Faith

My friend Carl and I were talking about words that can be shared by religion and science.  Carl commented to my last post,

From a Christian perspective what I think many people need to hear is an acknowledgment that science itself is filled with leaps of faith and is founded on faith. Now that faith may not seem to be defined the same way for both groups but I think that is wrong. I think it is the same word. It is trust and belief in things that cannot be seen. Science takes leaps of faith all the time. It is the hard line view of a need for religion and science to be seen separately that scares off religious people and makes them want to reject scientific speculation, proof, etc.

When I first read this I wanted to protest that the word faith has no place in science, but I let Carl’s comment ride around in my head for awhile.  I’m glad I did, because many ideas grew from letting my thoughts lie fallow for awhile.

The pursuit of science does not involve faith, that is the testing of a hypothesis.  Scientific experiments have to stand alone and be reproducible and not be influenced by the beliefs of the experimenters.  However, faith plays a big role in the dissemination of scientific knowledge.  We are all taught that the Earth orbits the Sun, but how many of us could actually prove it?  I have read about many experiments that are meant to prove that the Earth orbits the Sun, but I have not replicated any of them.

And I think this is what Carl is talking about.  We have a kind of faith in science.  We accept the consensus that the Earth orbits the Sun.  But is acceptance the same as faith?  Christians have faith that life exists after death, but that belief does not come from experiments and testing.  Religious people have faith in untested hypotheses.  So can one word apply to both situations?

My faith in science comes from reading a lot of books and in the acceptance of consensus.  I assume every scientific idea has been tested over and over again, and that all of science if built on billions of experiments that are constantly being retested.  I also live on the assumption that any technology derived from scientific laws will behave in a way that connects it to all other scientific laws.  Since I am not a scientist, I have to trust, accept, believe or have faith in science, but I depend on it to be consistent.

Religious people use the word faith in an inconsistent manner.  The object of their faith varies from person to person, and from religion to religion.  To the skeptic the faithful appear to be validating their wishes with determination and belief.  However, to the faithful, faith is about commitment to the unknowable.  Spiritual knowledge is handed down from the past, much like how scientific knowledge is passed down, and the worshipful are asked to accept this knowledge on faith.

This is where religion and science are different.  Science says to students, trust me, the experiments have been done, and I’ll show you how to reproduce any of them yourself.  Religion says, trust me, this knowledge comes from a higher being, one who was not of this world.  Religious people are followers of mystic knowledge.  Mystics are those people claiming direct experience with other worldly knowledge.  Religious people accept mystic knowledge on faith.  I am not religious, but that doesn’t mean I can disprove their hypothesis in which they base their faith.  Nor can science.

For decades there have been those who want to unite science and religion, and there have been Popes that have tried to solve the problem by allowing science to have providence back to the big bang, but declaring anything earlier belonging to God.  Religious people need for the realm of the supernatural to exist beyond our physical reality for their faith to exist.  Faith in the supernatural is very different from faith in the foundations of science.  Carl has his faith, and I have mine, so what’s the problem?

What bothers Carl and I are the competition of faiths that we see in the news and in the people around us.  Most people would like to be left along to pursue their own beliefs, but a few believers from every belief system want to legislate their faith into law for all to follow.  Some people have faith in areas other than religion and science, such as concepts like justice, goodness, evil, economics, ethics, etc.  There are all these competing ideas and ideologies.  It’s enough to drive one to watching sitcoms.

My conservative friends are riled up by Michael Moore and Al Gore.  My liberal friends are outraged by Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin.  These folks are a kind of prophets of various faiths.  They campaign to gather believers in their ideas.  Just like the current presidential election, with each candidate wanting voters to embrace their beliefs, and thus have faith in them.

It makes me wonder if “faith” is a bad word.  If I express my faith in the concept of global warming, it presses the button on some people that raises their hackles.  But if someone around me starts talking about “intelligent design” my own hackle button gets pushed.  If I’m willing to accept Christianity as a belief, why not intelligent design?  This is getting to the heart of things, I think.

Faith requires betting the farm, committing the entire soul.  As long as Christianity is separate from science I can ignore it.  Intelligent design is religion’s way of attacking the belief in science.  Ouch, time to fight back.  The theory of evolution overlaps faith in the old testament.  Ouch, let’s start a crusade against science.

Faith has to be 100% pure, and any conflict is a threat.  Many people like to believe that reality is completely objective and can only handle one truth.  Nobody assumes their faith is one of the many that’s not part of reality.  I happen to wonder since most people lead highly delusional lives, does it really matter which faith is validated by objective reality?

But this head-in-the-sand approach won’t work.  My faith in science does conflict with other people’s faith in the systems they need to believe in with 100% certainty.  Strangely, this comes down to politics.  You’d think we could keep metaphysics out of decisions on road building, taxation, maintaining armies, building schools and libraries, and all the other mundane activities that go into running cities and states.  Take for instance the Wall Street buy out under discussion in congress.  Why are things lining up along party lines?

Everyone has many faiths, and for some reason of psychology, these collection of faiths line up along the two political parties like iron filings in a magnetic field, polarized by two opposing charges that we don’t understand.  Actual science is not a faith.  Believing in any idea is a faith.  Backing unproven scientific assertions is still a kind of faith.  We can’t prove our faiths with scientific like experiments, although some people believe rhetoric is a science, which it’s not.

I don’t know if the two species of humans I talked about in my last post are different because of their beliefs, or they are physically different in some way that make them believe along opposing lines.  I wonder if anyone has done studies of political parties around the world, and explored whether or not they had common traits and how they might be related to personality types.

JWH 9/25/8

4 thoughts on “Faith”

  1. I’ve tried to steer clear of the whole science and religion debate. I’m pretty much one who has been driven to watching those sitcoms you mentioned. 🙂 Every once in awhile though someone says something that makes me pay attention, and I’ve found that Leo Kim has some very interesting comments on the topic. His blog and upcoming book at HealingTheRift.com tackle the debate from the point of view that “the conflicts between science and spirituality can be resolved with recent scientific discoveries, which reveal that our world is a blending of mind and spirit.”

  2. Sorry it has taken so long for me to get back to this. I think it was a great idea to separate this out into its own post.

    In reading Helen’s comments in the last post, many of which reflect concerns I have about whether global warming is of natural or man-made consequences, I found myself getting angry because my perception of what she was doing was that she was putting much more effort into crafting lofty language and promoting her own intelligence rather than trying to have a truly intelligent conversation. Almost a too-good-to-be-true example of just how easily things can get heated when talking about controversial subjects (pardon the thinly veiled global warming pun)!

    I think you certainly got part of what I was referring to as ‘faith’ down. The other part is probably most accurately reflected in my feelings about evolution. I certainly believe in the type of evolution that involves adaptation. I believe species can adapt to surroundings, eventually developing new ways to cope with their environment, etc. In fact this kind of thinking most definitely falls in line with biblical ideas about how God’s creation works. I do not, however, believe that any one species evolved into another regardless of how long this ol’ earth may have been around. My own personal view of the ‘theory’ of evolution is that it is that, a ‘theory’, based on observations and calculations of scientists but mostly based on a type of ‘faith’. I don’t recall reading any ‘proof’ that my ancestors came from monkeys and it is certainly not an experiment that can be duplicated in a lab, tested, etc. so my ideas that there is ‘faith’ involved in science in large part comes from the way that a large part of the scientific community and humanity at large accepts the idea of evolution as science ‘fact’ rather than theory. That, in my mind, is no different than the faith I place in the existence of a real and loving and personable God. I know, your hackles are rising, but can you see what I am driving at?

    That perception that I have of the faith inherent in scientific belief, in all belief, makes me feel that in regards to issues like global warming there is a possibility that very real, testable data can still be interpreted in a way that is slightly to dangerously skewed based on the faith that the foundation these ideas are built on is true fact. So while I and many other intelligent Christians believe that global warming does indeed exist, we may find it alarming that any scientific data/theories positing that this is a normal cycle of the earth are declared nonsense and Al Gore’s ideas are declared THE ONE AND ONLY TRUTH (I exaggerate for emphasis). This is the kind of thing that makes religious people loathe to jump on board the climate change bandwagon. I firmly believe, however, that whether our ‘carbon footprint’ has any direct bearing on global warming or not, common sense dictates that the crap we are putting into the air at the very least is unhealthy for us physically and is costing us a fortune to operate. If global warming ‘true believers’ could shift the focus to ideas we can all agree on: oil costs too much money, isn’t it nice to have some forests instead of endless acres of strip malls, then I think you’d find religious people to be more willing to get in line on conservation, climate change, etc. This may seem like a petty thing, but you and I both know just how much little things can make all the difference in the world.

    There has to be a way that we as a people can get away from the idea that most of our efforts need to be focused on convincing the other people that “we are right” and can instead be focused on agreeable solutions to problems that will and do affect us all. I still have hope that those things can be done without conservatives and liberals, Christians and athiests, feeling that they compromised their beliefs or principles to do so. Guess I’m still a bit naive!

    Lastly, and ever so slightly off topic, I must admit that I am coming ever so close to ignoring my self-imposed ban on political content on my blog to post a plea for sanity and common sense come November 4th. One thing the last 2 elections have shown us is that the country is pretty evenly divided. I wish people could open their eyes to that fact. Instead what will inevitably happen, depending on who wins, is that celebrities will curse America and threaten to move to Canada if McCain wins and religious people will weep and mourn declaring God’s judgment if Obama wins. It is ridiculous. Why cannot liberal East and West coast people acknowledge that the people in these middle states are intelligent, reasonable people and not sheep blindly following a leader the coasters don’t support. Why cannot Christians realize that regardless of who is our President they are no less called to pray for and support that person than they are if their candidate of choice wins? I hate to say it, but why can’t we all get along? It doesn’t make sense. There has to be a way to hold our government leaders accountable without resorting to vitriolic comments about our fellow men, about our neighbors who at heart are no different than we are. I long to see the office of the President respected for what it is, not who is or isn’t in the seat. I long for a return to common sense. I also hope and pray that if Obama wins, and it is certainly looking that way, that democrats can find a more approachable, level-headed mouth piece than Nancy Pelosi (too tired to look up spelling). She is an example to me, and there are Republicans just like her, of what is wrong with the people who we choose to lead us.

    I probably won’t end up posting that plea after all because it will no doubt only stir up bitter feelings amongst a group of people who now consider each other friends, but inside I will be screaming for civility and intelligence!

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