Science for the De-Converted – Part II
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that scientists have just as much faith in their theories as religious people do in their dogma. It frustrates me every time. Anyone who says this is defining theory, faith, or both, incorrectly.
1. Confidence or trust in a person or thing
2. Belief that is not based on proof
When Christians make the statement that science requires faith, it seemingly defines “faith” under definition #1, but the implication bleeds into definition #2. The statement implies that just as Christian principals haven’t been proven, scientific theories haven’t been proven either. One implication, for example, that the Theory of Evolution is “just a theory” and therefore should not be believed.
The word “Theory” also has multiple definitions. Here are two:
1. A coherent group of general propositions used as principles of explanation for a class of phenomena
2. A proposed explanation whose status is still conjectural, in contrast to well-established propositions that are regarded as reporting matters of actual fact.
Christians often think the scientific use of the word “theory” falls under definition #2. That is incorrect. Science uses the word as defined in definition #1. Evolution is a theory that explains the developing complexity of life. Gravity is a theory that explains physics. If a person doesn’t believe in either theory, then they are faced with the daunting task of refuting the mountains of data that support them. Simply saying, “well, gravity is just a theory” is a very weak argument against gravity, and reveals an incorrect usage of the word “theory.”
So if someone says it requires faith to believe a theory, they are being slippery with definitions and implying something absolutely wrong.
The Bible itself defines faith as “the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things unseen.” So both the Bible and the dictionary indicate that proof must be absent for faith to exist. If there is actual proof, faith becomes unnecessary. It does not require faith (definition #2) to believe that when you jump into a pool of water you will make a splash. You know this will happen, and not merely by experience. The laws of science can prove why it happens.
Faith can only occur when there is no proof. When belief is based on proof, it ceases to be faith.
When a scientist does not believe in something because there is no proof, they are not making a proclamation of faith. Likewise, it would not require a leap of faith for me to say I don’t believe in a secret race of giant blue raccoons. There is no evidence, therefore I do not believe. You’d be surprised to know how many things you don’t believe in. But there is no faith involved in disbelief because faith is belief without evidence.
So to say it requires faith to not believe in God is a silly statement.
Another way to look at this issue is the sequence of events used in religious dogma versus the scientific process.
Religions begin with a set of unquestionable truths, and then seek to justify the world around them in light of these truths. On the other hand, there are no “truths” in science that are unquestionable. The scientist first examines the universe, then asks questions, then analyzes data, and then—if the data allows—makes a conclusion.
So with religion, the universe must fit the idea. But with science, the idea must fit the universe.
In attempting to preserve their beliefs, religions aren’t only saying that scientific theories require faith to believe. In recent decades, more and more Christian apologists are counter-acting the growing mountain of scientific evidence that contradicts their doctrines by trying to make elements of their faith sound scientific (example: intelligent design). In the United States, where there is an all-time low in scientific literacy, these specious assertions are often effective.
These quasi-scientific assertions will not dilute the ongoing processes of science. They may, however, unwittingly dilute the essence of faith itself. Many apologists (such as the famous Josh McDowell, author of “Evidence that Demands a Verdict”) imply that the Christian faith can be logically concluded after examining evidence. These attempts are not only horribly misinformed, but effectively rewrite Christian doctrine. Whereas you once had to accept–on faith–that Jesus was the savior—now it is logically obvious, and only if Satan has blinded your eyes do you not see it.
This, to me, is an institutionalized attempt to prey upon people who are both scientifically and doctrinally illiterate.