When science and faith clash, it is often due to how those terms are defined. Trouble almost always arises when we allow opposing parties to define each other’s positions. We will get nowhere in our discussion as long as we allow people on one end of the spectrum to define faith as “an irrational belief in something imaginary,” people on the other end of the spectrum to define science as “a materialistic, anti-God conspiracy” and both groups to define their own views as “the only view worth considering.” I invite readers of this blog to engage in civil and honest consideration of all views involved. So let’s start at the very beginning (a very good place to start) and come up with some good working definitions.Faith: There are probably as many ways to define faith as there are people who practice it. But as a starting point, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines faith as “1- a strong belief or trust in someone or something; 2- belief in the existence of God, strong religious feelings or belief; 3- a system of religious beliefs.” Sometimes we use faith as a synonym for religion (definitions 2 and 3), but often we use it to denote a feeling of trust. In this latter sense, faith can be strong or weak, absolute or tentative, but everyone practices it to some degree. Religious people have varying degrees of faith in God; scientists have varying degrees of faith in science; and anyone who gets up from their chair to walk across the room has some degree of faith that their legs and the floor will hold them up. In this sense, it is impossible to live without faith of some kind. We gain faith in something-- be it God, another person, or the principles of physics that allow us to walk across the room-- through our experiences with it.
The real debates over faith arise over the question of whether the particular thing we have faith in really warrants our trust, that is, whether our faith is realistic. And how are we to know what reality is? How are we to know that our particular understanding or knowledge is valid? We will each define reality based on what we, through our experience, have learned to have faith in. The arguments quickly become circular, with the bottom line being that none of us can prove to each other what reality is.
Don’t go away! We will come back to this point later. Now it starts to get fun!
Science: Science is one system humans have developed over the course of their history for trying to get at, grasp, and make sense of reality-- whatever reality is. In other words, science is a system-- a method-- for gaining reliable information.
But alas, I have given you enough for today. Join me next time, when I will discuss exactly what science is, what it is not, and how it relates to reality. I can hardly wait!