Thursday, 9 June 2011

Faith Meets Science (again)

I've often wondered why people claim that atheists have faith in science, with faith being defined as the following according to Oxford dictionary website:
  • 1 complete trust or confidence in someone or something: this restores one's faith in politicians
  • 2 strong belief in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual conviction rather than proof.
This oft-repeated claim has recently surfaced in an article about the search for the God particle at CERN - I'm sure you can see the author's intended connections and semantic argument for yourself. But surely a system based on rational thought and observation would be the very opposite of faith? We can believe that acceleration due to gravity near the Earth's surface happens at a rate of 6.1113 ms(^-2) but that won't make it true and taking it to the dogmatic levels seen in certain religions could see any questioning stifled.

To be fair to the author she does place a higher value on "faith in science" than in gods when it comes to explaining the origins and behaviour of our universe. (That and the author has written some cracking pieces on feminism on the Comment is Free section too.) But this claim that science is based on faith is a questionable one - having faith in an idea would (semantically) imply that you may be reluctant to test it and are unlikely to change your mind in the face of any contradictory results. I'm not entirely sure this link would've been suggested if we'd been searching for the Cthulhu or Odin particle - this argument appears to have been sparked by the name God particle more than anything else.

It's an interesting thought, albeit one which is heavily subject to semantics. But who knows, maybe Doctor Bach is right and we scientists simply aren't getting enough diluted gorse in our lives.


  1. I would have thought you can only have 'faith' in science if, at some point in your acceptance of it, you take something on trust with no clear evidence to support it. I'm not sure what it is that's taken on trust.

  2. A lot of theorising about the origins of the universe seems to be educated guessing (with educated being the key term here), but that's nothing like religious dogma. I'm always bemused by people who try to conflate having confidence in an idea to blind faith in certain deities, they're very different concepts.

    The main thing about scientific thought is that concepts which are not supported by the evidence have to be ditched, even if they were previously thought to be true. That's the huge disadvantage of blind faith - nothing can ever conclusively disprove the ideas and this is all too often taken as positive confirmation of them.