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Atheism/Science rests on the shoulders of faith

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Hi Philip, What do you think about these statements? Science is a search for certainty in an unsure world. Faith is what empowers curiosity. It assures you of a depth to reality we can never completely plumb. It is the precondition for truly exploring the unknown. Faith assures me of the intelligibility of reality and says look as deeply and extensively as you like, you never need worry things will really be absurd or ultimately meaningless. Even scientists MUST make a kind of pre-faith leap in order to do science; they must ASSUME that reality is ultimately intelligible and that human beings are capable of knowing the truth. They cannot proceed without such an act of 'faith.’

Answer
Hello,

Let's take the statements in order:

1) "Science is a search for certainty in an unsure world"

Actually not. There is no such thing as "scientific faith" (the same as seeking some kind of certainty) because the process of scientific inquiry is at 180 degrees to a faith-based approach. The thrust of scientific inquiry, rather, presumes an approach to objective truth is by way of successive approximations, a concept that is totally alien to most religionists.

It works like this: You have data, and accessory information which leads to some iniital result which tests a particular hypothesis- call it 'x'. You then acquire better data (perhaps because of refined instruments, techniques ) and are led to a modified (improved) result such that:

x (n+1) = x + P(x)

where x(n +1) denotes an improvement via iteration, with P(x) the process (acting on x) that allows it. (For example P(x) might be design enhancements in the spectral resolution for a spectro-photometer used to analyze the chemical elements for stars, and x(n =1) is the improved outcome for better resolution, allowing us to see more spectral lines including those undergoing fine structure splitting.)

Later, more refined data become available, such that: x(n + 2) = x(n + 1) + P'(x + 1) and so on, and so on and so forth.

Each x, x(n+1), x(n+2) etc. being a successive approximation to what the objective, genuine value should be. Religions - by contrast- simply impose their truth ab initio by fiat or decree. There is no attempt whatever to incorporate any approximation. Or to even acknowledge that 'truth' can't be accessed all at once. Rather, one must set rational truth aside and succumb to ‘faith”.

2)"Faith is what empowers curiosity. It assures you of a depth to reality we can never completely plumb. It is the precondition for truly exploring the unknown. Faith assures me of the intelligibility of reality and says look as deeply and extensively as you like, you never need worry things will really be absurd or ultimately meaningless"


Total nonsense. Faith doesn't "empower curiosity"  but curtails it because it posits a priori an untestable axiom which it THEN seeks to validate. As opposed to how science works: by observing an unknown phenomenon and then proposing hypotheses to formulate answers. The key then is to approach the truth via successive approximations and empirical tests.  If these tests are validated then the hypothesis may rise to theory status - in which most of the predictions made for the phenomenon have been confirmed.

Faith does not "assure of any depth to reality"  because unlike science - which recognizes impossibilities based in the conservation laws (i.e. the entropy law renders it impossible a dead man can ever come back to life like Lazarus), faith leaves them open. Also, faith provides no tests of itself so how can we know what it embraces is true or false? An immaculate conception? A "miracle" in which thousands at Fatima claim to see the Sun bouncing around? A man walking on water? All nonsense because no empirical tests support them!

By contrast, if science's quest for knowledge were merely based on an internal (subjective) faith in its methods (or analogous mumbo-jumbo to shamanic rites), there would be no hardware ever emerging from discovery of first principles. Nor would there be advances in the hardware. The reality of the hardware, and its effective practical applications, implies that science must be based on something radically different from faith. In essence, there must be a substantial and objective dimension to scientific knowledge, i.e. that exists apart from the scientist's mind and personal beliefs.

For example, there is no disputing the reality of high-speed computers and micro-processors, medical imaging and diagnostic devices (e.g. MRIs), more efficient telecommunications systems -including fiber optics relays, and novel advances in gene mapping and splicing techniques. Collectively, these show two things: 1) that science as a process cannot be "standing still" - since technology advances and technology is the offspring of applied or basic scientific research. And 2): these researches can generate real, physical counterparts in the objective world. (So they are in no ways the same as "souls", "demons" etc.)

In addition, the discoveries didn't hinge on faith but ni basic curiority and open inquiry into how things work in nature.

Arguably, NONE of these things would ever have been invented, developed had science merely been based on some "faith" quest.

Some offer that just as they may have a faith in deity or supernatural, personal God, I have faith the Sun will rise each morning. This is not quite the same thing. In the latter case it isn't any faith at work but rather confident pre-supposition predicated on a host of predictable past behaviors – as in thousands of years of first hand, observable evidence! This is always the case when experience repeatedly validates that the probability of controversion of the underlying physical laws is null.

In essence, then, the "intelligibility of reality" must be predicated upon the scientific -empirical approach, not faith. Ultimately, the difference is that one (science) offers actual methods and materials - equipment to pursue the issue, while the other offers only nebulous assertions - often based on sources which themselves cannot be validated (e.g. ancient scriptures etc.)

Also, whether "things will really be absurd or ultimately meaningless" is not a concern or issue of science, and it matters not. What is of concern is whether a particular hypotheses is testable and to what degree predictions are forthcoming from these tests. This is all critical, since in the past apologists of teleologism (the belief that purpose and design are part of nature) have cited a perceived “orderliness” as a revelation for the “handiwork” of an intelligent Mind, or Creator. Alas, this falls through the cracks if most of the universe is disorderly, or composed of dark-energy-matter. Indeed, by current assessment – and discounting plasma abundance, one may reckon that even rudimentary order is evident in barely 0.00001% of the cosmos. And this can all be explained or accounted for by appeal to scientific reasoning or hypotheses.

3) "Even scientists MUST make a kind of pre-faith leap in order to do science; they must ASSUME that reality is ultimately intelligible and that human beings are capable of knowing the truth. They cannot proceed without such an act of 'faith.’

Not so! Asserting science operates on "faith" or "pre-faith" misstates and misconstrues the actual nature of scientific research. The point being, no one embarks on high quality research without a good idea that one's goal will be achieved. Before I commenced my work into SID flares and relation to geo-magnetic effects, therefore, I already knew from the preliminary research my outcome would be successful. There was no "faith" dimension to it!

Nor do we have to "assume" reality is ultimately intelligible given we already have the 500+ year history of science - dating from Copernicus' earliest observations - to show it is. If, as I showed my students in 1978, one could predict where the planet Jupiter will be in the year 2050, then it may be said the intelligibility is inherent in the process, in the predictions. Indeed, it is in fact predictions like those from celestal machanics (and astrodynamics) which have allowed us to get space craft like the Maven to Mars, and others to Venus, Jupiter, and soon Pluto.  

Also, the very fact we have succeeded in landing such craft on distant worlds like Mars and Venus shows in no uncertain terms humans can know the truth - and without having to rely on the crutch of faith. All that was needed was to use the powerful tools of celestial mechanics combined with the knowledge and skill of how to build powerful rockets with ample thrust to complete the voyage.

Hopefully these answers provide some insights into the real differences between sceince and faith!  

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Philip A. Stahl

Expertise

I specialize in the areas of scientific materialism and consciousness described as a materialist epiphenomenon. Also can answer questions pertaining to general atheism, atheist-agnostic differences etc.

Experience

I have been an atheist for over 36 yrs. and have written four books on the subject: 'The Atheist's Handbook to Modern Materialism'(2000), and 'Atheism" A Beginner's Handbook', 'Dialectical Atheism' (2011), 'Beyond Atheism, Beyond God' (2013)

Organizations
Intertel, Mensa, American Mathematical Society, American Astronomical Society, American Geophysical Union

Publications
Atheist articles: 'The American Atheist' magazine, assorted U.S. newspapers (e.g. Baltimore Sun, Denver Post); papers-articles published in Intertel's Journal: Integra. Books: 'The Atheist's Handbook to Modern Materialism'(2000), 'Atheism: A Beginner's Handbook' (2007), 'Dialectical Atheism' (2011), 'Beyond Atheism, Beyond God' (2013)

Education/Credentials
Master of Philosophy in Physics. Also took more than 3 yrs. of theology and metaphysics courses at a Catholic University (1964-67) - before I became an atheist. Thus, I have much more religious familiarity & background than many atheists.

Awards and Honors
Writers' Digest Award for the essay 'The Atheist in America' (2000), Government of Barbados research in solar physics award (1980-84), AAS Solar Physics Award (1984)

Past/Present Clients
American Atheists, Barbados Philosophical Society, Harrison College- Barbados, Colorado Springs Freethinkers

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