Faith, Science And Human Knowledge
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good testimony. By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible. Heb 11:1-3
I often hear people say that science is based on reason and religion is based on faith. After reflecting on this for while I came to the conclusion that science and religion both have a faith component and a rational one.
First of all, let’s look at the thought process that goes on in science. The first thing we find in the making of any scientific theory is a hunch that something is true. This hunch may come from a number of sources. It may originate in the imagination of the scientist or a scientist may stumble on something by accident, which creates a curiosity. It may come through some tacit awareness, which is beyond explanation. We call this tacit awareness creativity or inspiration. Whatever it is, it is the motivation which moves the scientist to the next step of searching for evidence to prove his hunch. When he obtains what he thinks is enough evidence; he is moved to publish his belief publicly. It is at this time that his hunch becomes a theory that the Bible calls faith. It is still a hunch, though, he now has somet evidence to support it. However, at this point the evidence is not enough to turn his hunch into fact.
In science, the hunch stage of an idea is called a hypothesis. In layman’s language, a hunch might be called an educated guess based on tacit knowledge, which would necessitate a strong element of faith. At this level of knowledge there may be little, to no evidence to support the hunch or hypothesis, yet because of the scientists faith they continue on, looking for evidence. If they find enough evidence to support their hunch, then they will publish it for the scientific community to have their hypothesis tested. If the scientific community, through the scientific method, confirms their belief, then the hypothesis is moved to the status of a theory.
What is a Theory? A theory is “a proposed explanation whose status is still conjecture and subject to experimentation in contrast to a well-established proposition that are regarded as reporting matters of actual fact”. One of the problems with the idea of a theory is that it is hard sometimes for many people to determine the difference between a theory, and a fact. The main difference is that a fact has a large degree of certitude and the theory still has a faith element in it, though less than the hypothesis.
¶Over the course of time if a theory maintains its integrity, it will then be referred as a law; e.g. the law of gravity or the law of thermodynamics. However, some theories may never reach the level of law because of the number of pieces missing in its explanation of the facts, or the failure of scientists to be able to apply the scientific method to the theory. There are a number of theories that the scientific method cannot be applied to, such as Darwinian evolution, which has elements that must be accepted by faith and can never be proven or disproven by empirical evidence. One of these elements is whether or not evolution is directed by a force in or outside of nature, or it is completely undirected and random.
I think it quite self-evident that science, as in all disciplines of human knowledge, has a faith element in it that is very similar to a faith in God. When a person has a real faith in God, which is not inherited from family or culture, you will basically find very similar steps as we saw in science. We see a hunch or hypothesis that there is something more than nature. The hunch may come from pondering one’s thoughts or the incredible sense of awe that comes through observing the wonders of nature, or a tacit revelation which cannot be explained.
¶The next step is for a person to begin to search for God. Now, it is important to note that at this point the hunch is not what the Bible calls faith; it is still only a hunch. However, as the person begins to look for God and the evidence begins to grow, his hunch starts to grow into faith. His tacit hunch enables him to see more and more of the evidence for God. In this, his hunch becomes the instrument or tool which aids him in his search for God.
¶Sometimes you must believe something in order to see it. For example, scientists believed there were atoms hundreds of years before they could prove their existence. If they rejected everything because they could not see it, they would have never looked for atoms. If they had not believed, they would have never found the atom.
When does a person’s hunch, become faith? Just like the scientist, a hunch becomes faith when it is confirmed by evidence and when it is publicly published. In Biblical Christianity this happens when a person confesses Christ publicly by being baptize or immersed into Christ (Gal 3:26, 27)[i]. As the evidence grows, faith continues to move through the phases of a hypothesis, a theory and then in the certitude of law, which the Bible calls the law of the Spirit of life. This is simpler to the phases of a scientific belief, which is first a hunch, then a theory and then law.
If this is all true why do people believe that science is objective and faith is subjective? First let me point out that the categories of objective and subjective are somewhat artificial. It can be established that all human thought, including science has some subjective elements. The hard and fast difference between science and theology actually came out of the struggle between the philosophers and the natural philosophers. Natural philosophers, whom we now call scientists, wanted to separate themselves from the philosophers who sought the truth by reason alone (in their minds only). The natural philosophers (scientists) believed that the search for truth needed to be proven by observation and experimentation (outside their minds in nature). So, the die was cast for the different ways of approaching truth. In the course of time and because of the great successes of science, science won the day and philosophy had to take second place.
But what about theology? Where does that fit in? Well, on the surface, it appears to be more akin to philosophy than science. However, Christian theology actually is more akin to science for it has an authority outside of the human mind. That outside authority and source of information is the Scriptures, which the faith community accepts as authoritative. Furthermore, the faith community has a set of facts that it can observe and use to develop hypotheses and theories. In theology like science, there is a community where these theories can also be published; where they can be questioned and verified. The different between theology and science is the set of facts they are examining. Science looks at the facts of nature and gives a naturalist interpretation of the facts. The theologian looks at scripture and also gives an interpretation. Both science and theology have rules, or laws, to govern their interpretation of the facts. Science uses the scientific method and theology uses the laws of hermeneutics. Both have laws or principles to limit arbitrary and personal interpretations.
It is self-evident that faith is a key element in the pursuit of all human knowledge. I had a friend tell me he could not even eat his wife’s stew without faith. Not only is faith the beginning of all pursuits of knowledge, it is also the thing that keeps people motivated in their quest for knowledge; once on the road faith turns into hope. It may be the hope of a religious faith or the hope of discovering a new scientific truth, but when analyzed it is simply faith.
[i] In Gal 3:26, 27 the apostle Paul speaks of faith and baptism as synonymous with one another. In Paul faith is born in an outward action and is more than a subjective thought.