Science Progresses by Faith

Prelude

Some weeks ago, I had a friendly debate with a colleague on this topic. He opposed it, I supported it. Here are my thoughts regarding my position. I’ll probably update this post after he reads it and offers more perspective, or when I learn more from you, the reader, or from other sources.

Science, the practice of science, requires faith. I don’t mean faith in God or religious faith. I mean faith as an expression of one’s will to place one’s trust or confidence in the capacity of a system to deliver an outcome we desire.

So, scientists are scientists, practitioners of the scientific process because they have faith in the process to deliver certain outcomes, their desired outcomes. It does not mean there are guarantees – there are no guarantees on life, at least no absolute ones.

You insisted that science does not rely on faith because faith demands a knowing or a guarantee of the outcome. You said that science relies on the certainty of results based on trends or facts or evidence to guarantee its further practice. Well, I see now that we were referring to two different things.

Science realized vs. Science on a quest

I was talking about science as an exploratory practice, hypothesizing, and experimenting leading to discovery, but you referred to science as an ongoing feature of our daily lives. In that context, I agree with you! We trust that drugs, barring complications, will restore our bodies’ health; and that our tools and machines will work as designed because they are tested and now trusted.

But would you consider the process that led to the discoveries of drugs and computers? Were the inventors assured of discovering the cures or treatments for ailments, or for inventing machines that would enhance our abilities to calculate and communicate? It was all by trial and error. Many errors, many trials. Then some successes. But the successes have paid (I wouldn’t say “more than paid”) for all the troubles those forebearers went through.

I believe what made them persevere was their faith in the system, faith that the process of scientific discovery (and technological discovery) would yield outcomes that would better our lot as living beings either in their generations or countries or millennia down the line.

Could it have been hope that drove them?

You suggested that hope is probably a better expression of what drove them, motivated them, inspired them to persevere. Well, I think we both can now say that hope and faith are two different things, two different emotional and mental states leading to two different kinds of emotional and psychological states.

Hope is sensitive, a feeling, a resignation, sort of, to achieving something desired or having something handed to us, a faraway dream. Faith, on the other hand, is active. It has drive, it imbues drive. It energizes. You can stake your bet in the hope of attaining something. You can do so too when you believe in the desired outcome. But I bet your stakes will be massively greater when what you’re working with is faith and not just hope because faith imbues confidence.

Hope, the bridge to Faith

Hope, as I will agree with you, leads to faith. Now, we are considering all of this with our limited resources, or speaking for myself, with my very little intellectual and discernment capacities that what ultimately becomes faith first is kindled in the human heart as hope.

So, I would say you’re right. Perhaps, the person who adopts the scientific process starts out in hope and then switches gear to faith while working on an hypothesis, for instance. But I think I will conclude my thinking this way:

A scientist is a scientist because he has faith in the scientific process to deliver results. Now, particular results are never guaranteed. No such guarantees occur even in religion. Then the scientist exercises faith that his particular exertions per specific endeavors will bring the desired outcomes.

Now, this particular faith may start out as hope before it strengthens into faith. Perhaps, it happens as he attains significant milestones in the course of the particular experiment. Perhaps, he goes through periods wavering between hope, faith, despair, and even fear, in a random, alternating string as events unfold. So, there’s faith at a macro level, and faith tied to particular events.

It is faith in the process, at the macro, big picture level, that fuels the scientist’s relentless exploration. The scientist works because he hopes and believes he will get results.

P.S.

The dictionary may define faith as “complete trust or confidence in something or someone”, but we know that there are no absolutes in this universe. Maybe they exist elsewhere, the scientists will tell us 😊. The term “complete” is a qualifier of high intensity or capacity, it does not mean a perfect absolute. Maybe we should remove it from that definition.

P.P.S

Isn’t it so when we Christians say we have faith in God to do all things but waver when it comes to particular matters? My son has absolute confidence in me to protect him, but he fights me when I raise him up high. He says he’s scared of heights. He trusts me, but somehow holds back a part of it in certain situations. His faith in me wavers.

%d bloggers like this: