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Is Science Just a Matter of Faith? 1486

Hugh Pickens writes "Pastabagel writes that the actual scientific answers to the questions of the origins of the universe, the evolution of man, and the fundamental nature of the cosmos involve things like wave equations and quantum electrodynamics and molecular biology that very few non-scientists can ever hope to understand and that if we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that we accept the incredibly complex scientific phenomena in physics, astronomy, and biology through the process of belief, not through reason. When Richard Fenyman wrote, 'I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics,' he was including himself which is disconcerting given how many books he wrote on that very subject. The fact is that it takes years of dedicated study before scientific truth in its truest, mathematical and symbolic forms can be understood. The rest of us rely on experts to explain it, someone who has seen and understood the truth and can dumb it down for us in a language we can understand. And therein lies the big problem for science and scientists. For most people, science is really a matter of trusting the expert who tells it to us and believing what they tell us. Trust and belief. Faith. Not understanding. How can we understand science, if we can't understand the language of science? 'We don't learn science by doing science, we learn science by reading and memorizing. The same way we learn history. Do you really know what an atom is, or that a Higgs boson is a rather important thing, or did you simply accept they were what someone told you they were?'"
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Is Science Just a Matter of Faith?

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  • Obvious? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Shadow Wrought ( 586631 ) * <> on Thursday April 07, 2011 @12:25PM (#35746028) Homepage Journal
    I've always thought it rather obvious that Science is a Faith. If a word cannot be used to define itself, than how can Science ever be used to prove itself?

    Even if both Science and Religion have their roots in Faith, however, their differences are staggering. Religion is only about Faith. There is nothing more to it than belief, and not only is there no way to systematically test what is taught, but it is discouraged as indicative of too little Faith.

    Science is all about that very exploration. Challenging what is taught and verifying for yourself that it is true. It may, fundamentally, be a Faith, but then again, isn't our acceptance of our sensory inputs a Faith as well?
  • by CannonballHead ( 842625 ) on Thursday April 07, 2011 @12:34PM (#35746186)

    If nothing else, the idea that everything will continue the way it has in the past is faith-based... at least, a completely naturalistic view. There's no reason, aside from it having been that way for a long time in the past, to believe that laws of various scientific disciplines (physics, biology, astronomy) will continue to be the way they have been, is there? One might argue that the fact they haven't changed in observed history is evidence... but I don't see how one could "scientifically" prove it. It may be a reasonable explanation, a reasonable conclusion, a reasonable belief/faith, but proving something is more than something being reasonable or even "making sense."

  • Not quite the same (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sandytaru ( 1158959 ) on Thursday April 07, 2011 @12:35PM (#35746206) Journal
    Religious scholars argue vehemently over the interpretations of ancient texts (often haggling over ink blots that could change the meaning of words and translations) and then write books or long essays trying to prove their viewpoints. There is no evidence, no data, only opinion. Scientists argue vehemently over the interpretation of data and then do additional testing to prove their viewpoints. Because of the mentalities (and sometimes egos) of scientists, if someone is clearly wrong about their interpretation of the data, there will be a dogpile of experiments and work from other scientists to prove just how wrong they are.

    The Wakefield vaccine study is an example of this: He faked data, made a controversial claim from the results of the faked data, and other medical researchers have proven time and time again that he was wrong. His followers, the anti-vaxxers, are relying on faith when they continue to believe in him even after he was proven to be a fraudster and a liar. However, scientists and interested parties who kept up with the research and came down on Wakefield for his lies are NOT relying on faith. They are relying on evidence. And that is why it is science and not a religion.
  • By that criteria? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mibe ( 1778804 ) on Thursday April 07, 2011 @12:37PM (#35746250)
    In that sense, what ISN'T a matter of faith? How do you know that Columbus sailed to America? I've read about it in a book, but have you ever met anyone who was actually on that boat? And if so, how do you know they weren't lying? You're just putting your faith in a bunch of books, just like in religion right? And in science, if you didn't personally conduct quantum mechanics research, how can you make any conclusions about anything without faith? Of course, you may have realized my point by now, which is that saying "X requires faith, and religion requires faith, thus X is no different from religion" is dumb.
  • by maczealot ( 864883 ) on Thursday April 07, 2011 @12:43PM (#35746388)
    I am not trolling. I am pointing out that if you want to use debate, reason and logic to sway someone or groups of people to your way of thinking using the approach YOU did rather than the parent's is more effective. "The big bearded man in the sky" is not what most people who believe in a deity have believed in for centuries now. Belittling their Faith is hardly going to make them receptive to your more reasonable and fact based arguments.

    I could go on about how Faith in a deity and Faith in science are not mutually exclusive but that is beside the current point.
  • by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Thursday April 07, 2011 @12:48PM (#35746518)

    Oh, and yes, it's true that they stop being miracles if you bother learning how they work and understand it, and all the miracle performers (scientists and engineers) TELL you that.

    I have a degree in engineering and I have studied rather a lot of physics. I understand rather well the concepts of how an airplane flies, how a supertanker floats, and how a transistor works. If you fail to be astonished at those things, I'm not really sure you understand them. I'm MORE impressed the more I understand them, not less. A 747 flying overhead is a damn miracle no matter how jaded you might be.

    Obligatory XKCD []

  • Re:No. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by mapkinase ( 958129 ) on Thursday April 07, 2011 @12:53PM (#35746648) Homepage Journal

    "demonstrable, repeatable and self-correcting"

    What's in any theory of "origin of species": based on evolution or Creation, is "demonstrable, repeatable and self-correcting"?

    All that theory of origin does is giving theoretical arguments for the belief in origin.

    There are no experiments, there is no repetition in "origin". What is being demonstrated that observable picture does not contradict the theory which is now so broad that it would cover every possible paleontological finding.

  • Re:No. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by MightyYar ( 622222 ) on Thursday April 07, 2011 @12:58PM (#35746746)

    So you can reproduce quantum entanglements? Or find some dark matter? Dark energy? See an angel?

    Really? You don't see a difference between those 4 things?

    Quantum entanglements: apparatus is expensive, but well within the budget of many universities. Multiple unrelated groups have reproduced the findings. While there could be some grand conspiracy to concoct quantum entanglements, it is pretty unlikely given the lack of a credible motive. And in any event, their evil plan would be foiled when someone tries to do something practical with them - like build better encryption or make a quantum computer.

    Dark Matter/Energy: a hotly debated theory meant to explain some data that does not match what was expected based on current theories. This is truly "science in action"... you have research, observations, and minds being changed. People don't "believe" in dark matter - but many believe that it is the best current theory to explain the odd data. If new data were to emerge tomorrow, a lot of adherents to the theory or detractors could immediately switch "sides".

    Angels: no one has ever shown a reproducible way to see an angel or detect the existence of an angel. Moreover, people who "believe" in angels won't be swayed by any kind of evidence against. There exists no data where you need to explain it with an angel.

    So while you need to defer to other people in almost every part of your life, I don't think this qualifies as "faith". Do you "believe" in your CPA, or do you trust him enough to let him do your taxes for you because of his track record and reputation? Do you "believe" in your auto mechanic, or do you just trust that he won't screw up your brakes because of his track record and reputation? IMHO there is a big difference.

  • Re:No. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MozeeToby ( 1163751 ) on Thursday April 07, 2011 @01:09PM (#35746978)

    Take 1000 people and leave them on a deserted planet somewhere with stone age technology. Assuming their decedents look at the stars at all they'll eventually come up with Newtons laws. If they come up with some clever experiments regarding the speed of light they'll even come up with relativity. They'll call it something else, and the equations might look different, but they will be mathematically identical. They'll come to understand genetics, metabolic pathways, antimatter, nuclear physics, logic, mathematics, etc. etc. etc. They won't discover them in the same order we did, they might even miss a few that we found and find a few that we missed. They'll certainly go down dead end paths that we never did (and of course, avoid some of the paths that we mistakenly went down) but there will be an inevitable convergence toward a body of knowledge that correctly describes the universe (do note how I said toward, it will never be verifiable perfect obviously).

    Now, put the same thousand people on a deserted planet and watch their religions change over time. Do you honestly believe that they'll 'converge' to the wildly divergent religions present in the world today? Hell, I'll even let you throw a copy of each major holy book (or the book of your choice) into the mix. Do you really believe that they'll come up with the exact same interpretation and understanding of those holy books that the majority of our world follows?

  • continuum (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 07, 2011 @01:13PM (#35747078)

    It isn't fair to the original article to lump everything since Isaac Newton into one big heap called 'Science', and contrast it with religion. That's not the point at issue. The Big Bang and quantum chromodynamics are not connected in any obvious way to the practical miracles of technology. And although even the arcane reaches of science are subject at least to some extent to testing, the nature and validity of those tests are not comprehensible to lay people. Experts claim that their theories have passed experimental tests. Lay people believe this on faith.

    Part of the right response is that popular science exposition still sucks too much. It could be better, but it's hard work to make it better. Too many lay people who think they are righteous science fans are in fact merely zealots cheering for their own team. They believe the right conclusions, but for the wrong reasons, because science is not any magic road to truth. It is nothing but hard-nosed common sense, plus a staggering amount of hard work. Too little of that work gets explained to the point where the hard-nosed common sense becomes clear.

    The other part of the right response is that certainty is delusion, and so all belief has an element of faith that has to be recognized. Right reason is about concluding that a pattern fits the evidence to an impressive degree. There is a continuous spectrum between cases where only a fool would conclude otherwise, and cases where you have to take a deep breath and hope. The differences between how pattern recognition is exercised in science, and how it is exercised in religion, are of degree.

  • Science is a MODEL (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Talisein ( 65839 ) on Thursday April 07, 2011 @01:29PM (#35747368) Homepage

    Science does NOT say how things "really are." Science provides a model that provides an approximation of reality; the most complex models can predict real events with a high statistical accuracy, but the the universe (or God if you want) is the only thing that knows what is really going to happen. If you don't know what an "atom" is, then you simply do not have a model from which to predict molecular events. When you read in a book about "atoms" you are just memorizing a model, giving you a framework that allows you to make some predictions. There is no requirement of faith in the model. If you make a prediction from the model that fails to realize, then you need to use a different model! That's all. Science is explicitly not a guarantee, but our modern models give very accurate predictions in many situations.

    Faith on the other hand IS a statement of how things "really are". Faith is explicitly a guarantee and allows for zero prediction this side of death. And that's fine.

    When a scientist tells you what a boson is, you DO NOT need to "trust" or "believe" them. The world's best scientists are in fact the ones who do not trust or believe in the models (even their own!).

  • Re:No. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by bluefoxlucid ( 723572 ) on Thursday April 07, 2011 @01:37PM (#35747514) Homepage Journal

    That does not mean science is not a faith.

    Historically, we can demonstrate the existence of Jesus, due to the historical events of Pontius Pillate and Ceaser and other shit happening around that time lining up, and something about some annoying beggar-preacher that they executed.

    Scientifically, we can demonstrate a lot of stuff. I've encountered a lot of science-followers, though: people who put the faith of God in science, somehow. It doesn't even actually make reasonable, rational sense.

    This comes up a lot when I point out that I meditate. I meditate because it calms the mind: it teaches a form of mental focus that aids in clarity of thought, if nothing else. You can go through all kinds of spiritual things related to meditation, playing with energy sources, the like; but even when you try to strip all that stuff away, at the core there is still an impact from sitting down for 5 minutes a day and clearing your mind, consciously. It breaks you away from the consumerist rush, from the constant panic, from the stress, from everything. When you come out of it, it's easier to deal with all that pressure without irrationally panicking and trying to find "something" (anything!) in response.

    But it's meditation, so these people immediately become a pitchfork witchhunt crew and start ganging up. Meditation is rooted in hokey non-science spirit superstition and is obviously a load of bullshit with no value and a complete waste of time!

    Just like any true believer, there are many people who immediately shut their eyes and their minds to anything that vaguely sounds "un-scientific" the moment they encounter it. I'd call that "faith-based," or "willful ignorance." Maybe both. You're moving from one god to another (which, in my crude philosophical-spiritual system, is an anomaly: I dislike the theology attached to gods, and instead focus spiritually on the self. Why expect hand-outs from some deity, or blame your misfortune on some deity not smiling on you? It is the fault of chance at worst, but it is still up to you to survive such bad luck and to crawl out of the depths you've fallen to and make for yourself your own fortune).

    They aren't just waiting for someone to tell them what to believe; they're actively refusing to validate it for themselves (understandable in cases where you can't, which given the amount of knowledge out there...) and, more importantly, attacking others for not sharing their beliefs (sound familiar?).

  • by hsthompson69 ( 1674722 ) on Thursday April 07, 2011 @01:43PM (#35747640) is about non-falsifiable hypotheses.

    Now, a lot of "scientific" navel gazing ends up living on the "faith" side, be it imagining wormholes, or time travel, or any number of science fiction tropes, but at its heart, the scientific method is about saying "this is my best guess at how things work, and if you see *this* or *that*, I'm wrong".

    Science gains its power from a ruthless skepticism of ones' own ideas, and faith gains its power from a ruthless belief in ones' own ideas.

  • by segfault_0 ( 181690 ) on Thursday April 07, 2011 @02:07PM (#35748132)

    There are only two classes for human conceptions, the analytic and the synthetic. Analytic ideas are as they are by definition (like math), and synthetic ideas are those which are based on observation, perception and evidence.

    Everything else is simply a matter of degree.

    Putting science on a pedestal this way proves nothing. It is a false mode of thinking designed by people who find religious thought threatening. Thoughts are thoughts, plausibility is plausibility, tautologies are tautologies. Anything else is the product of the human ego and insecurity in one form or another.

  • by Mike Van Pelt ( 32582 ) on Thursday April 07, 2011 @03:02PM (#35749048)

    You are setting up a straw man yourself. Their claim is not simply that Jesus existed but that he was the "son of god" come to earth and that he "died for our sins". Their claim is that he was a deity, for which there is NO credible evidence of any kind anywhere..

    The whole of Christianity hinges on the Resurrection: whether that tomb really was empty the Sunday after that Passover.

    There's pretty good reason to believe that, at least, something unusual happened -- Paul wouldn't have used the argument "Some of you were eye-witnesses to these events" in his letters if he didn't think "these events" supported what he was preaching. (He was writing his letters for particular people at the time, not for us 2000 years later.)

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