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Posted by on Dec 23, 2013 in Religion, Science, Skepticism | 6 comments

The Faith in Science Canard

About twice a week on Google+, someone hits the atheism community or the evolution community with what I call the “faith in science” canard.

The canard usually runs something like this:

Faith is important. Even scientists have faith. Because no one can be an expert in every field, they have to have faith that other scientists are telling the truth.

We all have faith in something. Therefore atheists are wrong to reject religion.

That’s an oversimplification, but it doesn’t really matter. The central premise is simply wrong. We do not need faith. We need evidence.

The OP generally states something about how scientists sometimes make reports that are wrong.  Cold fusion is an example of this.  Many years ago, two scientists announced that they had created cold fusion.  Basically, the same kind of nuclear reaction in our sun, but without the excess heat generated.  Because they were wrong, our faith should have been broken.

The problem with this is that scientists don’t have faith that someone else is right.  They check, especially on something of that magnitude. Who discovered that cold fusion didn’t work?  Yes, other scientists who, performing science, attempted to copy the results and failed.  That’s not a lack of faith in science, because the process of science works.  All it showed that some people announced a result without proper understanding of the data they were reviewing.  It happens fairly frequently.

Unlike religion though, science works. Faith is required for religion, because there is zero evidence that it actually works.

Science, on the other hand, works without faith.  When you go to your car in the morning, you don’t have faith that vaporous gasoline, when combined with air and a spark will explode.  It does. Every. Single. Time.  It doesn’t matter what you believe, gravity will pull you down if you step off a bridge.  Every. Single. Time.

Do I have to have faith that electrons exist?  No, because I manipulate them every day, even though I can’t see them.  Solar panels in my house, the alternator in my car all produce electron flow, which, in turn, performs the function I desire. Functions that range from displaying this text on my screen to keeping my house cool.

You show me a religion with the same track record as science… a track record of successful healing of all injuries and diseases, the creation of wealth and happiness… and I will switch to that religion.  But I don’t have a religion, because faith is meaningless.

I don’t have faith that my wife loves me, I have significant evidence of the fact that she does.  I don’t have faith that I will have a job tomorrow. I have evidence that I am an expert in my field and well known in the industry.  I don’t have faith in anything about science.  The evidence I’ve discovered on my own, combined with the knowledge that I have gleaned from others mesh into a coherent whole that successfully describes our universe and allows us to manipulates parts of that universe for our advantage.

Honestly, I feel sorry for people who have faith.  They have to wake up every morning hoping that nothing radical has changed in their world.  I don’t see how they can be stable without knowing that reality exists and doesn’t change, except within well defined parameters that we faithless tend to understand significantly more than they do.

  • Shatterface

    Faith’s a weasel word here anyway.

    Faith is trust; we trust in science because it works. I know science exists because science itself a social fact; belief doesn’t come into it.

    Belief in a social fact makes it real. Money exists because people believe in it; society exists because people believe in it; bodies of knowledge exist because people believe in it. There’s no question that science exists. Science can be wrong in the sense that money can be counterfeit or goods can be overpriced: people can lose faith in both. That doesn’t alter the fact that science and money are workable institutions that can be corrected.

    When I say I have faith in humanity, I mean I have faith in their goodness – not that I believe humans exist.

    Religious people conflate faith with belief. They have faith in God because they trust in him; behind that faith lies the unexamined assumption that he exists: a belief.

    Religions are social facts; they exist because people believe in them. But unlike science or economics there’s no reality behind it that can correct its errors.

  • http://biblicalscholarship.wordpress.com Jayman

    The problem with this is that scientists don’t have faith that someone else is right. They check, especially on something of that magnitude.

    Some scientists check. Most scientists trust the reports of other scientists on any given issue. No one can check every scientific claim directly. That’s all your Google+ quote seems to be saying.

    Unlike religion though, science works. Faith is required for religion, because there is zero evidence that it actually works.

    What does religion “working” even mean?

    I don’t have faith that my wife loves me, I have significant evidence of the fact that she does.

    Faith and evidence are not mutually exclusive. Think of faith in God as analogous to your trust in your wife. You trust your wife in light of the evidence.

    The evidence I’ve discovered on my own, combined with the knowledge that I have gleaned from others mesh into a coherent whole that successfully describes our universe and allows us to manipulates parts of that universe for our advantage.

    The bold part seems to be the kind of faith the Google+ quote is alluding to.

    • SmilodonsRetreat

      Can’t have faith in something that doesn’t exist. Well, I guess you could, but it’s a pretty sad kind of faith.

    • Shatterface

      Faith and evidence are not mutually exclusive. Think of faith in God as analogous to your trust in your wife. You trust your wife in light of the evidence.

      That’s the distinction between faith and belief I was making. Husbands or wives may have faith in their spouses and religious people have faith in God; but marriage is a social fact and nobody doubts the existence of their partner: their belief in their existence is justified.

      That’s not the same with God: there’s a massive leap in belief before a leap in faith can be made.

      The institution of marriage makes marriage a social fact. Spouses exist because peopke believe in the institution of marriage; that shared belief makes marriage real.

      The institution of religion doesn’t make God a fact, social or otherwise. God is supposed to have existed before human beings; his reality is supposed to be independent of whether we believe in him or not.

  • Paul Burnett

    Every week, when I read “Science” magazine, I lament that I don’t have the time or money or equipment or expertise (or interest) to verify the truth of every report. But I trust the magazine and the Association and the peer-review process, so I accept the truth of every report without actually verifying it for myself. I myself have no evidence of the truthiness of any of those reports. My acceptance is based on trust – which looks, smells and feels like faith to a religionist.

    • Shatterface

      I think consistency counts. Most of the more exotic fields of science have basic forms that you can carry out yourself.

      And I can demonstrate wave particle duality myself with a torch and a piece of cardboard.

      I can demonstrate relativity with a guy on a trolley waving a torch up and down.