Friday, October 20, 2006

No Faith, No Science; Know Faith, Know     Science

I just saw the cover of the latest Wired magazine on the newsstand (I subscribe, but they deliver it there first. Grrr.). Anyway, the main story was about "new atheists" who reject faith and only accept science.

This is really rather laughable because all human knowledge - science included - is ultimately based on faith.

Let's visit Alvin Atheist for a minute. Alvin thinks he's faith-free, but he is seriously kidding himself. For example:

- Alvin gets out of bed believing, but with no proof, that his clock is telling the right time.
- He takes a drink from the tap on faith that the water department has kept it pure.
- He eats a bowl of cereal on faith, trusting that General Mills followed sanitary processing procedures.
- He takes a bus to work, having faith that the mechanic has kept it in good order and the bus driver knows how to drive.
- He looks through his microscope, trusting that it does what the manufacturer promises and that what he sees is valid.
- For lunch his colleagues take him to a sushi restaurant and for the first time in his life, despite his nervousness, he has raw fish, because his friends tell him it's good, and he accepts their word on faith.

This is too easy. I could go on all day.

But that's not fair! Alvin says.

He says he has long experience with his clock being right. It blinks '12:00' when it's not. He's had lots of drinks from the tap and lots of cereal from the box and he's ridden the bus for years, and they've all worked the way he expected, and he's used his microscope for years and it's always worked fine. And as for sushi, well, government agencies using scientific methods have determined that, handled properly, sushi is fine.

These things, he says, have been generally proven.

Not so. What (if anything) has been proven is that things have happened in a particular way in the past. But it has not been proven that things will happen the same way in the future. Alvin may be confident that when he opens his cereal box tomorrow he will find Cheerios rather than a racoon, but he has not proven this. He is exercising faith, pure and simple.

But let's take this a step deeper.

Alvin's remembrance of these things (clocks, cereal, microscopes, sushi and what not) also show that Alvin has faith in the workings of his mind. He can't prove that his memories of these things are true and not just hallucinations; he accepts it purely by faith. The thousand times he has found his clock to be right may be a false memory.

But for Alvin to come to any conclusion about anything, he has to believe that the universe is really remarkably consistent and rational, and that his mind, despite whatever little glitches it may have, is generally pretty good at remembering correctly and properly analyzing situations.

Now I don't begrudge Alvin any of this faith he has exercised (though I wonder why he calls faith illegitimate when he wallows in it daily). Like Alvin, I too believe the universe is quite rationally organized, and I too believe my mind is generally fairly good at remembering and analyzing. But there's one big difference:

I believe a rational God created a rational universe, whereas Alvin believes that some random, or irrational, or - at least - unknown, event caused a rational universe.

In short, I believe rational begat rational, and Alvin believes irrational begat rational. Hmm. I think it takes more faith to be Alvin than to be me.

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