Misconception #2: Theories Require “Faith” to Believe.

Published on Sunday, May 2, 2010 By jetchison

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.


Faith has multiple definitions.


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.


Einstein E = MC2The 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 Truth: Faith, by definition, excludes the need for proof.


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.


Evidence

The Truth: the absence of belief requires no evidence whatsoever.


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.


The Truth: Religions conclude first and analyze last. Science analyzes first concludes last.


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.


Consider this: Christian apologists are trying to blur both sides of the line.


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.


Fundamental Misconceptions of Science Series



Discussion

  1. [...] threatens their preconceived notion of how the world should work.  Read the rest of the article here. [...]

  2. [...] Misconception #2: Theories Require “Faith” to Believe [...]

  3. Dean Raynor says:

    this is beyond silly

  4. Calix says:

    I’m not Dean, but…

    Ever heard of the word “axiom”?

    There’s a fairly easy way to differentiate a True Scientist from a pseudo-scientist, be they religious or anti-religious: a True Scientist is not only willing to say “I don’t know,” he’s excited to do so.

    Unfortunately, this article seems eager to replace religious fundamentalism with scientific fundamentalism – complete with sweeping, bluntly and demonstrably unfactual statements such as “In the United States … there is an all-time low in scientific literacy” and the inaccurate definition of theory as “A proposed explanation whose status is still conjectural, in contrast to well-established propositions that are regarded as reporting matters of actual fact” which conflates the explanation/theory with the facts as if they were the same thing.

    Take the canard that the theory of evolution is somehow as firm and established and reliable as the theory of gravity – a foolish dogma trotted out by anti-fundamentalists and pro-evolutionists probably even more often than the straw man “theories require faith to believe.”

    True Scientists were quite willing to abandon (or at least profoundly adjust) the fundamentals of Newtonian physics (remember, the guy who ‘discovered’ gravity?) when the facts no longer supported the theory. That is, the fundamental essence of “the theory of gravity” has changed substantially over the past two hundred years, and I suspect most True Scientists regard the current one (whatever it may be) to be flawed as well – and I more suspect most True Scientists who have regard for that field are excited by the fundamental proposition that the current theory is also flawed, as all theories ultimately must be.

    One cannot simply cannot replace a priesthood of superstition by substituting a priesthood of men in white lab coats and claim that eliminates the foundational, philosophical reality that all we are doing is apprehending the world around us in an extraordinarily limited way.

    Oddly, I am a fundamentalist perhaps only in the older, core meaning of the word.

    I suspect as I explore this site more (yup, posting in response to the first article I’ve read – thanks, Alex!) I will find more common ground than not. I just found this first piece I stumbled upon to be quite ironic in that is posits dogmatically, broadly, inaccurately and – dare I say – fundamentalist-ly.

    And (also ironically, I think) I often chastise my fellow believers whenever they insist that God – and His works – must be subject to the man-invented (and extremely useful) tool of logic, especially regarding things theological. Logic is indeed an extremely useful and widely valuable tool, but it is still only a man-made mental process and God and His Universe are not subject to the force of our intellectual will, be it scientific or theological.

    So yes, I do maintain that even True Science requires leaps of faith – from the cornerstone of “axioms” to trusting in our limited perceptions to relying completely on a limited tool (logic) to explain everything.

    And all of the True Scientists I know recognize and acknowledge and even embrace that limitation, especially when it comes to soft sciences such as macro-evolution where replicable experimentation is not possible and conjecture based on limited evidence runs wild.

    Because – to point out another leap of faith in the post above – the laws of science cannot prove “why” the splash occurs; the laws can only provide a (hopefully) reliable explanation of the “hows” of fluid mechanics… because as all True Scientists (and parents of young children) know, the reasons why someone jumped and made a splash are beyond the ken of mere law and logic.

    Cheers,
    Calix

    (…I jumped in the lake because he dared me to…)

    • Thnkfryrslf says:

      Thankyou for voicing my thoughts also about this article. I am not a fundamentalists and I wouldn’t call myself a Christian either, but this article lacked a deeper understanding.

  5. Gregsta says:

    I love Jesus shooing a way a brachiosaurus- it is going to run over that little girl.
    Jesus could be such an inconsiderate bastard when it came to his dinosaurs.

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