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