The Problem of Faith

I happened across this article from February, 2012, Why the Believer Knows More About Science, by Stacy Trasancos, and I found it interesting because it illustrates what may be the single most destructive aspect of religious faith. The author attempts to explain the difference between the philosophies of the believer and the unbeliever, and apparently it comes down to one thing:

The non-believer has one source of knowledge – reason.

The believer has two – faith and reason.

Yes, and where does the evidence provided by our senses fit into this formula? The idea that reason and faith are the only two sources of knowledge is questionable, at best, but I’m willing to set that aside for now and agree that  the believer does have one additional source of information—divine revelation. Whether this is helpful or not depends on the reliability of the source. The believer would say there is no doubt that what God reveals to us is accurate and valuable information, and any data that appears to contradict revelation is suspect. The unbeliever would reply that any idea that cannot be verified by observations is suspect.

Here we have the reason that so many attempted dialogues between believers and unbelievers in a particular faith fail, as if they were speaking different languages. In a sense, they are. They use the same words, but with different meanings. For the believer, “God” is the origin of everything, the source of truth. For the unbeliever, “God” is a concept with no reliable data to support it, a weak hypothesis. For the believer, “faith” is trust in an unseen spiritual reality, instilled by that reality. For the unbeliever, “faith” is believing things without evidence.

We have two groups of seekers of truth, who start from different points and use different methodologies to arrive, unsurprisingly, at differing conclusions. The believers start with the truth, revealed by God.* As the author of the above-mentioned article states:

The Catholic scientist follows a different metaphysical principle, that God is the Author of all truth, Creator of all things. Every experiment is designed guided by this principle, every set of data is interpreted by this principle, every new hypothesis is formulated by this principle. [Emphasis in original.]

This would be in opposition to the metaphysical principle that she says secular scientists go by, of trying to demonstrate that “God is unnecessary” because they start from the position of denying the existence of God. I doubt that many scientists go by that principle. I think the idea of starting out with such a bias would be abhorrent to most of them.

Secular scientists formulate hypotheses in an attempt to describe observations. They design experiments and interpret the resulting data to test the hypotheses, to see if they are upheld or should be discarded. If there is an underlying metaphysical principle, it is that nothing can ever be proved, that we can only establish probabilities.

Are secular scientists trying to disprove the existence of God, demonstrate that the universe operates without divine interference? On the contrary, if the data showed that a supernatural influence was operating in natural events, it would be hugely exciting in the scientific community, and it would certainly get press coverage. Such a discovery would mean instant fame for the lucky researcher.

If that exciting discovery was made, would that bear out the existence of God, as defined by a particular religious group? Well, no. It would indicate that there is an unexplained “supernatural” influence, that would invite further study. It would surely lead to reexamining many current theories. Whether it would support one religious group’s theology over others will have to await its discovery. So far, we are still waiting.

Faith is the Problem

Although Trasancos writes from a Roman Catholic viewpoint, the principle that faith in divine revelation is essential to understanding the world is common in almost every religious group. If God exists, in the form postulated by your particular group, then basing your science on faith is not a problem. In fact it makes sense. On the other hand, if God is different from your group’s model, your faith-based research will likely lead you astray. Now, what percentage of the world’s scientists who believe that God is the author of all truth have faith in the correct god? Perhaps some of them will take up that question, and provide us with statistics from the study.

faith and the beewolf

*A Catholic definition of God: “We firmly believe and simply confess that there is only one true God, eternal and immeasurable, almighty, unchangeable, incomprehensible and ineffable…one absolutely simple essence, substance or nature…one principle of all things, creator of all things invisible and visible.” Fourth Lateran Council 1215
 Credit for the title image: Young Galileo, Bryan Larsen

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