Science and Faith

Without mystery, life shrinks. The completely known is a numbing void to all active minds.”

E.O.Wilson, The Future of Life

2000 – “It’s not gambling,” my friend explained, “It’s very scientific. Each stock is valued according to the success of the company. As the company profits rise, the stock value rises. As the profits fall, the stock falls. It’s the epitome of free enterprise – The American Way.”

I nodded. My dad’s advice, “Never gamble more than you can afford to lose,” had started this explanation in the first place.

“What about all those Internet stocks?” I asked. “Aren’t those companies losing money?”

He seemed a little crestfallen, “Well, those aren’t responding to the market; the value of those companies is based on the belief that they’ll be profitable in the future.”

“So, the stock market is based on both science and faith? ”

“Well, mostly science,” he replied.

Science and faith, the two ruling explanations for all human behavior. As an engineer, I work daily trying to explain the science behind decisions to people that often do not understand the technology, the science, the knowledge we have. The effect of radiation on a cancer cell is as miraculous as turning water into wine. Wonder drugs are as magical as Luke Skywalker’s “Force”. Laser technology and fiber optics are as mysterious as the tears from a statue of the Virgin.

Is there a difference? In science, we try to understand how it works. We postulate theories and test them. The best-fit theories stand until more data or a better explanation comes along. It is an accepted fact, based on data; and it will likely change based on newer, better data and explanations.

Faith is sublime. You believe not because of the data or the theories, but because you know it is right. In fact, even unbelievers celebrate the intensity of someone else’s belief. The proof is not in the facts or the data, but in the strength of the faith. Christians demonstrated their belief in the arena against the lions. (Lions responded on the basis of science and survival of the fittest.) Faith cannot be measured or weighed, only lived.

So, how can you compare science and belief? Science uses facts and data to prove a theory. The theory changes as new facts or data are introduced. Belief cannot be proven or disproven; it exists in our hearts. We know it is there because, well, we just know.

But, if a belief is not dependent upon proof, how do we segregate what is true? We can see the geologic evidence of evolution. Does that make the belief in Genesis false? No, since that would be comparing apples to stars. Facts cannot prove a belief; and faith cannot disprove science.

We face a stronger paradox in comparing one faith to another. Since they are both believed, they both exist, but they cannot be measured. We can argue evangelical Christianity versus Catholicism or Hinduism or Judaism, but how do we know the truth? In our hearts.

If we accept belief as a basis of truth, do we have to accept others’ beliefs? This country was founded upon the tolerance of others’ beliefs. Religious freedom is a cornerstone of everything American. “Truth, justice and the American Way,” Superman used to say in his better days. We believe in tolerating the beliefs of others.

Is it okay to believe in the Ten Commandments? Is it acceptable to be Jewish, or Hindu, or Muslim, or Wiccan, or New Age? Surveys show that high percentages of us believe in life on other planets and UFO’s. We believe in government conspiracies, that Elvis and Kennedy are still alive, and that giant white alligators live in the sewers under Manhattan.

These are true beliefs, because no amount of data will disprove them in the minds of the believers. Can they be explained or measured scientifically? That’s irrelevant, because the adoption of the belief was not based on facts or data, but in the heart.

In the real world, we need both science and faith. Science keeps airplanes in the sky, brings electricity to our homes, and keeps us warm, healthy and alive. Faith keeps us going, and gives us a reason to be alive.

But mix the two and you risk another round of Crusades or the Inquisition. Or, in maybe the worst case scenario, the stock market.

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