I happened upon this statement by Jeff at Worldview Labs:
At the root of all knowledge is faith. Here is an experiment you can try on your friends to test my claim. Ask them, what did you have for breakfast? When they answer, ask them, how do you know? When they answer again, ask them, well how to do you know that? Eventually, you will get to the point where the person responds with a shoulder shrug and an answer something like "I don't know how I know, I just do." This is true whether you are asking a scientist about the properties of hydrocarbons, or your little brother about the properties of ice cream.At the base of all knowledge are assumptions. Unprovable assumptions. In other words, faith. A leap.
And I couldn’t disagree more. Science assumes nothing. Science uses observation to create theories by which to explain things. But if one of those underlying theories is incorrect, then science changes to a better theory. Or if no better theory exists, they drop the offending part and wait until they find something better. But there is no faith involved. You can go up and down any scientific theory, and everything is open to a better idea and further testing. The only limitation on this is that the new idea must follow certain guidelines. And that just makes sense. Religious ideas are subject to religious-type guidelines; and scientific ideas are subject to scientific-type guidelines.
Now, before I get to deep into this, let me explain that this post is not intended for technical readers, and I often use certain shorthands that might sound technically wrong, but can be explained; assuming I wanted this to be much longer and far more boring post. I’m just an informal kind of guy, and don’t write for a technical crowd. So if anyone starts picking apart minor technical problems, I’m just going to think they’re a big dipwad and probably start insulting them. I don’t mind if someone has a question about a concept that I wrote, I just hate it when people find petty problems and act as if it undermines everything.
Secondly, while I sometimes use the word “science” to mean the formal study of Science; I often will use it in the general sense of what people and animals (and probably plants) do everyday. We observe our surroundings, create theories based upon those observations, and then take actions based upon those theories. Like when you’re driving in traffic and you observe that everyone around you is a jerkwad asshole; and you express yourself based upon that theory. And so you’ll have to work with me, and not assume that I’m always using the formal Science, when I really just mean the stuff that we all do.
And thirdly, I don’t really have a problem with faith. I would prefer that people abandon it in exchange for objective observation, but I don’t see it necessarily as a bad thing. Particularly as I think that faith is usually far more harmless than many folks realize. I just don’t think that people care about their gods nearly as much as they pretend to. They say it’s really important, but then they act just like the rest of us. Sure, they talk a righteous game, but when they get cut-off in traffic, they’re just as likely to think bad thoughts as the rest of us. And more importantly, they will usually attempt to find logical observation-based answers to life’s problems; rather than simply assuming that it was God’s doing. If anything, I think that most Christians just use their beliefs as a window-dressing to their otherwise secular life. And as I’ve argued before, religion is often used to justify a person’s moral-code; rather than having been the actual basis for it. As somebody smart once said, man has created God in our own image. But if faith makes people feel better, or prevents them from raping puppies; who am I to argue? Now back to our regularly scheduled blogpost.
How Science Works
And sure, there are still many many many things that scientists don’t understand. But they don’t just fill in those blanks with faith-based hoo-haw and supernatural guesses. That’s Intelligent Design’s idea; to fill-in any holes with the supernatural. But science moves on, working to eventually fill those gaps. Because this isn’t like building a stackable tower, where each layer needs to be completed before we build the next layer. It’s more like a jigsaw puzzle. You find a piece here and a piece there that fit together, and you keep working until you’ve solved the whole thing. And who knows, maybe you’ve put a few pieces in the wrong spot; but you just take them apart and keep working. And the more pieces you put together, the easier it is to find the missing pieces.
And that’s the thing, we can learn about the evolution of life without knowing exactly how it began. Similarly, we can discuss the expansion of the universe without knowing how the universe began. But we just keep on putting the pieces together from what we know. In fact, by studying how life evolved or how the universe expands, we can get better ideas of what started it.
But the main thing is that none of this is based on faith; but rather on observation. The basis of science is that the truth of life can be best be obtained by observing life, and all scientific theories must be based on said observations. With “observations” meaning something that is testable. That isn’t to say that untestable things aren’t real. It only says that we are limiting ourselves to testable observations. And as I stated before, this is what most every man, woman, and dog does on a daily basis. Only when it comes to matters of religion do some people believe that faith is a good enough substitute for observation.
Bad Burrito Breakfast
And so it is entirely wrong for Jeff to suggest that we all have faith as an underlying factor in our decisions. I’ll use his breakfast challenge as an example: For breakfast this morning, I had a frozen burrito and a Hawaiian Punch. I know that because I observed it happening and remember how much I had wished I had something other than a frozen burrito. Now perhaps I only dreamed that, or perhaps I don't really exist. But I did not observe that it was a dream or that I didn’t exist, so I ignore it. Now, maybe I'm wrong. Maybe I really did dream it, and could not have observed that it wasn’t real. Science says that I must stick with my observation anyway; even if they could be wrong; even if they are dreamed.
Now, say I suddenly wake-up to find myself in an insane asylum and realize that none of this is real. Rather than being some super-genius blogger CPA who had a lousy breakfast; I’m really some crazy-ass delusional psycho killer who had an even lousier breakfast. Do I stay faith-based and continue to believe I ate the burrito? No. Assuming I’m not too delusional, I change my theory based upon my new observations. But everything is observation-based. I assume nothing. I take nothing on faith. I believe what I observe.
And as I said, if something is not observable in a testable way, then it must be ignored. For example, maybe there is a god. If that god does not show himself in any observable way, then science can never recognize his existence. That isn't to say that he doesn't exist; that only says that he falls outside of the realm of science. And there's nothing necessarily wrong with that. If God wants to be faith-based, that's fine. But because his existence can neither be proven or disproven, he can never be included in science.
And even religious people insist that they are using observation as the basis for their belief. They observe the way they feel, the warmth of God’s love, remember having actual conversations with God, whatever. But because that observation is within them, it is entirely subjective and untestable; and thus, must be ignored. And that simply makes sense, as there are many different religions; the believers of which also make such subjective observations. And again, this isn’t to suggest that this proves or disproves God; but that’s the whole point. His existence cannot be proven or disproven; which is why he falls outside the realm of science.
That isn’t a knock against God or anything. It’s simply a fact. By definition, nothing supernatural can be included in the realm of science. That’s what supernatural means. And if that’s the way that God wants it, then that’s the way it is. He’s supposedly the all-powerful one, and if he wants to be a jerk about his existence; then I guess there isn’t much we mere mortals can do about it.
But again, the point is that there is such a thing as knowledge that does not rely on faith. Knowledge that is based entirely on testable observation. That is the nature of science, but more importantly, that is what everybody does every day. When you drive in traffic, it is not faith that is telling you that those other cars exist. You know that based upon previous observations. And maybe those observations are wrong and those other cars do not exist; it doesn’t matter. You will continue to act based upon observations that you made, and not based upon a faith. And it’s only in matters of religion that people eschew the demands of objectivism and observation-based theories, and allow themselves to fall victim to their own subjective whimsy. Well, that and Bushism too. But it’s easily argued that that’s just another form of religion; so I guess that just makes sense.