As undoubtedly none of you know, I am fascinating by disconnect that seems to occur between science and religion. We see this perhaps most clearly in the battle over evolution that inexplicably still exists, but there are many other points of contention out there. Just think of people who refuse medical treatment for religious reasons. Likely you could have guessed this, but when there are sides to be taken, I tend to come down quite firmly on the side of science. In the evolution in schools debate, for example, I’m bemused that there is a debate at all. Evolution is taught in science class, because it is science. If you want to teach creation, teach it in religion classes, alongside all of the other creation myths from various religions. Debate over. But I’ve been thinking a lot more not about the facts of the debate, but about the reason for the debate at all.
I think it’s clear that science feels superior to religion because science is based on facts. Science is observable. Science is reproduceable. Science is logical. Science has resulted in tangible, noticeable improvements in our society (and some not so great things too, sure). Most important though, science is based on the natural world. Things you can see and feel and touch and do.
Religion, on the other hand, is based on faith. Belief in whatever it is you believe in. Belief that your beliefs are correct, and that others are wrong. Unfortunately, there’s nothing tangible to point to in order to defend that faith. There’s a religion’s text usually that can be pointed to as evidence for points that your making. And many people try to reference their literary texts in their arguments related to science. But the problem with the Bible as evidence is that it requires the person you’re arguing with to share your faith. I, as a non-Christian, consider any argument that references the Bible to be invalid, because to me, it is simply a book written by people. I lack the faith required to accept the words of the Bible as proof of anything.
I can feel religious people bristling. Don’t worry – your time is coming.
Up until now, I’ve maintained an attitude of aloof amusement to people who disagree with science based on their religious beliefs. That level of faith seemed naive.
But the more I’ve been thinking about it, I realized that I am operating in my world based on a different kind of faith. I have faith in science.
Now, I don’t mean that in the sense that “I believe in science, that it will come through for us.” I mean that in the sort of blind, simply accepting sort of faith that accompanies religion. You see, I am not a scientist. Most of what I read related to science, I do not understand. I certainly am in no position to judge or critique science that is presented to me. Why do I believe in evolution? Because scientists tell me that it is so. I haven’t done any research into evolution. I haven’t personally explored genetics, or selective breeding, or the fossil record. I have read articles about evolution by other people who most likely aren’t scientists, but rather reporters. If evolution were wrong (and just to be clear, I’m not trying to imply at all that it is), I would have no way of knowing that, or no grounds to even challenge the premise of evolution. I could simply regurgitate responses that other people have come up with. Other scientists. I accept the consensus of the scientific community on faith, because I have faith in the scientific process. I have faith that mistakes will be sorted out in peer review. I have faith that reproducability of an experiment is a major sign of veracity of the results. But I’ll never reproduce the experiments myself, so again, I have to operate on faith.
Now this is not to suggest that scientists themselves are operating on faith. They are qualified to analyze the results. They are qualified to critique. They are qualified to disagree, or disrupt. And I recognize that if I wanted to, I could make myself qualified – perhaps that is part of why I’m writing this blog. But I’m not, and I likely won’t. No, I am going to keep accepting science with faith – ferreting out nonsense where I feel qualified to do so (as a religious person might ferret out those who are misinterpreting religious texts).
This is not meant to suggest the possibility that science is wrong about the big things, or that there is some reason to question evolution or climate change or whether medicine should be used to cure. I have complete and absolute faith in the scientific process that led us to those things, and that the scientific process will continue to protect us and make our lives better. But it does make me pause when I am listening to the argument against evolution, quoting the story of Genesis as proof that evolution is nonsense. Because ultimately, my response, listing all of the facts and figures that can demonstrate evolution, is based on nothing more than my own faith in the scientific process. So maybe, just maybe, I should stop feeling so superior when confronted with expressions of faith that I consider naive.
I should. But I probably won’t. Because as everyone knows, my faith is more founded than yours.