The Major Difference Between Science And Faith

The biggest difference between science and faith is that science isn’t afraid of the truth (truth meaning empirical evidence).  In other words, science isn’t afraid to be wrong.  In fact, this is what makes science the amazing tool that it is for learning about the world we live in.   Faith, on the other hand, often insists on the absence of evidence, or at least empirical evidence that can be tested.  

This difference, the willingness to be wrong, is a fundamental and critical difference between science and religion.  Despite what some may say, because of this there is no compatibility between science and religion; there is no room for accommodation.  

A great example of this is this news story about the discovery of brown dwarfs in our local galactic neighborhood.   Scientists have discovered that there are far less brown dwarfs in a 26 light year radius around our sun than previous studies had predicted.  

 

Davy Kirkpatrick of the WISE science team at NASA’s Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena had this to say about the study:

Those discoveries could bring the ratio of brown dwarfs to  up a bit, to about 1:5 or 1:4, but not to the 1:1 level previously anticipated.

This is how science progresses as we obtain better and better data,” said Kirkpatrick. “With WISE, we were able to test our predictions and show they were wrong. We had made extrapolations based on discoveries from projects like the Two-Micron All-Sky Survey, but WISE is giving us our first look at the coldest brown dwarfs we’re only now able to detect.”

Here is a scientist not just admitting that his theory was wrong, but actually excited about the fact.  Why? Because this is how we learn things.  This is the way that we find out how the world around us really works.  Being wrong in science isn’t a liability, it is a strength.   The history of science, going back to when humans first started making tools, is one of trial and error.  The more you can eliminate what doesn’t work, the closer you get to what does work.  And that is what science is all about, finding what works.

Faith, in contrast, relies on gut feelings, mystical prophets preaching magical things, books that make claims that can’t be tested. that are improbable and often contradictory.  Faith gives us unicorns, leprechauns, krakens, multiple gods, goddesses, angels, demons, and men rising from the dead.  Faith causes people to die when proven, life saving treatments are available, but shunned.  Faith no only shuns facts, but often demands that facts be ignored.  Martin Luther put it quite well when he said that, “Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has.” (Tischreden, 1568, #353)

The ability to falsify an idea or hypothesis is crucial to understanding if that idea or hypothesis is correct or not.   In learning about the world around us, the willingness to be wrong is a virtue.  If we accept that something is true without evidence or proof and leave it at that, we make an assumption about the world that very well could be wrong.  If we question and probe, making mistakes along the way, we learn something valuable and are much more likely to be right.

It’s been somewhat callously and pithily said that, “Faith flies you into buildings.  Science flies you to the moon.”   While this greatly oversimplifies the issue, there is certainly truth in it.  Science does fly us to the moon, the planets, and with the Voyager spacecraft, even to the stars.  Faith, while it might give us comfort, tells us nothing about our world.  It makes no testable predictions, it solves no technical, social, or practical problems.  It teaches us nothing about the world around is.  It is wishes, hopes and dreams, but without the means to achieve any of them.  Faith does not make dreams come true; science does.

 

The ability to falsify an idea or hypothesis is crucial to understanding if that idea or hypothesis is correct or not.   In learning about the world around us, the willingness to be wrong is a virtue.  If we accept that something is true without evidence or proof and leave it at that, we make an assumption about the world that very well could be wrong.  If we question and probe, making mistakes along the way, we learn something valuable.

It’s been somewhat callously and pithily said, “Faith flies you into buildings.  Science flies you to the moon.”   While this greatly oversimplifies the issue, there is certainly truth in it.  Science does fly us to the moon, the planets, and with the Voyager spacecraft, even to the stars.  Faith, which it might give us comfort, tells us nothing about our world.  It makes no testable predictions, it solves no technical, social, or practical problems.  It teaches us nothing about the world around is.  It is wishes, hopes and dreams, but without the means to achieve any of them.  Faith does not make dreams come true; science does.

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8 thoughts on “The Major Difference Between Science And Faith

  1. what if I already have the truth, by truth I mean absolute truth, regardless of empiracal evidence. Should I admit I am wrong in an effort to learn something? If I did all I would learn is something that is not the truth!

  2. *nodding* Not limited to science, specifically, but to honest inquiry in academic research. (Yes, the scientific method is employed with quantitative analysis, but the differences are notable between qualitative and quantitative; that said, the pursuit of *truth* is the bottom line.) I remember being told in a class when the question was posed – What if a null hypothesis is demonstrated (quantitative)//what if the qualitative research doesn’t answer the research questions? (qualitative) ….the importance of the answer to those questions stayed with me. Null results are *just as important* ~ because they open the pathway to further research. The idea is to get closer to truth, with the understanding that the *truth* might not be fully known as a result of the research, or even in our lifetimes.

    Excellent entry.

    • Denise, I agree completely. The null hypothesis is vital to learning and approaching the truth as closely as possible. What most people don’t understand is that just because there is a null result doesn’t mean that that result isn’t important. Defining what we don’t know is one of the most important ways to discover the truth of what we can know.

  3. Searching for “Empirical Evidence” has great value in helping us to understand wonderful phenomenom in our cosmos. Empirical research is an honorable pursuit in our attempts to discover truth.
    My sincere thought, however, is the very probable possibility that we may be overestimating the value of empirical evidence.
    Sure I would feel much more comfortable, with such evidence at hand, however it may be over-rated!
    For instance, thanks to Galileo Galilei in 1593 and others like
    Santorio Santorio in 1611, Anders Celsius in 1742 and Lord Kelvin in 1848, we now have a “quantitative” observation of temperature. The truth of absolute temperature or the Second Law of Thermodynamics has as far as we can tell, always existed; even before science had the ability to produce “Empirical Evidence.”
    Likewise, Gravity existed long before Newton’s Laws of motion. Yet our understanding of this truth was limited because science lacked a vehicle to qualitatively or quantitatively produce any Empirical Evidence.
    More? For the sake of arguement I will assume that electricity in the form of lightning existed long before we had Gilbert, Franklin, Galvani, Faraday, Ampere`, Ohm, or Maxwell.
    My question then would be, could it be possible for absolute truth exist, even in the absence of Empirical Evidence, simply because science has not yet developed the capability to effectively analyze such a truth.
    The Null results might very possibly bring us closer to an greater understanding; or perhaps not! Would it be possible that Science has not learned something yet, can not demonstrate something yet, cannot identify laws concerning the govrning of such a truth, cannot measure any results or falsify simply because of the inadequacies of science at this time?
    That said, I agree with Denise, when she said, “the pursuit of ‘truth’ is the bottom line”
    I have a great respect for science. I have a fair understanding of basic scientific method. I find it a bit disconcerting and maybe dishonest how some people can effectively “slight” the basic tenets of true science trying to prove a point that simply is not there to prove. (Or one that cannot be at this time)
    On the Subject of the main post, Science and faith. Science by default is concerned with explaining phenomenom occuring in a physical realm. Faith is concerned with explaining things in a Spiritual Realm.
    So in this way they are not compatible, except where they may intersect, if they do, if one believes, if there is a spiritual world.
    In other words, they are apples and oranges.
    Now certainly, faith is not afraid of the truth, faith is not afraid of being wrong. That is a rather unfair and uneducated generalization that is neither accurate nor honest. To say that religion “often insist on the absence of evidence, or at least empirical evidence that can be tested” is also very misleading. Faith does some observed evidence and phenomenom. It may or may not be true, and as stated before, maybe there is no evidence because of a failure in the scientific community.
    Pulling a quote out of context from Martin Luther does not advance any arguement but rather sounds like a political “talking point”
    If science is to stand, real science can stand on its own, without trying to destroy faith to do it.
    Relax folks! For example, stop trying to disprove creationism. Disproving creationism does not prove evolution. Same way disproving evolution still does not prove creation. Both ideas have merit, and both ideas have detraction. What TRUE science and TRUE faith have in common is the search for TRUTH. This is a noble quest!

  4. Of course absolute truths exist, even if we don’t currently have the means to prove them with empirical evidence, but the lack of a means to prove them doesn’t lessen the fact that the scientific method works in getting us closer to those truths.

    If you have good examples of faith not being afraid to be wrong, please provide them.

    Real science does stand on it’s own. Science doesn’t attempt to disprove creationism in order to prove evolution. Evolution is proved on the merits of the overwhelming evidence in support of it. Science doesn’t seek to disprove creationism, it seeks to prove the truth. Science does not attempt to prove creationism wrong, those who support the creationist hypotheses have been unable to present any compelling evidence supporting it. There has been no argument or piece of evidence for creationism that has been offered that has yet to pass the tests needed to be accepted as true. If and when this evidence is presented, then science will need to incorporate it into the corpus of theories we have for the origin and evolution of life. Until then, it is just another unsubstantiated hypotheses.

  5. I really like your response. It show real sincerity! I do very much believe and value the importance of science in an effort to get us closer to truth.
    Some examples of Christianity (faith, not sure of other faiths) not being afraid to be wrong is the whole protestant reformation, the remonstrants and many of its self-correcting aspects.
    Unfortunatley, I am embarassed, at those who call themselves Christians, who are so ignorant of Science that is makes us all look like morons. This is prevalent, and no wonder those in the camp of the unbelievers have developed that opinion. For the record, these same morons who are ignorant of science; are also just as ignorant about Christianity. (They tend to do more harm than good) (the media just loves to exploit them. funny how the media always puts a Phd of some discipline up against a half-witted, 5th grade graduate, that has not even read the Bible.)
    To be fair, I should not judge all who do not believe based on a few morons in your camp just the same as I would hope that all believers are not judge because of the morons in our camp. However, my experience in discussing the the theory of evolution has always had the evolutionist attacking creation and not presenting any real evidence to support evolution. This is why I said disproving creation is not a valid argument to prove evolution. ( an vice-versa)
    I do not, or rather cannot, recall any compelling empirical evidence in support of creationism. (I can present some real evidence that warrants an honest look at the possibility.) True Science, science that looks for truth regardless of popular opinion, would examine some of this in an unbiased manner. Howbeit, I agree there is a lack of substantial evidence for creation, it is a matter of faith.
    On the same way, evolution iIS NOT a proven fact, it is still a theory. Fact, truth, is not, again is not determined by popular consensus. (this is a favorite argument of evolutionist, “look at all the scientist who believe” Truth is there are many serious scientist that do not subscribe to evolution. And that number is growing. American and European scientist were laughed to scorn in China because of evolution. These non Christian, non believing well credentialed scientist did not beieve in evolution. Regardless, truth is not determined by popular consensus. All through history popular scientific “truths” have been proven false, even when the majority of scientist believed it. So again that is not a valid argument.
    In all honesty, I have not had any compelling evidence that supports evolution presented to me. I hear all the time that there is evidence ,but none has been presented. For example Richard Dawkins has written many books, each one he claims he will prove evolution and disporve God. he makes that claim without presenting any evidence, just says there is evidence. His critics for this point were evolutionist, saying when are you going to present something. He himself ackowledged that he has failed to do so in his previous books, but once again, promises in his next one…..
    I am not against evolution!!! I suppose you could say I am agnostic towards that belief. For example, one informed person did “call my bluff” and present what he thought was compelling. That of the Parahippus. Honestly it does raise possibilities that supports the evolution of the horse, however, there is still no evidence that one species evolved into another. Or was it merely another species that went extinct.
    True science, responsible science would suggest a theory that one evolved into another, as a possible explanation, but it falls short of PROOF. Again I have never denied fossil evidence and the like; i just have a hard time BELIEVING the connection. Honestly! So with that said it reduced evolution to a belief system just like creationism. There is a possibility that evolution is indeed the TRUTH, it is just a bit premature in our scientific journey to call it so. Until then it is just a belief,

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