Is it faith?

I’m sorry, I’ve been doing a string of religious posts recently, and it’s because every time I turn around something else stirs some thoughts that I want to pass along. I’m trying to space them out with items of other interest, but because I know not everyone here necessarily wants to see me pick on religion all the time, I will break the post up between the teaser and the meat. Below, I’m going to approach the question of, basically, “Isn’t trusting science a form of faith?”

I’ve seen this before on other forums, but my actual wording here comes from a spam comment I received. The comment itself is actually well-written, a rarity for spam, but the poster name and address are mismatches, and the linked website is obviously paid advertising. I suspect that the comment content itself might have been lifted from some other location online, and if this turns out to be so, I may remove or at least attribute the quote:

Is the belief in science by a non-scientist a matter of faith? Does he have little more than faith in scientists and the idea that they don’t rely on faith? Sure, he may observe and utilise ‘highly technological devices’ such as a computer, but is he still not accepting through faith the principles on which he is told they work?

Unlike many religious arguments, I actually like this one, because it shows an easy distinction to miss. I don’t know exactly how a carburetor works, so am I taking it on faith that it does? Well, no, not really, because the car and the lawnmower start just fine, and something must be doing it. The fundamental difference between the faith of religion, and simply accepting something like atomic theory that I have not seen proven myself, is that atomic theory, the carburetor, and my computer all work. The end result, the evidence of their functionality, is right before me. Compare this to religious claims, where faith is necessary to explain why we don’t have the evidence – why god is not present or taking an active hand, why the historic miracles seem to have stopped, and why a benevolent god can allow so much apparently pointless suffering and disasters.

Moreover, I can, should I choose, find out about computers, carburetors, and atomic theory – faith in them is not a requirement, merely a shortcut. I can get educated as to their qualities, enough to actually gain employment in a field requiring the knowledge, and it applies equally well in any part of the world that I choose. I can also study theology, but theology relies on faith, it doesn’t replace it like my learning about atomic theory would replace my faith therein. Even worse, should I then take my newfound knowledge of christian theology into an orthodox jewish school, I would find it nearly worthless; their mutual explanations of sin and judgment, both based upon faith, are still radically different.

I can even be empirical if I choose. I know, for instance, that computers run on electricity, from having to plug one into an appropriate wall socket and turn it on, and the warnings about static charges and proper grounding when swapping harddrives. This is evidence in support of the scientific explanation that I may be taking on faith. I know that carburetors need a fuel line and access to clean air, as well as plenty of links to other parts of the engine. I can even do, with a minimum of materials, my own experiments on the double-slit effect and photovoltaic reactions, evidence about the nature of atomic theory. I cannot, however, do any tests whatsoever on god’s existence, and tests such as the efficacy of prayer turn up with entirely random results. The crucial point of difference in that faith is used to excuse these results, not to save time in explaining them like scientific principles might use.

So while they might seem to be analogous, these two applications of “faith” are actually opposite ends of the spectrum. One is a shortcut in lieu of explaining how things work, but the other is a requirement for even proposing that it does work, which is not even established, nor apparently possible to do so.

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