Religion takes faith / Science does not

I have a friend who always says that believing in science is the same as believing in religion.

I say that religion is built (faultily of course)on the framework of reason. We use induction to make claims on things. Now induction isn’t always 100% accurate but it seems to be the best we can do.

My friend would say that I take the fact that induction seems to work on faith. I say even if that is the case it is far more practical than religious faith because I can predict future events with logic and science and with religion I cannot do this.

How would you explain that science is based on faith in the same way that religion is?

Ahem . . . to Great Debates with this?

That you believe in logic, a human-hard-wired-brain-dependent logic, is an act of faith. You have faith in logic.

That you believe that prediction and practical application are more worthy than religious-based things, is also an act of faith. You have faith in your priorities.

Bottom line: You believe your faith to be useful in this world

I don’t agree. Mathematics is based entirely on logic, there is no faith required for mathematics. 2+2=4 is always true, whether a human brain thought it up or a jellyfish from Barnard’s Star. This is why science relies so heavily on mathematics. It is the only language we have to describe what we observe in detail. Religion cannot describe, in detail, the trajectory motion of a baseball. Physics can.

Respectfully yours,

Way I look at it : (I’m a scientist in training)

Some things in science (and logic) are built on faith :
What we observe is what actually happens.

Everything is built on this and logic and math. So, part of science is dependent on faith, but if a=b=c does not hold, a lot of things besides science go out the window.

Induction is not usually a valid proof in science, though. To use Karl Popper’s example, I can look at 100 swans that are white, and I cannot be assured that the 101st swan will not be black.

I wonder if and when this’ll get bounced over to GD. It has been done so many times over there…


you posted ‘I have a friend who always says that believing in science is the same as believing in religion.’

I don’t agree with your friend. :rolleyes: (see below)

you posted ‘I say that religion is built (faultily of course)on the framework of reason.’

I don’t agree with this either. :slight_smile: What process of reasoning says there is a God? If there is a framework of reason, why are there so many religions (and sects within religions)?

Science is based on systematic experimenting, observing and testing.
(Incidentally Mathematics is derived logically from axioms. No experiments are necessary.)

Religion is based on faith. Faith is defined as:

  • complete trust or confidence
  • firm belief, especially without logical proof
  • system of religious belief

So I have ‘faith’ (definition 1)in science, because it’s based on observable evidence.

Religious people have faith (definitions 2 + 3), despite the fact there is no physical evidence.

Hoo yeah!

Science is not as much based on faith as religion is.

However, even scientific theories are based on postulates, which could, in the end, turn out to be false. Newtonian physics were based on the seemingly reasonable premise that time and space were constants, and much was built on that article of faith. Einstein, however, managed to prove that that was wrong.

In addition, some branches of science require more faith than merely the postulates. Specifically, scientific statements that interpret the past are based on speculation. Now, said speculation is not irrational; it is not a complete shot in the dark; however, you need some measure of faith to believe that when diggers find a single jawbone that they are unable to identify with any previously-known species, that this tells you something about the evolutionary family tree from which modern animal life arose.

I’d say there are three different levels of “faith” in science, none of which are remotely similar to religious faith:

  1. Fundamental assumptions: we assume consistency and repeatability in the universe (e.g. an electron’s mass is always the same). Mathematics and logic are human constructions, so the only real faith involved in their use is that they are relevant to the universe we live in.

This is really the only faith involved in science (although some people confuse #3 below for faith). But it’s different from religious faith, in that we would change these assumptions if they ever contradicted physical evidence.

  1. Well-established theory: once a theory accurately predicts phenomena, and can be repeated and verified, it eventually becomes well-established, and people just assume it is true. This is just to save time – you can’t start from scratch and reinvent the wheel every time you do an experiment.

  2. Working models: here is where I think people incorrectly assume that science is like religion. Some problems and phenomena are not yet fully understood. In order to work on them, it is usually necessary to assume things that haven’t been proven to be true. Some scientists will use sloppy language and talk about these assumptions as fact. They aren’t. They’re just working models. String theory is a good example – currently there is exactly zero evidence for it. It’s just a construction. But possibly a very useful (and maybe even correct) construction.

OK, a little too verbose. I’d better actually work or something.


you posted ‘Induction is not usually a valid proof in science, though. To use Karl Popper’s example, I can look at 100 swans that are white, and I cannot be assured that the 101st swan will not be black.’

I prefer to use induction in the mathematical sense (showing if it is true in any particular case, it is true in the next case etc.).

I would call your ‘swan spotting’ a deduction or a hypothesis.


you said ‘Science is not as much based on faith as religion is.’

Technically true, I guess. But surely religion is totally based on faith (no physical evidence), and science uses all the available knowledge to derive theories.
For example, you can say I have a lot of faith in this scientific theory, or little faith in that one (depending on the amount of supporting evidence). But you might as well say confidence, instead of faith.
I doubt anyone would say religion is based on confidence!

Glee’s definition of faith was:

And Chaim Keller commented:

Nice job, both of you.

I’d comment that arguments about “faith in X” or “belief in X” (and in particular the regular canard in these parts about atheism being a religion, because it’s based in a belief) are usually founded on slightly divergent definitions of what “faith” and “belief” really mean. Such definitions typically are enough similar to allow for meaningful discussion, but enough different to lead to some startlingly contradictory conclusions.

As Chaim noted, some degree of credulity regarding one’s percepts is key to living any sort of sane life. Only the most extreme paranoids indulge in serious Cartesian doubt about the reality of the world and the remote possibility that some evil omnipotence is systematically substituting a fraud for the reality. However, the degree to which one relies on this information does in fact vary among putatively sane people.

Science is, ultimately, the process of inductively drawing conclusions from percepts. The reason why small children cry and adults laugh when they see David B. dressed up in a gorilla suit is that the latter have learned to identify the distinction between a menacing gorilla and a disguised moderator. (Granted, with some moderators here and there on some boards, the distinction may be minimal… ;))

One puts a degree of trust in these inductive conclusions (scientific theories or “laws”). That degree should be directly proportional to the firmness with which the conclusion is supported by evidence.
For virtually all people, there is a need for certitude somewhere in their psychological makeup. Many people find this in religious faith. Some find it in the findings of science. So to that small degree, they have “faith” in "science. For a few people this sort of certitude is taken to extremes, so that they will argue against a reasonable hypothesis on the basis of a well-founded theory misapplied as dogmatic fact. (Typical argument: “Tachyons, if they exist, go faster than light, by definition.” “Then they can’t exist, because Einstein said nothing can go faster than light.” Well, Einsteinian theory says that no object or particle can move from slower than light to light speed nor from light speed to faster. It says absolutely nothing about whether particles which must move faster than light can exist. [While there do appear to be arguments against the existence of tachyons, they are based, not on the “lightspeed barrier,” but on the influence such particles would have in theory on observable subluminal and massless particles.] And there is the potential that Einsteinian theory is only a subset of a GUT theory in the same way that Newtonian theory is a subset of Einsteinian. But that “fact” derived from science has become dogmatic to the person needing certitude, and he uses it to “prove” his case.)

And, as Chaim noted, “even scientific theories are based on postulates, which could, in the end, turn out to be false.” If you’ll be so kind as to help me pack some more straw into this dummy over here, I’ll present you with a young-earth creationist fundamentalist. His source of certitude is the Bible, read (according to him) “literally” – which means that he categorizes which parts are figurative and which are historical document differently than others do. Because he places greater (actually absolute) confidence in that text, he draws the obvious conclusion that those inductions from the data in scientific reportage which appear to contradict the text are mistaken.

He is not in error in his reasoning. His error, IMHO, is in the degree of certitude he awards each of his different sources of information and in the interpretation he places on the contents.

But as between the inspired and inerrant words of an omniscient God (his opinion of the Bible) and the subjective conclusions of possibly fallible men, he is making a logically dictated and reasonable choice.

On the other hand, one meaning of faith is “complete trust or confidence.” I have no clue as to the state of Satan’s pancreas. I have never seen Melin’s midriff. I have never seen an ECG of pldennison or SqrlCub. I met Uncle Beer briefly. I have seen only pictures of David B and Gaudere. And I do not have the slightest idea what Triskadecamus looks like.

But these are people that I have come to know and believe firmly that I can rely on. They are human beings with a great deal of humaneness and, for some reason or other, some degree of affection towards me. I know I can trust them. I have faith in them.

For many of us, God, seen in one capacity or other – and I’m sure Sqrl, Chaim, Tris, and I could get into long and detailed arguments about who and what he might be – is that sort of person – someone we can trust (in Sqrl’s case, a cumulative total of a world of spirits whom he can trust, insofar as I understand his worldview). Though we may not know a lot of detail about what his godhood entails, how he operates, and all that sort of thing, we have certitude that we can trust him. We have faith in him.
And that is a quite different meaning for the word than the degree of confidence that one places in the scientific method.

Well, that should answer one of your concerns. :slight_smile:

Where’s Libertarian when you need him (or at least when one of his favorite subjects comes up)?

There’s an absolute difference between scientific belief and religious belief: scientific belief is conditional; religious belief is unconditional.

A scientific belief is held conditionally upon the evidence supporting it (and the absence of compelling evidence contradicting it), or upon the clear definition of constructs, such as mathematics, by all participants claiming to believe in the efficacy of that construct. If compelling evidence to the contrary existed, or if a change in the basic postulates of a construct were accepted, then so would the belief change.

In cases where evidence to the contrary exists, if that evidence isn’t compelling, it gets ‘bracketed’, set aside until a resolution to the apparent contradiction is found. If evidence is dismissed or denied, that just makes you a bad scientist; you’re being stubborn and wilfull, but not religious or faith-based towards your scientific beliefs.

Religious beliefs, on the other hand, are unconditional, and admit no contrary evidence, propositions, or relativism. A perfect religious belief is a perfect act of will, a decision to hold that belief even unto martyrdom. Treating a religious belief as obvious, evidenced, proven, or otherwise supported is mere backsliding; you’re hedging your bets.

In the ideal case, you dispose of a scientific belief immediately and easily when confronted with greater justification for it’s negation; in the ideal case, you never dispose of a religious belief, no matter how strenuous or extreme the test of your faith.

Failing to live these ideal cases is just an instance of being human - neither perfectly rational nor perfectly faithful. That doesn’t make the scientist religious, or the Christian scientific; it just makes them prey to the same weaknesses we all possess.

Popper implied a better distinction. Science holds axioms/conclusions that are fundamentally falsifiable. That is, you can never “prove” a scientific theory. You can only show that it correlates well with given data (and usually predicts previously unobserved behavior that can then verify the theory). It can be proven incorrect by a later theory (usually a fine adjustment to the previous theory). That way, scientific theory get’s closer and closer to modelling everying correctly–that is, given some initial conditions, we can predict what will occur in the future.

Religion, however, is not falsifiable, but is verifiable. No one can prove that God doesn’t exist, but one can experience God and know for onself that He exists (at least in the theist view). It is not unconditional, because most theists have faith not simply because of words on a page, but because of a spiritual experience.

In my view (as a theist), religion does take faith whereas science does not. There are some who adamantly claim that there is no God (what I call a pious atheist) or others who claim that science will find the answer to everything. I would catagorize both groups as requiring as much faith as a theist.

Is it verifiable in a scientific sense? What you’ve said here is that it is subjectively verifiable, which is effectively no verifiability at all.

I’m claiming that it’s unconditional because, when faced with a test of one’s religious belief(s), one is supposed to hold those beliefs no matter how extreme the test; that’s why religions usually venerate martyrs. This is exactly the opposite of what a scientific believer is supposed to do - abandon a belief in the same degree as that belief is contradicted. If all the evidence for/against X is for it, I have a strong belief in X; if the evidence is equivocal, I have a weak belief in X or not X.

You’re right that most religious beliefs have some cause - either upbringing, or a personal experience. But look at it this way: if I have a personal experience that leads me to God, and then later am confronted with facts that deny that my experience came from God (i.e., it was a drug-induced hallucination), then recanting my belief means that I don’t have faith. Allowing one’s religious beliefs to fluctuate according to the strength of the cause/justification is exactly what lacking faith means (and is exactly what a scientist should do).

Agreed, and that makes them bad scientists; it just doesn’t make scientific beliefs ontologically similar to religious ones.

Remember, if you please, that not all religious beliefs are the same. I actually chose to become a Wiccan (or, to be more precise, I chose to become a pantheist) for the same reason as a lot of people become atheists: because I don’t like to believe in a big guy in the sky.

To deal with the opposite issue: Reason can be (and often is) treated as a religion. That is, it is treated as a means of getting absolute answers and/or as the only possible or relevant way of reaching any understanding of the universe.

-from Defined Opinions, by Matt McLauchlin

Very nicely put. I wish I had posted that in my initial response way above. You made the point beautifully.


you posted ‘Remember, if you please, that not all religious beliefs are the same.’

Indeed. Some even contradict each other. Since there is no physical evidence,how do you know your religion is the right one?

Further ‘To deal with the opposite issue: Reason can be (and often is) treated as a religion. That is, it is treated as a means of getting absolute answers and/or as the only possible or relevant way of reaching any understanding of the universe.’

No, reason (I’m assuming you mean science) gives answers based on our current knowledge. Saying ‘absolute answers’ is a straw man.
Incidentally, what other methods can we use to understand the Universe?

GOD. Also known as Jehovah. A supernatural entity once supposed to control human affairs, know everything, and never be in error. We now know that this is a silly and pathetic absurdity, contrary to the dictates of Reason, the Ineluctible and Infallible, Who determineth the course of our lives and Whose name be praised forevermore.’

This is silly (and I’m sure you know it!)

  • not all Gods are called Jehovah.
  • it’s difficult prove a negative (God doesn’t exist), especially when he is supposed to be omnipotent, and wants to conceal himself.
  • by using emotive language (believing in God is absurd), when religion is a deeply-held personal belief, you’re just trying to upset people.
  • science isn’t perfect. It does, however, make predictions that can be tested.

Hansel’s comments are a useful addition to the thread, but I do have to differ in small detail with him.

People differ in their attitudes and responses. As I noted in my earlier post, there are some people who take the “pronouncements of science” (i.e., popularizations of theories) as, well, Gospel. They have unconditional belief in “science” set up as an authority dispensing certitude – something true science does not do and has never claimed to do. It approaches the Truth taken as an ideal as an asymptotic curve approaches its limit.

And many devout members of many religions do not put unconditional belief in articles of their faith. It would not surprise many Christians to find that, e.g., Jesus was not born of a virgin, or that the physical body of Jesus is in a tomb somewhere – Jesus having risen with the “spiritual body” Paul speaks of as occurring after the Resurrection. I won’t play this game with any other religion, but I’d venture to guess that there are articles of Jewish, Islamic, Hindu, etc., creeds that are held “conditionally” – because they were asserted and no proof to the contrary has existed, not because they are an essential part of that faith.

Nonetheless, your general thesis is pretty much on target: most “scientific” beliefs are held conditionally, and subject to change as new discoveries are made; most religious beliefs are held unconditonally. But I did feel it was worth noting that there are exceptions on both sides.

I believe in my religion because I worship the universe and I know the universe exists. I don’t know it’s the right one. (I certainly think it’s the right one for me, otherwise I’d believe differently.) But not knowing doesn’t matter, because since my perceptions are subjective by definition, I can’t know anything for a fact.

I can certainly act for most practical purposes as though my perceptions are facts, and that usually seems to give pretty good results. (That’s why reason comes in handy.) I don’t see an elephant in this room, so it’s safe to act as though there is no elephant in this room. But I don’t know that for absolute certain, because I don’t know anything for absolute certain.

Will you do me the courtesy of responding to what I wrote? I am well aware that reason gives answers based on our current knowledge; in fact, that’s my point. The problem occurs when they are treated as absolute answers. That’s my point.

Common sense, creativity, intuition, memory, ethics…

And there you have it, folks. Proof positive of the death of irony in western civilization.