Belief in science

I’ve been thinking about a statement in one of the comments on a previous blog:

Acceptance of science as a provider of answers is exactly the same as faith in god, as long as you don’t understand the science. And that’s the difference.

I disagree with this. I don’t “believe in” science. I use it. Science is a tool for understanding the universe; it’s a way of thinking, and maybe even a way of living.

Someone using science says, “I think such-and-such is true because of a, b, and c. If this is true, I would see something very specific [include a description of this thing]. If it were false, I would see something different [include another description]. I will test it using the following method [description]. I will record my results, see what other people have discovered on similar questions, and come to a provisional conclusion based on the data available. I will continue to seek out confirming and disconfirming evidence, and I will amend or discard my explanations as the evidence requires.”

Someone who believes stops after “I think such and such is true because of a, b, and c.”

So when someone (like me) says they agree with the findings of science, it’s not so much a belief in science as it is a confidence in the soundness of the scientific method. The closest I come to belief is that I believe in the people who use the method.

Furthermore, if I don’t understand the science or I don’t believe the scientists, I can go to college or join an apprenticeship program or read a bunch of books in order to understand it.  I can gather data and apply to have my findings published in a peer-reviewed journal. The findings of science are comprehensible (with the possible exception of some areas of physics. Those people are just freaks.) (Kidding!) If scientific findings are not comprehensible, it probably isn’t really science.

Meanwhile, back to the Bible and theology. Sure, your mind can understand the words and ideas. You can read the works of great religious men and women, apply your mind and reason, and see if you agree. But you haven’t dealt with much (if any) evidence. The good news is that once you’ve got evidence, you can start making real claims and observations about the world. There are ways to test the claims religions make. But you test them scientifically. You can’t go to Heaven or call up the Lord and ask him.

I would venture to say that most religious people would not wager their faith on a scientific test designed to measure the accuracy of the things they believe in. I however, would be more than happy to wager my beliefs on such a test.

And that’s the difference.


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One Response to “Belief in science”

  1. John H. Says:

    “… as long as you DON’T understand the science.”

    You make good points; I was perhaps misunderstood.

    I don’t understand climatology. I do understand the scientific method, and believe that it can lead us to truth. My “faith” is that those who do understand climatology AND the scientific method are thinking this thing through (and testing their ideas) and coming to the right conclusions. I don’t have the time to test out their hypotheses myself, because the gap in my understanding vs theirs is too great. On the other hand, there are some areas of science where I would consider my conclusions to have some validity. Unless another scientist knows the subject as well as I do, I’d hope they would have a little “faith” in my knowledge and abilities.

    Any scientist’s conclusions, i.e., statements of “truth” are testable and verifiable. The same isn’t true of religious belief. But you make that point above, as well. That was what I meant by “and that’s the difference.” Religious belief/truth can’t be tested (apparently), while scientific truth CAN be tested.

    Have I made it worse, or better? I’m really not in disagreement with you. I even read your post twice, just to be sure!

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