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How much of science is faith based?

  1. Nov 21, 2007 #1
    Is the moon there when you cannot sense it? Does the great majority of nonscientists trust science? Has knowledge in general become so arcane as to divorce it from practicality?

    In their lives, most of mankind has selected a few convenient facts to explain their world view and accept the crumbs that filter down from academia. I believe that human nature impels also the scientist, no matter how learned, to rely mostly on personal belief for plastering together observations.

    Which governs our lives and institutions, secular faith or science?
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 21, 2007 #2
    W.V.O. Quine summed it up quite well by saying "beliefs about numbers and beliefs about the gods differ in degree, but not in kind".

    But you asked:

    And the correct answer is science, if "science" is to have any meaning at all.

    Do not over generalize the stereotypical dogmatic scientist. Incidentally, scientist do not "plaster together observations" the way laypeople think. For example Einstein's relativity was motivated by theoretical concerns about classical electromagnetism, not by the experimental data that already disagreed with the idea of the ether.

    Past practical inventions were invented often by trial and error e.g. Edison was mathematically illiterate. But in the 20th century quantum physics was an essential part of the discovery, construction, and continued production of critical household technologies (laser, transistor, modern materials), so the exact opposite of your question is true: applications have become so arcane that for the first time they are married to (similarly arcane) knowledge.
  4. Nov 21, 2007 #3


    I'm not sure what you mean by this question.

    Do you have any evidence for this? And science is based on evidence by the way. Evidence does not equal faith.

    Science governs our lives. Seriously, what impels you to write this? Faith?
  5. Nov 21, 2007 #4
    If you are asking an epistemological question, about the nature of the abstract object 'moon', then its a good question.

    If you are asking an ontological question, about the moons existence, then you are ignoring your ability to reason in favor of unjustified radical skepticism.
    If they didn't they wouldn't get into cars or airplanes or turn on lights in their home.
    That said, the majority of non-scientists don't understand the scientific method and fear some of what science can accomplish. This fear is based on how effective people observe science to be. What we don't understand we fear.
    No, we just have more of it than one human mind can handle. Which is why we specialize and keep it in books and such. The internet is very practical.
    You are trying to equate 'faith' with belief in the efficacy of scientific method. Faith is belief without evidence, or worse, in spite of the evidence to the contrary. Science works on evidence, repeatable evidence. Scientists take this evidence and build on it with their reasoning abilities, with logic, with their ability to extrapolate and understand the abstract, but it always comes back to evidence.

    If it requires faith, it is NOT science.
  6. Nov 21, 2007 #5
    You say "science is based on evidence" but how do we decide hat counts as evidence? Should we give evidence of our evidence and so on? Christians feel that the bible is evidence, but I am guessing that you don't think it is. They can say that your evidence is all fancy tricks, just as you can say about theirs.

    At some point you will run out of evidence, and then all that's left is persuasion.
  7. Nov 21, 2007 #6
    Is it repeatable?
    Is it verifiable?
    Is it consistent?
    Is there a logical progression?

    Evidence of this sort is useful, because it can be used to make predictions.

    Claims about Osiris rising from the dead or Zeus birthing Athena from his forehead are NOT:

    consistent with what we can observe;
    and violate any kind of known logical progression.

    The bible is not evidence, its a claim and a pretty fantastic one, which gets harder and harder the swallow the more we learn about the way things actually work.
  8. Nov 21, 2007 #7
    Evident (adj): plain or clear to the sight or understanding.

    Even things that are at the atomic levels can be seen and understood with microscopes. What limits us with our own sight can be made up with some powerful tools such as microscopes, telescopes etc. Is the idea of a deity plain and clear to our sights and understanding?

    New evidence builds on top of old evidence to help modify or subvert laws and theories. That's how science works. We don't ignore any piece of evidence.

    It's just a book without evidence.

    Fancy tricks? If conducting experiments and recording our observations is 'tricks' then what religion attempts to do is above and beyond the meaning of 'tricks.'

    I'm sorry, but run out of evidence you say? I didn't realize there's an attrition rate with piling up evidence. You can't be serious about giving the bible equal merit.
  9. Nov 21, 2007 #8


    Just hand out these to people who think that science and religion can coincide.
  10. Nov 21, 2007 #9
  11. Nov 21, 2007 #10
    Great replies all. You have restored my "faith in science."


    "I'm not sure what you mean by this question."

    Much of popular teaching is displayed, if at all, as headline grabbers and far removed from the university class of the "privileged few." This thread is not so much about religion, but more of how nonscience helps us reason and survive.

    "Do you have any evidence for this? And science is based on evidence by the way. Evidence does not equal faith."

    The evidence will show best in history, when education becomes more democratic (e. g., the Internet) and there will be tolerance between science and the notion of secular faith. What I am trying to say is that scientists require objectivity, but need rely on subjective belief pretty much like the rest of us.

    "Science governs our lives. Seriously, what impels you to write this? Faith?"

    Faith and science. Certainty that theory replaces theory, and that belief sometimes supersedes it.


    "If it requires faith, it is NOT science."

    Can I then say that science would exist without faith?
  12. Nov 21, 2007 #11

    Thanks for your inspiration in the manner of an accomplished philosopher.
  13. Nov 21, 2007 #12
    If you're talking about how the media simplifies every new finding in science to the simplest fraction and then forms misconceptions around it then I agree. It's actually quite dangerous in my book because once people find out those misconceptions are really wrong then people solidify there cynicism towards science.

    As far as nonscience helping us reason and survive, I disagree. A nonscience mentality doesn't require you to think or question anything. Your existence is pretty much on autopilot. As far as the survival aspect is concerned it does give people solace, but it also gives them a false sense of entitlement.

    What subjective beliefs? Only a quack scientist would allow such subjective beliefs to filter into an experiment. There is a term for it called pseudoscience.

    Beliefs don't tell us anything about our world or the universe. So why should it be looked upon as a source for information?

    Of course it can survive without faith. Just like peace can exist without violence. Just because we haven't tried to live that way yet doesn't make these concepts impossible to conceive. A passive-aggressive mentality is the only thing that's hindering us now.
  14. Nov 21, 2007 #13
    You do not need faith in science, since you have verifiable evidence from repeatable experiments. What is and is not evidence is based on what works and how effective the models are in prediction and explaining phenomena. One of the beautiful things with science is that has a self-correction mechanism.

    Accept that they don't really do that once you have explored the situation. Even today, we use Newtonian Mechanics because of its explanatory value and prediction power even though we know it is an approximation. The fact that it is an approximation does not hurt our case or the power of science.
  15. Nov 21, 2007 #14
    I'm not sure what you are saying here.

    Human beings believe all sorts of things they have no good reason to. That is a fact. Sometimes we benefit from this, sometimes not so much... We have discovered however, that scientific method is very useful and gives superior results to human intuition alone, or even human reason alone.

    Emotions can be useful, intuition can be useful, but they can also be destructive and even readily manipulated.

    Faith is superstition. Its a conceptual feedback loop. Its about not thinking, its about ignorance. Sometimes all we have is our gut to go on, but thats desperation, its not something to strive for.

    Would scientific method exist without beings that can be superstitious? I don't know, but either way, so what?
  16. Nov 21, 2007 #15
    Exactly, so what is plain and clear to a religious person is not plain and clear to you.

    Interesting choice of example, since Descartes said that he knew God exists precisely because his idea of God is clear and distinct. Who am I to argue with someone who says God's existence is plain and clear to his understanding? How would I even begin to give evidence to the contrary?

    Inside of religious discussions their are different criteria for evidence then in scientific discussions. The fact that I feel intellectually quite distant from such people justifies my attempts to persuade them, but I should recognize this for what it is.

    No, it wouldn't exist. A pupil without faith in his teacher could not learn even one principle.
  17. Nov 21, 2007 #16
    It was also clear and distinct that in Descartes time they would tie you to a tree and set you on fire if you didn't say the idea of god was clear and distinct.
  18. Nov 21, 2007 #17
    The validity of evidence is decided by how it works, not subjective interpretation.

    Do not mix faith as in blind acceptance without evidence with faith as in evidence-based conviction. Just because the definitions use the same words do not make them the same. The pupil can certainly learn plenty without faith in the first definition. Naturally, you have to have a conviction in your teacher, but that conviction can be supported by evidence (such as reasonable arguments, internal coherence and so on).
  19. Nov 21, 2007 #18
    i actually did lol :D
  20. Nov 21, 2007 #19


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    There is an element of faith in science, if you define faith as belief in something that you have been told is true and you have not taken the time to examine the underpinnings of that idea to see how the idea developed and how it fit well enough with currently-accepted ideas to gain wide acceptance. Examining the underpinnings of commonly-believed concepts is epistemology, and Einstein was quite adamant about practicing it.

    Epistemology might prompt us to look at the flat rotation curves of spiral galaxies and the excess gravitational binding and lensing in clusters - effects not predicted by GR - and reflect. First of all, the nature of the universe and its sheer size were unknown when Einstein formulated GR. GR grew out his understanding of gravitation at that time when the universe might reasonably have been thought to be limited to our galaxy, and the other visible galaxies were routinely called "nebulae". If Einstein had been privy to today's observations, would he have invoked Dark Matter to explain the missing mass required to keep GR predictive, or might he have started working on a more general formulation of gravity that is predictive on large scales dominated by matter? GR and even Newtonian gravitation are pretty predictive on Solar-system scales, but even so, the Pioneer anomaly, and anomalous un-modeled accelerations of spacecraft in planetary fly-by assists (in both accelerating and decelerating slingshots) hint that we don't yet know everything we need to know about gravitation on Solar-system scales.

    When Roger Penrose lectures on unifying GR with quantum physics, he always says that in his opinion both GR and quantum theory will have to be modified before they can be made compatible with one another. When he gave this lecture at the grand opening gala of the Perimeter Institute, he was preaching to the choir. First link.

  21. Nov 21, 2007 #20


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    These questions are not related to each other and show that the real question to be addressed in this thread is "what is science?" The question of whether or not the moon is there when I'm not looking at it has nothing whatsoever to do with faith*, it is a conclusion based on a prediction. I don't believe the moon is there, I predict, based on Newton's theory of gravity, that it hasn't shot off into space, and I'm 99.999999% certain that my prediction is correct.

    So then perhaps the answer to the title question is: far less than you appear to think.

    As turbo suggests, the primary element of belief in science isn't really belief, it is trust in other people when they give you information. The word "believe" has separate/distinct meanings that should not be confused with each other. But the "trust" definition is still based on evidence.

    There is virtually nothing in science that needs to be left to faith.

    *I've been in this discussion before and the word "believe" tends to be used loosely. It can have a number of different connotations. It appears from the context of the OP that what is really meant is faith, which necessitates a lack of evidence for the belief.
    Last edited: Nov 21, 2007
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