The Difference Between Speculation and Faith

Over the last few weeks I’ve had a number of people, in the comments section and in emails, suggest that science also involves an element of faith and, therefore, isn’t very different from religion.

Of course, nothing could be further from the truth, but it seems to be one of those memes which has made its way like a virus into the faith apologist camp and I want to give you (the rational thinkers in the audience) the tools to defend yourself against this argument should you meet it in a dark alley some night.

Science, or more accurately, the scientific process, is about the search for knowledge. Those of us who want the human race to survive and prosper know that the key to survival is knowledge. We are incredibly fortunate that evolution has provided us with large brains and, if we fail to use them, we may never understand enough about the universe or ourselves to avoid the vast number of pitfalls that could wipe out life as we know it on this very frail, fragile little planet.

The scientific process, developed over thousands of generations of human struggle, is bringing us closer every year to understanding our true nature, our place in the universe, and the way our universe works at the most fundamental levels.

And part of the scientific process is to speculate.

“Hmmmm, I wonder if….?”

Now, this is where religion apologists will try to tell you that “faith” enters science. They seem to think that the act of speculation involves faith. That’s a mistake of gigantic proportions and demonstrates a failure to truly grasp the scientific method.

Here’s the difference.

It’s important to remember that the dictionary definition of ‘faith’ is “Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.” So when a person has ‘faith’, they believe something to be true regardless of whether or not there is any evidence to support that idea, and, worse still, when there is overwhelming evidence to refute the idea.

When a scientist speculates and develops a hypothesis, they aren’t investing that idea with “truthiness” (as Colbert might say). They speculate merely in order to then prove or disprove. That is the entire process of science. Speculate – investigate – prove/disprove – publish – repeat. The scientist doesn’t need the hypothesis to be true in order to have done their job. If it is refuted, then we now know one more fact. And, again, that’s what science is about – discovering the facts about how the universe works.

So the next time someone tries to suggest to you that science is just like religion, don’t let them get away with it.

Remember:

Faith = believing something is true despite the facts.
Science = searching for the facts.

8 thoughts on “The Difference Between Speculation and Faith

  1. I’ve also been finding the whole science is like religion argument fairly annoying. Of course there are some individuals who dispite all evidence insist on sticking to their theory but they tend to get laughed at. They are the exception not the rule.

  2. Dude.. grow a brain and stop talking drivel.. Who cares what stupid people compare, or are you so lacking in topics that you feel the need to compare apples and oranges.. ?

  3. I’ve never understood the point to the semi-faith many, many westerners have as a back thought. By that i mean they might go to church at christmas and believe in a god that sort of watches out for you nd if you’re a good person, you’ll get into heaven. The way i see it (and the way the bible actually tells it), there’s no point in “god’s” eyes if you do it half arsed.

    I was wondering if the main sub-concious driver for this was the western BC/AD year convention and the ubiquitous participation in easter and christmas. Even if I remember correctly that they’re only bastardisations of paegan festivals. Besides maybe having to say prayers at school as a kid, i bet if we followed chinese the chinese calendar and got rid of easter and christams (insert festivus here) then there would be fewer people in the middle ground on this whole affair.

    Cam, I see it as your life quest to rid the western world of easter and christmas. Bring on the feats of strength (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Festivus).

  4. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of the non-vocal god-believers are ‘faithful’ simply to make life easier. It saves having to agonize over the fundamental questions in life, only to admit defeat in the unfathomable extent of human ignorance. Faith provides a nice comfortable strategy for gliding easily from one end of life’s obstacle course to the other.

    Back to your point, though, even die-hard rationalists take things on faith. How does anyone know, for example, that what their eyes see is a perfect representation of reality? Senses have been known to deceive. Human brains can misinterpret what they’re given. Having said that, however, I’ll side with the rationalists, simply because their baseline is set closer to what I regard as the truth. I find it to be a more honest approach – as opposed to inventing an old bearded guy in the clouds – comforting, and useful, as he may be.

  5. Science = searching for the facts…. Getting your grants to fund your research and then finding out later, oops I was wrong. But at least you learned something. Ya think?
    I love science. It’s fascinating.

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