My “Blind Faith” in Science

 I am accused of having all sorts of faiths and religions. Not believing in God is one of my religions (they say)  counting the things I see, hear, and taste as evidence is among my faiths. Opining the divisive nature of Holy Books is a further article in my faith-pantheon — being willing to express that opinion is my zealous religiosity. Defending unbelievers’ rights to advertise their views makes me an intrusive and righteous missionary — criticizing the dangerous beliefs of others casts me as an agent of intolerance and a fanatic for my faith.    

Interestingly, these accusations come from those who openly have (and feel free to express) their faith in God — that is, from people who have religion. Now I don’t want to make too much of this, but I do wonder, why do minds prepared and conditioned to think religiously find in all other minds religious thinking? The response to a belief about the non-existence of God? Religion they say. An opinion about the role of religious belief in a modern society? That’s nothing more than a faith position.

And here’s the topper — they say these things to denigrate the unbelieving view. It is as if they are saying, “Your position is a load of crap because it’s just like mine.”

Er… what?!

But okay, I hear ya…  I mean, we’re talking about positions that are (at least for the moment) pretty darn unprovable. Sure, God could step-up and kill the debate should He, in His eternal wisdom, choose to do so — but then, that’s difficult to do if you don’t exist…  I mean, not for God of course — He could prove His existence while not actually existing, He is, after all, God 

Anyway, my point is that they can call my unbelief in God “faith” — that’s cool, but can’t we just stop there? Do believers really need to stretch the term faith to include what is (and ought to be) the antithesis of faith? Do they have to render in faith-terms the discoveries and successes of science? More and more I see references to the “Church of Darwinism” or the “Temples of Science.” Not only do religious folks wish to categorize any belief statement as faith, but also those statements that are grounded in the most rigorously and fully-tested discoveries of science.

Why does this way of viewing science persist? In my opinion it stems primarily from peoples’ lack of awareness as to how science “is done.” It is not obvious to people that a free-market of ideas goes on in science (for grant money, for status, for fame). As in other fields of human endeavor, scientists are working to be first — they often treat fellow scientists as foes and are competitive even among those with whom they are in agreement There is no monolithic “science” — it is a profession whose participants have distinct and various personalities, ethics, motivations, desires, etc…

But from the perspective of regular people (non-experts, non-professionals) it is difficult to know where to put one’s trust — especially with all this competition and non-aligning motivations that crowd the laboratory (and the newsroom) of science. Meanwhile the language and ideas of the professionals have become so specialized (and will only become more so) that even those who wish to untangle the “truth” can become hopelessly lost without the guide of a PhD. In other words, the folks who believe in “science” may know no more about a given topic than folks who have blind faith in their religion — adding to this quandary, sometimes science gets things wrong.

Yet key and fundamental differences separate science and religion. First, when science does get it wrong, it works to get it right — even when it gets it right, it works to getting it righter. Science never sleeps — science, as a foundational principle, is never satisfied. Furthermore, upheavals and overthrows in science, though common in media headlines, are rather rare. The achievements of science are more like a camera further ratcheting down its lens — bringing things (most often called reality) into a sharper and tighter focus. Newton’s theory of gravity worked for the level of clarity the science of his day was able to achieve. Einstein’s theory replaced Newton’s — the focus was tightened — but Newton’s math is still “right” for the kinds of objects he was working with.

The kind of trust that many have in science and scientific achievement is deserved in a way that cannot be paralleled by religion. Every day we enjoy the fruits of science, that is, technology. We know that science has proved itself — modern medicine has doubled our life-expectancy, we’ve got plasma TV and robot-vacuums, we can communicate anytime and everywhere (though we sometimes wish to be out of touch), we can fly across the ocean doing open-heart surgery on cloned sheep — we have the proof of millions of technological advancements that science, generally, makes accurate predictions and give us the ability to gain (at least some) control over our lives and the things in it…

So what of the original question — is this faith?

It seems to me that faith (as I have stated elsewhere) is belief in something without or in-spite-of evidence. While I call what we have in science trust — that is, belief based on past evidence of success. Science has been successful at making predictions and understanding our world far more than Priests, Shaman, Rabbis, Ministers, or Witch Doctors ever have. One may reply, however, that no scientist can give comfort to a dying woman or a man searching for his “spiritual” center. I disagree.

A scientific understanding of the world does not include merely wires and machinery. It includes psychiatry and psychology, sociology and anthropology. It includes an understanding of how biology impacts our moods and thoughts — and it includes therapies to affect them. I really and truly find comfort in understanding my evolutionary past and the effects of environment on young children — that is, why I feel how I feel, why morals become dilemmas, and why emotions give my life meaning. Understanding the history behind the being that I am helps me to be more complete, and it helps me to be more patient and understanding of others. I am almost certain that I fear death no more than the most eager martyr for Islam or Christian hungry to be with Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. 

Trust in science is not faith because science gives us a reason to trust it, and it is not blind because it lets us see, should we look. Science produces for us, whether we comprehend the technicalities or we just “accept” them. Science does not lurk behind vestments, and the only truths it hides are those I am not willing to work toward understanding. We should not have blind faith in science — nor in anything, and though I cannot evaluate every claim made in every field of study, I don’t need to. I can see the results of our efforts, I enjoy them every day, and not see those successes takes the kind of blindness one usually finds only in religion.

 

3 Responses

  1. I challenge the idea that it revolves more around someone’s religious beliefs, or not, and not just the working of the brain. Take a color-blind and a color-unblind person. The person who sees color can’t understand what it is to be colorblind and therefore maintains the idea that a colorblind person isn’t really colorblind (unable to see color) they just don’t know how to interpret it “properly” and if they see something then it must have color no matter how inappropriately perceived. Or someone who sits and talks about anyone who walks by “Can you believe she’s wearing that? Look at her hair? Her weight? His clothes? Those piercings?” I feel like those are the people who can’t believe that others don’t do the same and walk around completely insecure because they are sure that others must do and judge the same as them. So it could be that if one has religion and it plays a part in his or her life, they can’t understand what it’s like to not have that and so even if you say you are atheist and have no religion, no opinion, no judgement, no – to one who can’t understand that concept, having no religion is a religion. Even the absence of all color, is a color named “black”. Maybe (?)

  2. i agree that faith is the belief in a concept without proof and i would like to take it one step futher. i would say faith is the belief in a concept without any possiblity of proof. i think we’ve come so far with technology and have stood on the shoulders of our brilliant ancestors long enough that anything that requires faith will never be proven.

    aside from belief in God, we all have faith that our next step on solid ground with be just like any of the millions steps we have taken before it and we will not misstep and break our ankles, but we don’t know that for sure and we could never know it. we know that such a thing is possible to happen since we have heard stories of someone else who has broken their ankle in a misstep or we have come close with only a sprain, but (most people) don’t think about this in each step.

    this concept of not knowing but knowing the possibilities is what makes our lives and our reality thrive; the possibility of anything. i can say with conviction that there is an exception to (almost) everything.

    bringing it back to religion, there are those that are taught from birth that there is no belief in God…..it’s that there most definitely is a God and there is no question. there are those that believe that without question. And if it’s never questioned, is this person any different than the person who believes there is no God without question if He never shows up to prove either correct?

    i say no, and this completes the circle and makes the world perfect.

  3. jess, check out this post at the top… it speaks pretty directly to what you are talking about (i think)… http://open.salon.com/user_blog.php?uid=11779

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