science is not religion

I thought I could let this go. I thought I could just make my snide comment and move on, but I can’t. The context is an excerpt of Pat Buchanan that Blake posted:

Clearly, a continued belief in the absolute truth of Darwinist evolution is but an act of faith that fulfills a psychological need of folks who have rejected God. That picture on the wall of the science class of apes on four legs, then apes on two legs, then homo erectus walking upright is as much an expression of faith as the picture of Adam and Eve and the serpent in the Garden of Eden.

Hence, if religion cannot prove its claim and Darwinists can’t prove their claims, we must fall back upon reason, which some of us believe is God’s gift to mankind.

Now, I don’t know if Buchanan here is referring to “reason” as in the Platonic ideal of Reason as something separate from empiricism (and science), or if he’s really genuinely just babbling without knowing what he’s saying, but either way, he makes no sense.

There’s a ridiculous but pervasive argument I am hearing often from a lot of religious people that science requires just as much “faith” as religion does. This is wrong. And I don’t mean “wrong” as in “science doesn’t necessarily require faith”. I mean that it’s wrong to even imply that anyone who has any semblance of an idea how science works takes anything on faith alone.

I think the root of the fallacy can be found in two primary problems:

  1. Willfull (or genuine) ignorance, and
  2. The ambiguity of the English language

For example, take the sentence “I believe in evolution” or the sentence “I have faith in evolution.” The words “faith” and “believe” in this context are surrogates for “have confidence”. They are not reflections of a rejection of empirical evidence or the scientific method. The meaning here is distinctly and crucially separate from the idea of “faith” in a religious context. For example, the M-W definition of “faith” in Judeo-Christian theology holds faith as “the belief in the historic truthfulness of the Scripture narrative, and the supernatural origin of its teachings, sometimes called historical and speculative faith.” Note the key word here: speculative faith.

A crucial element and indeed the entire point of many religions is the affirmation of “faith” in a God, supreme being or ideal. Faith even in the absence of empirical evidence – even in the face of contradictory evidence. Hence, we have the idea of “testing” one’s faith as a recurring theme in many religions. So it strikes me as odd then that any person that took their religion seriously would want to compare it to science, or vice versa. Is it an attempt to bring science down to religion’s level – i.e. “you fancy-pants scientists think you’re so great but you believe in crap just like us!”? Or is it an attempt to validate the ideas of religion by attaching it to the empirical authority of science?

I have no idea what the motivation is, but it strikes me as odd. Isn’t the whole point of religion that it requires faith in things not evident in scientific analysis? Isn’t that why we have two separate words “science” and “religion” – “empiricism” and “faith”? There’s no inherent attack on religion in making this distinction. It’s just basic semantics. They’re called by different words because they are different things. Religion is not science. Science is not faith. Sorry.

As a scientist, I don’t want the idea of science sullied by the implications of blind faith. Conversely, I would imagine that anyone that took their religion seriously would not want it sullied by stooping to legitimize it with comparisons to science. But maybe that’s not the point. Maybe the problem is that people really just genuinely fail to understand science as a process independent of any belief system.