn skeptics.” “It’s just a magnificent verification of the big bang,” said Lawrence Krauss, a professor of physics at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

So it’s about as proven as scientific theories get (which doesn’t necessarily mean it cannot get replaced by a new theory in the future if competing evidence becomes available, although that seems highly unlikely). The difference, of course, between the big bang “theory” and god is that the first has overwhelming hard evidence to support it and the second has none.

The fact that I still come across so many people (usually Christians) who are completely clueless about the how the scientific process works is totally bewildering. I’ve been wondering lately whose fault it is.

The Christians for not picking up a book about science once in a while and for being gullible when they hear this kind of stuff from the million-dollar pastor on the stage with all of the lights?

The scientific community’s fault for not doing a better job at communicating these things to the public?

The fault of the media for not getting the word out to the public?

Even my six-year olds know more about how it works than many adults I seem to come across.

Speaking of my boys, one of them said to me today “Daddy I don’t believe in God. Do you know why?”

“Why, T-Bone?”, I ask him.

“Because who invented God?”, he replied.

And he’s only six.

23 thoughts on “Is Science Based On Faith?

  1. Who invented God? Why the church… of course!

    They all gathered around one day and said “What if we could get a whole bunch of people together and get them to each give us one shekel… if we got 100 people, we’d get 100 shekels!” Brilliant they thought… “But why would people get together and give us shekels? Well…we could give them a reason to gather… how about we tell them about this really neat mushroom I found in the forest? Maybe they’d gather for that? Nah! I know…we’ll invent this mythical being… we’ll call it…Jim? No, wait… we’ll call it God. Then people will want to come and hear about our God fellow and when they’re all gathered, we’ll tell them about this shekel idea. They’ll be dying to give us shekels so that we can explain this God thing to them…” Brilliant!

    Religion is based on faith… People NEED something to believe in. It gives them something to look forward to at their time of death or during a time of great need or duress they can say ‘It’s bloody aweful here, but when I get to heaven…” or somesuch. Human beings need that hope of the “green grass” on the other side of the fence.

    Science is based on empirical data. Some fellow gets an idea like “I wonder if dogs can fly” and proceeds to test his theory. After examining his REAL data, he can conclude that no, dogs cannot fly, but if they’re dropped from a sufficient distance, they can glide for some time.

    People today aren’t concerned with Science…they just want to push a button and have the magic box light up and entertain them. Think? Why bother thinking? Someone will tell me what to do eventually…

    “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” –Arthur C. Clarke

  2. Heh, dogs gliding, rofl.

    I don’t agree with this meme that “people need something to believe in”. I’ve heard it a lot lately and it bugs me. I’m not having a go at you Herne, but I think it’s insulting. *I* don’t need anything to believe in and I think most atheists would agree. This whole idea that humans are so dumb and bewildered by life that they *need* to cling to far out ideas like heaven and gods and magic powers is just belittling. Although it may be true that people *have* believed in such things for the majority of our history, they also believed in many other ideas which they have successfully let go of – slavery, segregation, human sacrifice, etc.

    It’s a negative and demeaning perception of the human race to think we are that helpless.

    Why can’t we think of ourselves as being intelligent, self-sufficient, civilized, cultured and with the capacity to solve the universe’s mysteries and live together in peace and harmony?

  3. Of course Science is based on faith.
    When Einstein made his predictions in 1915, it took 4 years to prove his predictions. That 4 year gap is an act of faith from hypothesis to proof.

    Go read your Wikipedia on Big Bang, Black Holes etc. They break the laws of physics as we know them, so it’s an act of faith to believe them.

    When you hypothesise, you can hypothesise for or against something and then go and prove it either way. That’s not rational, that’s an act of faith, until you have the “rational” proof.

    The trouble is, if you believe in the Big Bang theory, then you set out to prove it, and any data you get, you will do your damnedest to make it fit into what you believe. That doesn’t make it the absolute truth.

    In the next episode I’ll give you some things that are “Scientifically Proven” which within 20-50 years will be reversed as complete crap. So what does that say about something being rationally proven now?

    In other words Rationality is bollocks!
    And that doesn’t make the Creationists right either!!

  4. “Why can’t we think of ourselves as being intelligent, self-sufficient, civilized, cultured and with the capacity to solve the universe’s mysteries and live together in peace and harmony?”

    It’s simple. People are lazy.

    The vast majority of the human race doesn’t want to be self-sufficient, civilized and cultured, they want someone else to tell them what to do and what to believe in. And it’s much easier and much more fun to be crass, vulgar, belligerent, and unlawful. If person A has something better than person B, it’s much easier for person B to either kill person A or steal the object from person A. Why work towards something if I can steal it? It’s human nature.

    That’s why I feel people NEED something to believe in. Something to hold up in front of them and say “This is what I want to be. This is what I’m working for. This gives me a purpose.”

    YMMV

  5. Tony – where the hell do you get this stuff?

    That 4 year gap is a search for evidence. Is has absolutely nothing to do with faith. The Big Bang and Black Holes don’t require any faith. We have overwhelming evidence that they exist. And if they require us to re-think the laws of physics (as quantum mechanics did) then so be it. Science has no fear of giving up old ideas when new evidence comes along. THAT is why it is clearly a superior worldview to religion and mythology.

    And science does *not* fit the data to the theory. That’s BAD SCIENCE and it always gets overturned, sometimes quickly, sometimes more slowly, but it happens. Religion, on the other hand, ignores competing evidence completely.

    And science isn’t about “absolute truth”. It’s about getting the best data we can. There are very few absolute truths in science. Science is very suspicious of such claims. As we should all be. I don’t even proclaim the non-existence of god as an “absolute truth”, just “extremely probable”.

    This whole problem people like you seem to have with science “changing its mind” seems to indicate a complete misunderstanding of what science is all about. Science refers to a system of acquiring knowledge based on the scientific method. If all of the data we have seems to support a theory, it is considered to be true until new competing data becomes available. That is the ONLY rational way of understanding the universe. Unless you have a better model?

  6. And how big can that gap be between hypothesis and proof? What drives that desire to prove the hypothesis over a long period? Tell me Cameron how long can the gap be? 4 years? 100 years? 2000 years!!!

  7. Yeah sure, I’ve got no problems with people having a theory of God. It’s a theory with absolutely no empirical evidence to support it. And it’s a theory which historically has lead to wars, murder, genocide, human rights abuses, and general misery. But it’s a theory.

  8. Hi Cam.

    You seem to think that all Christians don’t believe in science, or that their belief in a God of some description precludes the belief in science.

    Science does not explain everything – and sure, we should continue to work towards understanding all we can from a scientific perspective. But there are some things in life that science doesn’t explain, and may never explain. And I disagree – believing things that are not explained is a leap of faith. There are many ways to interpret that word:

    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/faith
    1. confidence or trust in a person or thing
    2. belief that is not based on proof

    There have been many books that take the scientific approach to explaining the Christian God.

    There are scientists who are leaders in their field who also believe in God. I was reading about one in New Scientist just the other day.

    I understand your frustration with Christians in general – I too chafe at the ignorance of many Christians I read about or meet. I want to shout at them and tell them to get a clue.

    I left my Catholic upbringing precisely because of the rational arguments that made me an “unbeliever”. And the more I have learnt about science, what we do and don’t know, the more my search for meaning has deepened.

    I have since come back to faith in the Christian tradition. This faith is very different to the one I was taught growing up.

    My understanding and acceptance of Christianity is partly based in the concepts explored in quantum physics. I find it fascinating that the cutting edge of quantum physics can actually strengthen my faith in God, as I perceive that notion.

    I picture you looking at that statement and saying “are you frakking kidding?” – but that is where I’m at in life. I don’t pretend I’ve got it right – I’m still searching. But I am using Christian philosophy to help understand my place in the world – not just the physical world, but the social, artisitic and spiritual.

    I can only ask (you can disagree or ignore me) that you understand that it is all not cut and dried – that there are grey areas between a pure science focus and a pure spiritual focus.

    It feels like you’re shouting from one side of the fence trying to get people of faith to come over to the side of “rational thinking” – yet it doesn’t seem you’re open to understanding how others come to faith in the first place. I don’t know if that’s your intention – but that’s what it feels like.

  9. Grant, great comment, thanks. Made made laugh when you accurately predicted I’d be sitting here thinking “ARE YOU FRAKKING KIDDING ME OR WHAT???”.

    I know that many Christians profess to believe in science and some professional scientists are actually Christians. But it’s kind of a partial belief. They believe in science – to a point. They drop it when it comes to their view of the universe. They are half pregnant. I actually think these people should be the first to come over to the side of the Force. They are halfway there already.

    You are of course correct that Science does not explain everything and perhaps never will. What’s important is the process, the rational process of looking for evidence to support our theories and, when we cannot find evidence, not immediately leaping to fanciful tales of mythical supernatural beings. Instead, when we don’t have answers, the rational approach is to say “we don’t know” and leave it at that, not start making stuff up to fill the gaps.

    I’ll admit I haven’t read any of the books that claim to take a scientific approach to explaining the Christian God and I’d be interested to if you can recommend one. I struggle to understand how they can possible use the words “Scientific” and “God” in the same sentence when there is a COMPLETE lack of evidence to support the god hypothesis, but I’m open to reading about it.

    Yes, I know there are scientists believe in God and they may even be leaders in their field, but, as a percentage of scientists around the world, there aren’t many of them. All recent surveys of scientists around the world indicate that the ones who believe in god are in the single digit percentages. The ones who still continue to believe in mythology obviously have an interesting dualism in their mind where they leave science at home when they go to church or something.

    I’d love to know how you tie Christianity and quantum mechanics together. Can you elaborate on that? I’d love for you to come on the show to explain it live.

    What are the “grey areas”? To me it seems VERY cut and dried – we either accept that logical thinking and evidence-based reasoning is the only rational way to examine the universe or we accept believing in mythology as an alternative. And I just cannot understand why intelligent, otherwise rational people feel the need to believe in mythology in the 21st century.

    Help me understand.

  10. I agree with Cameron on this one. Science is or aims to be the total opposite to religion. The goal of science is to prove something as either positive or negative.

    Faith based on definition is indeed the exact opposite. Chalk and cheese.

  11. Hi Cameron.

    I was sitting up last night just jotting down thoughts in response, and it’s turned into an epic. I also want to do a bit more digging before I put what is largely an embryonic theory out in the wild.

    I’ll let you know when/where it’s posted…

  12. Curiously enough Buddhism isn’t stubbornly faith based in the same way as many other religions. The Dalai Lama is very interested in science and keeps up to date and involved scientific research into meditation etc. He is also perfectly happy to amend the official line on Buddhism with new updates in science. I’d like to see the Pope do that 🙂

    Another interesting fact is that part of the reason why Asian kids tend to be better at maths and science is that they are more likely to have been brought up with a way of thinking which supports abstract thinking.

  13. What will be on your tombstone Cameron Reilly ??

    “So, every single article about podcasting mentions Adam Curry (which makes sense, since it was his idea). And every article ever written about Adam Curry mentions that he was once an MTV VJ. For no good reason. (We’re talking almost 100,000 google matches)” Seth Godin

    Feeling special?

  14. Well Seth-wannabe, I don’t intend to die, for a start. But, if I cannot avoid that (using nanotech, genetic medicine and cloning) permanently, then I hope my memorial statue will read:

    “He never accepted mediocrity.”

  15. Your comment, “Faith and religion only survive by IGNORING evidence and by desperately clinging to bronze age ideas,” just told me a LOT about you. As flawed as a lot of Christians are in their thinking, you also just revealed you’re just as flawed. Most people who have set out to disprove the Bible have a whole different view of things.

  16. Science is based upon the scientific method which is based upon our observations. Our observations are based upon our senses. We trust that our senses accurately perceive the world. Therefore, as scientists we have faith that what we determine is happening, really is happening but we cannot be 100% sure. Our faith fills the gap. It is obvious that science is based upon faith, and only the best scientists recognize this as reality.
    Heisenberg certainly did, as it allowed him to discover that observing subatomic particles cannot be trusted because of our senses which are not perceptive enough to fully observe this world without disturbing it. Thus the Heisenberg uncertainty principle.

    Descartes also established this philosophical fact long ago in his meditations. I think therefore I am, but even though I am a thinking thing I can never be sure that my senses fully experience the physical realities of the world around us. Therefore, I cannot be sure that what I experience is the way it really is, which means that I must have doubt.

    Anyone that thinks that it is “truth” that their senses fully experience the world is in denial. Science is certainly based upon faith.

    Greg

  17. “We trust that our senses accurately perceive the world.”

    Sorry, Greg, but you destroyed your own argument when you mentioned Heisenberg. The entire fields of quantum mechanics and astrophysics deal with scenarios where our senses don’t apply. One of the fundamental understandings in QM is that the world that our senses perceive does not correspond to what happen at the quantum level. Astrophysics deals with objects we cannot see on the other end of the scale, black holes for instance.

    So we know for certain that our sense only interact with a limited subset of the data that’s available. That doesn’t stop us from observing experimental data and making rational conclusions based on that information.

    There is no faith required in the scientific method.

    “It is obvious that science is based upon faith, and only the best scientists recognize this as reality.”

    Who would those “best scientists” be, Greg? And what would they use to determine that the scenario you describe is “reality” if, according to you, everything is based on faith?

    You can’t have it both ways, sir.

  18. We agree about Heisenberg. I’m not sure why you think your response is a rejoinder to mine? The uncertainty at the quantum level shows that our senses are limited. Thus my point. We cannot be sure our senses accurately perceive the world. We must have faith that it does.

    Every scientist who had an open mind that the prevailing ideas in science are not necessarily the truth were the ones that were considered the “best” scientists. These are the people who made breakthroughs and were not stuck in scientific dogma. Their humility in thinking that what seems to be the case may not be everything we are perceiving allowed them to think outside the box. To name a few- Einstein, Copurnicus, and Newton. Here is what Einstein had to say about the nature of science-

    At this point the host tried to silence him by invoking the fact that even Einstein harbored religious beliefs. “It isn’t possible!” the skeptical guest said, turning to Einstein to ask if he was, in fact, religious. “Yes, you can call it that,” Einstein replied calmly. “Try and penetrate with our limited means the secrets of nature and you will find that, behind all the discernible laws and connections, there remains something subtle, intangible and inexplicable. Veneration for this force beyond anything that we can comprehend is my religion. To that extent I am, in fact, religious.”

    Even Einstein admits that science at its core is based upon something “intangible, and “inexplicable”. He also admits that our means are limited. Just admit the truth- Science is based on faith. Your senses are limited and you cannot “know” that they sense everything around you.

    As far as reality is concerned. The reality is that everything that we attain through our senses is based upon faith. We cannot know anything for certain. This is why Socrates said; “I became wise when I realized that I know nothing. I can ascertain this because I did not use my senses to arrive at this logic. Sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell did not lead me to this conclusion. It was based upon pure thought absent of senses. It is one of those concepts that is self evident kind of like one’s own existence.

    Greg

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