Faith In Science

I wrote this several months ago flying from California to Miami, and it's a bit of a read, but it explains why I have "faith" in science:

Right now I am 35,000 feet above the ground moving at a ground speed of well over 500 miles per hour. That's because I am a passenger on an airplane, and in order for me to be a passenger, I have to trust in the engineers, mechanics, and staff who built, maintain, and operate the aircraft. I separate this sort of trust from faith—this trust comes from previous experience and knowledge. However, when I talk about trusting in science, I'm willing to use the term faith because I believe science merits our trust and faith in it.

Hundreds of years ago man looked to the night sky and the bright satellite known as the Moon. He placed this object as part of the heavens; a place only the gods and demi-gods had access to. It was only an impossible dream that man would ever set foot on its surface, even if its then estimated distance was much closer than it really is.

It doesn't come as a surprise to me then that humans who were thought to have ascended into the heavens were considered gods or the God. Yet in modern times it is no wonder to be nearly 7 miles high in the sky and watch the clouds roll past below me. And in recent history man has even set foot on the moon. I don't believe that man is a god though, and I certainly won't worship him. I know he got there through a lengthy and painstaking, but natural, process of the scientific method first through theory and then through applied engineering. My awe and wonder is owed to science.

Yet historic figures like Jesus Christ are worshiped and believed in for more than just a heavenly ascension. No, he was followed and worshiped because he was a teacher and reportedly healed the sick, raised the dead, cured the blind, deaf, and mute, and had the power to forgive wrongdoings. That's where Christianity becomes a religion—Jesus is believed to be the son of God (and also God himself) because of the witness of his disciples and the miracles of his ministry and ascension.

However it is also true that many people believe in Jesus as God (or other deities or spiritual things) because of their personal life experience. Perhaps they prayed for something and they got it, or a sick person they loved (or themselves) recovered. This is the sort of trust I was referring to earlier when I talked about boarding the plane and letting the crew fly me to my destination. Except that I see a difference in the fact that based on the science and engineering of lift and aerodynamics, I am successfully being flown from one point to the next, and have done the same in the past. As far as trusting in God, there is no solid evidence or indication that the reason for whatever success one experienced was actually the result of a supernatural influence. Actually, there is often evidence that something else caused it. For example, many of my family members give praise and credit to God for healing my mother of cancer. But all of us actually know that the vehicle of her recovery was in the science of chemotherapy and surgery. To give credit to God is actually what should be called faith here, because we can't be sure it was God. We can be sure that medical science had a huge role in her recovery.

That is how amazing science is. It healed my mom of cancer. It also healed many others of cancer in the past and I trust it will do it again in the future. I even believe that it may completely defeat or eradicate cancer sometime in the future. Through the application of science we have learned how to produce food in bigger quantities and sizes, we have learned to transport ourselves below, on top of, and over land and water, we have learned to instantly communicate with other humans from anywhere to anywhere in the world, in almost every language. We have successfully ascended to the Moon, and thousands of people are ascended and descended to the clouds and back again. The recently dead with oxygen still in their brains have been brought back to life. The blind and poor sighted have been cured, and in some cases deafness can be cured. When I see all of those miraculous results, these are all the things attributed to powerful gods or a Creator. So if these are justification enough for believing in humans of time past, why shouldn't it be a good reason to have faith in the scientific method?

Well, science has been used for bad things too. Nuclear weapons, chemical and biological warfare, and things of that nature. So our knowledge has brought us the ability to kill people in the millions. So have the major religions. Religious dogma and teachings have been used as an excuse to murder people by the millions. I have come to the understanding that humans themselves are culpable; they have the capability of being evil or a force for good. Their tools for both are often science and/or religion.

Some people choose religion for its moral teachings, and there I must say that science probably does not have a direct code to live by. Instead, we use science to understand the way the world and humans work. Science serves the purpose of illuminating what makes something wrong and can offer guidance to certain things which were thought to be perverse but are a harmless part of nature (like homosexuality). I also hesitate to draw morals from ancient writings which were penned down by a bronze age people whose understanding of the world was very limited. For example, there are many things decreed by the God of the Old Testament which most people would think are immoral. The Baghavad Gita teaches that some humans' lot in life is to fight and kill others. Instead, throughout the years our understanding of ethics has evolved based on the human experience. This is where I think science is so useful. We don't have to worry about eating pork as an immoral thing. We know why it is dangerous to eat it and how to mitigate that danger. We can also treat mental disorders and cure them instead of condemning those people as reprobate or possessed of demons. Science doesn't provide the morals here, it illuminates the situation so that humans can make ethical decisions in the best light that they have.

One of the greatest things about science is its mutability. Many Christians believe the bible is immutable and that this is a good thing. Yet it is change which allows us to grow and mature as individuals and as a race. When science is wrong, its practitioners change and admit they were wrong. One of my favorite quotes is from a science professor who had a theory which was proven wrong by a visiting student. He said “I would like to thank you. I have been wrong these fifteen years.”

Here I sit, comfortably observing gorgeous formations of clouds from above, something generations of humans couldn't dream of. I have science to praise for that.
Call it faith. Call it a religion. Tell me I have to have faith to not believe in gods or religions. If that is what people want to call my relationship with science, let them. I would much rather that highly useful and successful science be my religion than the hocus-pocus which comes from ancient texts and dogmatic beliefs.
NefariousDrake NefariousDrake
22-25, M
2 Responses Dec 8, 2012

So a brain dead individual who breathes with the help of artificial life support is alive?

Well, they're brain-dead, so it is kind of self-explanatory. Brain is non-functioning, the body is alive. Why would you ask me these questions? I am not a medical expert.

Because, per your assertions thus far, for you a human being is nothing more than a machine. From that perspective, why isn't a brain dead person who continues to live through artificial means not alive?

Either a human being is nothing more than a machine or there's more to him that just the banal execution of biological functions until he eventually breaks down and ceases all operation.

Please, enough with the false dichotomies. I never said a human being is nothing more than a machine. I specifically detailed why that is a flawed statement from my viewpoints. Also, it isn't so cut-and-dried like you continue to assert. A person who continues to breath while they are brain-dead is called brain-dead because it isn't exactly clear whether they are alive or not. I don't know whether they are alive and it doesn't seem to be an important distinction. They're something in between I guess.

I've already told you why the fact that a human just being the "banal execution of biological functions until he eventually breaks down and ceases all operation" does not mean it is nothing more than that.

I'd appreciate it if you quit badgering me with the same point over and over again as if the two options you present are really that separate from each other. If you're truly interested in my perspective, read my previous responses more carefully.

Remember also, that per the guidelines your posts are supposed to be with "authenticity, support, and respect," and I have only answered your questions as a courtesy.

Alright then, clarify your perspective for me if you would. If a human being is not "nothing more than a machine" then what is he?

1 More Response

Happy Thursday!

The crunch is that Scientism or Radical Positivism is too parochial and small-minded a theory of knowledge. After all, on this view there is nothing good or evil, right or wrong, beautiful or ugly. But is it tenable to think that there are no aesthetic, moral or metaphysical truths?

On this view there’s nothing wrong with raping a little girl to death. Why should we accept such a conclusion simply because of an epistemological constraint? Isn’t this a signal that you need to open up the ambit of your theory so as to assimilate other types of knowledge?

Withal, science is suffused with suppositions that cannot be scientifically substantiated, so that an epistemology of radical positivism would abrogate science itself. For instance, the principle of induction cannot be scientifically justified. Trying to provide a good inductive argument for radical positivism is hopeless, since it must presuppose the validity of inductive reasoning.

Even more fatal is that radical positivism is self-refuting. At its heart, this pernicious philosophy tells us that we should not believe any proposition that cannot be scientifically proven. But what about that very proposition? It cannot itself be scientifically tested much less corroborated. Therefore we should not believe it. Radical Positivism thus asphyxiates itself.

I've seen this approach before. Throw a bunch of "big" words into a response to make it sound legitimate. I never claimed adherence to "radical positivism" or "scientism." The scientific method is simply our best method of finding out truths about the natural world. Let me re-state something from the post:

"Science doesn't provide the morals here, it illuminates the situation so that humans can make ethical decisions in the best light that they have."

Finally, your straw-man absolutely does not apply here: "After all, on this view there is nothing good or evil, right or wrong, beautiful or ugly."

I never made that claim and most people and scientists never will.

If you could clarify further, does this mean you accept all types of evidence? Or do you only accept scientific evidence?

This seems like a false dilemma to me. I won't claim either side. What I will say is that no, scientific evidence itself is not the only thing I accept. It depends on the situation. Someone tells me human ancestor apes had an aqua phase; I will only accept scientific evidence. Someone tells me so-and-so is a frequent liar, giving an example. I am skeptical at first, but I catch the person in a lie. So I extrapolate from the original claim that the person is a liar plus my single experience and accept the evidence that he is a liar.

Point being: "evidence" can be a subjective term unfortunately and I cannot say I accept all forms of evidence. But to make a narrow claim that I accept only scientific evidence ignores social interactions.

Thank you for that clarification friend :)

If I may ask, have you ever evaluated the historical evidence for the resurrection of Christ?

Hmmm, I haven't evaluated it personally. I have read plenty about it though. I'm not too convinced Jesus the Christ actually existed based on historical records.

Why not?

There are two negatives in my comment. Why not what?

Why haven't you ever personally evaluated the historical evidence for the resurrection of Christ? After all, if accurate, this would be incontrovertible evidence for the existence of God, no? (Why else do you think the overwhelming majority of NT scholars are Christians?)

Because there is no call for it anymore than there is call to evaluate the historical evidence for the godly heritage of Hercules or the virgin birth of Romulus and Remus. And even if there was historical evidence (which is dubious, this basically means witnesses from thousands of years ago, many or all of them not first-hand), the resurrection of someone is a biological claim, something which must be proven biologically before any historical evidence can be accepted.

And I would guess the overwhelming majority of NT scholars are Christians because they decided to be NT scholars because they were Christians.

And what biological evidence would satisfy you that someone has in fact been resurrected from the dead?

Difficult to say. I suppose their actual physical presence would be a start. But there is not anything I can think of that would convince me someone in the ancient past raised from the dead. There would have to be evidence that it is biologically plausible to begin with before the historical accounts could be considered. We know it is impossible though.

Two hundred years ago a lot of things were deemed "impossible" but we're doing them today just the same.

As such, you don't know that the resurrection of Christ was impossible. If, however, you can show that it's incoherent, that would be a different story. Can you?

200 years ago they were impossible. Because they are possible today doesn't make it possible then. Same goes for resurrection. The dead cannot be raised now, and never have been able to. This is a fact and someone simply claiming a resurrection happened is incoherent.

How is dogmatically claiming something can’t be done simply because you don’t know how to do it reasonable? After all, human knowledge is extraordinary finite.

In fact, far from being incoherent, the resurrection of Christ is wholly plausible. Here’s why:

A car can be built from scratch and be made to function. However, even if all the "parts" required to make a living being are assembled, it cannot be made to function. Why is that the case if we're nothing more than just carbon based, organic machines?

Now, if a resurrection cannot happen, as you claim, this means necessarily that we are nothing more than carbon based organic machines. But if that's true why is it that a dead young person cannot be revived after a few days by simply replacing those parts of his body that malfunctioned?

In fact, as long as an organ transplant is done while a person is alive it'll work but an organ transplant done even if the person has only been dead for 5 minutes can't. This is like having problems starting your car even after replacing the bad spark plugs it had even though that was the only thing wrong with it.

So either we're nothing more than carbon based organic machines or we're not.

Because there is much more in the coding of DNA than you're letting on. It codes for a specific process which "jumpstarts" off the life of the mother (in mammals) and continues and grows, utilizing organs. When one of the important organs dies, like the brain or heart, it is impossible to restart it because the underlying tissues and cells are non-functioning. This is verifiable because no one is ever resurrected. The human body requires a long list of running processes to keep going. When one goes down, the others follow and that is why replacing the faulty organ won't work after death.

Cars are a terrible analogy because they rely simply on mechanical processes, not carbon and metabolic processes.

You said it yourself: "a dead young person cannot be revived after a few days by simply replacing those parts of his body that malfunctioned..."

What evidence do you have that an individual loses that part of their DNA that "jumpstarts" life the instant they die?

I apologize for my late response. Anyway, I didn't say they lose that part of their DNA the instant they die. It is, however, eventually lost through decay.

Happy Tuesday!

Good to hear back from you. I just can't shake the impression that, in your mind, the assemblage of perfectly healthy organs and substructures is all that's needed for a person to come to life. But if that's true why is it that a dead young person cannot be revived after a few days by simply replacing those parts of his body that malfunctioned?

In fact, as long as an organ transplant is done while a person is alive it'll work but an organ transplant done even if the person has only been dead for 5 minutes can't. This is like having problems starting your car even after replacing the bad spark plugs it had even though that was the only thing wrong with it.

So either we're nothing more than just carbon based organic machines or we're not.

You're making a huge mistake thinking organisms work the same way mechanical structures do. As I said, a dead person can't be revived after a few days because once organs have been deprived of oxygen for too long they die, and for the brain that means all the memories that define "that person."

You're technically correct by saying we're "just carbon based organic machines." But to say we're nothing more than that, to use your analogy, is like saying a car is nothing more than just metals and plastics. Technically correct, yes, but there is much more to it than that.

I'd say, at our base, yes we're nothing more than carbon-based organic machines. Then, really we're nothing more than trillions of organized cells. Which are then really nothing more than assembled molecules, which then again are only trillions of atoms, and so on.....

What are you suggesting is the reason human beings can't be revived after death?

Just as the mind is much more than the brain, our bodies are much more than just machines designed to run on oxygen, food, water, etc., etc.

There is an energy or life force, if you will, that is necessary for life. That this life force encompasses more than just oxygen or any composite of biochemical reactions is readily apparent by how a person who just dies cannot be revived simply by providing them with oxygen or any other substance even though their cells are still alive.

Show me proof of this "life force." It is readily apparent that the Earth is flat, the Sun revolves around the Earth, and that motion doesn't affect time.

You're wrong, a person who dies can be revived if all of their cells are alive. Not technically dead actually. CPR is the action of providing oxygen and pumping it through the body to the brain (after the heart fails). It saves lives.

I found someone stating my point more succinctly elsewhere:

2 minutes can make a big difference if one is bleeding out or deprived of oxygen. Brain damage to the point of unrevivability, a lack of sufficient blood to keep the body functioning...

Human biochemistry is a delicate thing. If it stops for too long it can and will break down. Essential functions can become impossible to restore in as little as two minutes. The brain in particular needs a near-constant flow of nutrients. A lack of those nutrients for a long enough time will damage it beyond repair.

It has nothing to do with a soul."

That's why your car analogy sucks. Cars don't need constant nutrients. The brain is actually damaged when it does not get those nutrients and it gets damaged beyond repair quickly. I cannot imagine how this is any indication that it must be because a life force was there.

This is a really good article on the matter. I didn't get to read it because I have to go now, but I am going to finish it and I suggest you read it.

http://www.upenn.edu/pennnews/current/node/3348

I didn't get to read ALL of it. I read a lot of it.

21 More Responses