Faith operates along a spectrum.
To properly consider faith in a discussion, it’s important to assess what degree of faith we are considering. At one end of the spectrum is blind faith, the proverbial leap in the dark. At the other end of the spectrum is a tested, considered, and reasonable faith, like sitting down in the dining chair at a friend’s house.
Generally speaking, skeptics position religious faith toward the irrational, leap-in-the-dark, unreasonable, and unthinking end of the spectrum. When discussions of faith occur, skeptics tilt their heads and consider what is put forward as something less than reasonable, bordering on delusional, and certainly not scientific. These nods, tilted heads, and furrowed brows imply that certainty is their benchmark—a far more thoughtful, rational, scientific line of thinking. Faith is less than, substandard, and unbecoming to any thinking individual.
I’m fine with this position, but only if the reliance upon and rationale for scientific thought is consistent. It’s no good to pick and choose. Scientific standard requires predictability, repeatable, guaranteed results, and outcomes that are observable. Seeing is believing and scientific law does not vary.
As humans, we fancy ourselves rational and logical, but we aren’t. We state our reasons, and explain our positions, but all of us also employ assumption, inference, rationalization, manipulation, deception, and whatever else to elicit the desired outcome. And never mind that we are mistake-prone. Even the most rhythmical, predictable, disciplined among us exhibits whim, preference, bias, surprise, mood, and multiple other humanities that are not constant, many that are not even predictable, let alone rational. Still, religious faith is often critiqued for not being reliable.
Science has three categories for its interests: hypotheses, theories, and laws.
Hypotheses are considerations ranging from extravagant dreams, e.g. contacting life forms outside our solar system, to ideas that possess some basis of possibility, e.g. the extent to which artificial intelligence will govern daily life twenty-five years from now.
Theories are generally accepted concepts still lacking proof, consistency, or explanations that are not without question. Theories have gained enough traction to warrant additional examination, but scientific theory exists in the realm of conjecture.
Some theories are assumed to be true, but until proven, the scientific category of theory is where they remain. This is the category where evolution resides. Thus its name, the theory of evolution.
A scientific law is consistent, constant, repeatable, and demonstrable, e.g. the law of gravity, the laws of thermodynamics, or the laws of electromagnetism. Scientific law can be demonstrated without variance in the laboratory. It is so constant that it cannot be avoided, modified, or negated. It is what it is.
Let’s put some standards on the table before we go any farther: To assert that science and faith are mutually exclusive is naïve. To think a hypothesis is foundational is misguided. To speak of a theory as if it is a fact is irresponsible—and the more convincingly someone talks about a theory does not make it a fact, by the way. To tinker with a law is unwise, and to think of faith as irrational is more about bias, cynicism, and narrow-mindedness than it is scientific.
Like the spectrum of faith, scientific thought demonstrates a spectrum of varying degrees of belief. It takes a great deal of hope, dreaming, belief in chances, and money to believe alien civilizations are going to come upon the USA spacecraft, Voyager, hear Chuck Berry singing “Johnny B. Goode”—assuming they will have some device to play the recording—understand the song, appreciate the music, and then come looking for us tucked away inside the Milky Way.
The theory of evolution doesn’t require as many mental gymnastics as a scientific hypothesis, but it’s still a significant exercise in belief. Never mind that the theory of how we got here runs amok of several scientific laws. If this is a new idea to you, I recommend Philip Johnson’s book on Darwinism to you.
But a law. Now, that’s different from hypothesis or theory. Still, it leaves room for belief. It is a significantly less demanding degree of belief than the other two categories of scientific thinking, but belief is still involved.
Thus, science and belief are not mutually exclusive. Both faith and science exist across multiple disciplines. This cross pollination makes both science and faith legitimate.
Faith permeates almost everything. Of course it can be abused, but what can’t be? Reasonable faith isn’t inferior or wishful or even unscientific.
Next up in our considerations: It’s uncanny how often faith is evaluated on an unlevel playing field. I don’t care what you’re considering. If you don’t play by the rules, the game’s going to prove silly, unreasonable, nonsensical, even stupid. Conversely, if you understand the rules of play, the one pontificating from outside the boundaries is the foolish one.