Another misguided believer claims that science is based on faith

I guess it was too much for me to hope that my 2013 Slate essay, “No faith in science,” would once and for all dispel the claim that science is just like religion in depending on faith. My point was simple: what “faith” means in science is “confidence based on experience,” while the same term in religion means “belief without enough evidence to convince most rational people.” It’s the same word, but with two different meanings. Yet religious people mix up those meanings regularly—and, I expect, deliberately. I wish they’d read my goddam essay.

So someone’s done it again: Matt Emerson, a Catholic whose blog says, “I teach theology and direct the advancement office at Xavier College Preparatory in Palm Desert, CA.” He’s also written the book Why Faith? A Journey of Discovery, to be published by Paulist Press this May; it apparently aims to help people maintain and understand faith.



At any rate, Emerson published a short essay in the March 3 Wall Street Journal—”At its heart, science is faith-based too“—that, as usual, conflates the meaning of “faith” as applied to science (but we scientists avoid that word!) versus as applied to religion. Rather than go into detail, I’d recommend you read my Slate piece, and Emerson should have, too!  Here’s a bit of his conflation:

The scientists who made the gravitational-wave discovery, [Italian physicist Carl Rovelli] wrote, were pursuing a “dream based on faith in reason: that the logical deductions of Einstein and his mathematics would be reliable.”

Mr. Rovelli was not referring to religious faith. And scientists generally deem even faith scrubbed of theological meaning to be something unrelated to their endeavors. Yet the relationship between faith and science is far closer than many assume….

Wrong. Scientists don’t have “faith in reason.” As I noted in Slate:

What about faith in reason? Wrong again. Reason—the habit of being critical, logical, and of learning from experience—is not an a priori assumption but a tool that’s been shown to work. It’s what produced antibiotics, computers, and our ability to sequence DNA. We don’t have faith in reason; we use reason because, unlike revelation, it produces results and understanding. Even discussing why we should use reason employs reason!

Here’s an old canard from Emerson and physicist/accommodationist Paul Davies:

Arizona State University physicist Paul Davies has noted that the work of science depends upon beliefs—that the hidden architecture of the universe, all the constants and laws of nature that sustain the scientific enterprise, will hold. As he wrote in his book “The Mind of God: The Scientific Basis for a Rational World”: “Just because the sun has risen every day of your life, there is no guarantee that it will therefore rise tomorrow. The belief that it will—that there are indeed dependable regularities of nature—is an act of faith, but one which is indispensable to the progress of science.”

Well, we can’t be 100% certain that the sun will rise tomorrow, but I dealt with this in Slate as well:

You have faith (i.e., confidence) that the sun will rise tomorrow because it always has, and there’s no evidence that the Earth has stopped rotating or the sun has burnt out.

I’d bet $100,000 that the sun will rise tomorrow (i.e., day will break, for it might be cloudy!), but I wouldn’t bet $5 that Jesus was resurrected bodily. The dependable regularities of nature are, unlike the tenets of theology, not acts of faith, but observations that we accept as holding widely, because they always have. This is simply confidence based on experience!

Why do people like Emerson mix up these uses of faith? It’s obvious: accommodationism—and also a mushbrained attempt to do down science by saying, “See, you’re just like us!” (Implication: “See, you’re just as bad as we are!”):

Recognizing the existence of this kind of faith is an important step in bridging the artificial divide between science and religion, a divide that is taken for granted in schools, the media and in the culture. People often assume that science is the realm of certainty and verifiability, while religion is the place of reasonless belief. But the work of Messrs. Davies and Rovelli and others, including Pope John Paul II in his 1998 encyclical “Fides et Ratio,” demonstrates that religion and science sit within a similar intellectual framework.

ORLY? How, exactly, do the “findings” of religion resemble those of science? After all, Emerson may believe that Jesus was not only part of God, but also God’s son, was crucified and resurrected, and that we’ll find salvation through accepting that. But if you’re a Muslim, you could be killed for professing such blasphemy, and Jews, of course, don’t believe in Jesus as the Messiah. There are millions of conflicting “truths” in religion, but although there are some disputes in science, there’s general agreement that, say, DNA is a double helix, the earth is about 4.5 billion years old, and that a benzene molecule has six carbon atoms. Theology can offer us NO truths so well established.

But Emerson claims it can, and his claim is laughable:

But just as faith is indispensable to science, so is reason essential to religion. Many find themselves relating to God in a way analogous to the scientists searching for gravitational waves. These seekers of religious truth are persuaded by preliminary evidence and compelled by the testimony of those who have previously studied the matter; they are striving for a personal encounter with the realities so often talked about, yet so mysterious.

In such a context, it isn’t blind belief that fuels the search, any more than scientists blindly pursued the implications of Einstein’s theory. Rather, it’s a belief informed by credible reasons, nurtured by patient trust, open to revision. When I profess my belief in God, for example, I rely upon not only the help of the Holy Spirit. I also rely upon the Einsteins of theology, thinkers like St. Thomas Aquinas, whose use of reason to express and synthesize theological truths remains one of the great achievements in Western civilization. Aquinas’s “Summa Theologica” is a LIGO for the Christian faith.

Open to revision? Only if science disproves religion’s claims, and even in that case 40% of Americans still reject evolution in favor of the fairy tales of Genesis. And what, exactly, are the “theological truths” of Aquinas and his coreligionists? Can we please just have a list of five or six? Please?

And here’s the kicker—and Emerson’s conclusion:

To be sure, religion and science are different. But many religious believers, like scientists, continue to search for confirmation, continue to fine-tune their lives and expand their knowledge to experience a reality that is elusive, but which, when met, changes life forever. And if the combination of faith and reason can deliver the sound of two black holes colliding over a billion light years away, confirming a theory first expressed in 1915—what is so unthinkable about the possibility that this same combination could yield the insight that God became man?

There’s a difference between searching for confirmation and searching for truth; religion does the former, science the latter. If Emerson can give us evidence—and not just from the Bible—that “God became man”, then I might take his truth claims seriously. Absent that, we need accept his verities no more than we accept those of Scientology, Mormonism, or, for that matter, Beowulf.

It’s a travesty that the Wall Street Journal publishes tripe like this. Are they that desperate for copy? I doubt that they’d even entertain a piece like the one you just read here.


Why? Because it makes me feel good.


  1. Posted March 7, 2016 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    These types will never go away. They are destined, in fact, to be the last hominids standing, their antics will have driven all other species to extinction.

    They won’t be killed by silver bullets or crosses through the heart either ’cause you can’t kill zombies.

    In the end, the Earth will be populated by only two species: cockroaches and theocratic dimwits.

  2. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted March 7, 2016 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    I wonder what keeps Emerson from saying faith in astrology, palm reading, and Oiuja boards is the same as religious faith. I suppose he could go on to say anything anyone does – from eating oatmeal to saving someon’s life – is faith based – but when do we ever hear that case made? Faith is a peculiarity of religion only, yeah? Sorry didn’t carefully write this.

    • reasonshark
      Posted March 8, 2016 at 9:31 am | Permalink

      It always looks to me like a form of philosophical MAD, or Mutually Assured Destruction: if religion has nothing better than guesswork (i.e. “faith”), then no epistemological rival can have it either. It’s what happens when you read too much into Hume’s argument against induction or the Laplace’s demon thought experiment.

      The interesting side effect of this – which they never seem to appreciate – is that it does the religious case no favours whatsoever. If anything, it destroys the very notion of doing a body of thought a favour because it destroys any non-arbitrary standard by which a favour can be measured. The best it manages is to cut a rival body of thought down – in this case, science.

      • Lee
        Posted March 8, 2016 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

        That’s all they have left. If there were any scientific validation for their belief systems, any whatsoever, science would be their BFF. In the absence of such validation all they can do is assert that science isn’t relevant and/or that its claims are no better than anyone else’s.

      • ThyroidPlanet
        Posted March 8, 2016 at 10:39 pm | Permalink

        “(It cuts science down)”

        Errrrmmmm – tries to and fails, yes? “It” being what you call “philosophical MAD” – Stephen Law names that “going nuclear”, if I’ve got you right…

        Anyways, … science or religion is clearly a false dilemma. Seeing how they compete though – viz. FvF, is different….

        • reasonshark
          Posted March 9, 2016 at 5:54 am | Permalink

          “Errrrmmmm – tries to and fails, yes?”


          “Anyways, … science or religion is clearly a false dilemma.”

          As far as knowledge of the world goes, it is a true dichotomy because science is ultimately based on rational inquiry, whereas religion is more often based on irrational methodology (revelation, faith, tradition, personal testimony as “evidence”, etc.). Even accommodationism boils down to religious partisanship.

  3. Ray
    Posted March 7, 2016 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    I predict great sales for Emerson’s book, based solely on his picture on the dust-jacket.

  4. Matt
    Posted March 7, 2016 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    If your belief is alterable by evidence to the contrary, it’s not faith. Now find me a scientist who who would not change or question a given belief in the face of credible evidence to the contrary.

  5. Kevin
    Posted March 7, 2016 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    Why Faith? Because Emerson gave up trying to take existence seriously and faith is a convenient answer that puts all the problems of this world into a metaphysical basket that never gets looked into again until after death.

  6. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted March 7, 2016 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    Once again I see a purveyor of piffle invoke Aquinas. This time as an ‘Einstein of theology (!). Well, at least that was new.
    So we are to be stopped in our tracks by the old spookery about the ‘unmoved mover’, and ‘uncaused cause’ and of course who can’t forget the ‘argument from design’. This still leaves some people gobsmacked. Golly. I’m supposed to be left so dizzy and confused by leaps of assumption and circular reasoning that I fall back into the arms of the Almighty.
    Nah. Give me empirical observations and controlled experiments and prior experience. There are some mysteries, such as what caused the Big Bang. But our experience tells us that unknown causes are just… unknown. They have never panned out to be uncaused, and so there is no reason to invoke it now. If I ever use the word ‘faith’ it would be a very cautious and qualified way, like ‘faith in the utility of prior observations and experience’.

    • Posted March 7, 2016 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

      And this is pretty close to an “own goal”. If Aquinas is the Einstein of theology, what are the 750 years of improvements since then? We’ve built on from Einstein, improving and checking his work (that’s precisely what the gravity waves work was, after all. Just think of how much physics has been done since Aquinas; so where’s the theology since then?

      • Taz
        Posted March 7, 2016 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

        Do hundreds of years of bloody conflict count? Still waiting for the wars over physics theories.

  7. Sastra
    Posted March 7, 2016 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    In such a context, it isn’t blind belief that fuels the search, any more than scientists blindly pursued the implications of Einstein’s theory. Rather, it’s a belief informed by credible reasons, nurtured by patient trust, open to revision.

    I think Emerson’s right here — but it doesn’t help him in any way. On the contrary. It’s the foundation of religion’s demise.

    Religious faith involves a commitment to believe: a fact is just like a value. Change your mind and it’s a personal failing, a lack of virtue on your part. You’re supposed to doggedly persist despite obstacles: ignore your critics.

    But mash that up with the plain truth that people believe in religion for reasons (BAD reasons, to be sure) and waffle confidently onward about how you’re so “open to revision” … then you are screwed the minute you step out of your comfortable little self-confirming theological bubble. In his haste to identify the ‘pragmatic reliance’ of scientific inquiry with the ‘desire to believe’ of religious faith he’s thrown out the last one. Double-edged sword.

    So, now that God is simply a personally-confirmed hypothesis and now that it’s been dragged out into the public forum of skeptics — what would Mr. Open-To-Revision need in order to revise and discard his hypothesis? The scientists who pursued the implications of Einstein’s theory knew damn well what it would take to change their minds. If religious faith is just like that, then you have to throw it out and ask your questions about God without it. All you have are the facts and an objective panel of folks who have been invited to poke holes in your half-baked theories about them. You welcomed criticism and agreed to listen.

    Or did Emerson think that when he co-opts scientific integrity and peers into the abyss of honest truth-seeking — the abyss does not also peer into him? No. We saw what you did. Confirmation bias.

    • darrelle
      Posted March 7, 2016 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

      I was thinking the same things as I read this. I do wonder if Emerson believes everything he has said here. I would like to see him respond in a conversation in which someone takes him up on what he has said in the quotes above.

      Or, rather, I would like other believers to watch such a conversation in hopes that it may plant some doubts in one or two of them. I am pretty darn sure what direction his arguments would go in and don’t really need to see yet another example of a waffling retreat into ever more nebulous bullshit. I’ve seen it plenty of times already.

  8. Steve
    Posted March 7, 2016 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    I have faith that my reliable friend is going to pick me up at the corner when he said he would. That’s so different than saying, “I have faith that if I lead a good life I will go to heaven.” Anyone who can’t see the difference in those two usages is an idiot. Or they are being deliberately dense.

    • Sastra
      Posted March 7, 2016 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

      If your “faith” in your reliable friend was specifically religious in nature, if he didn’t show up as expected you’d simply redefine what it means to be “picked up” “on time” “at the corner.” How expansive those concepts are! And how deeply you now believe that they were fulfilled in a sense which goes beyond the shallow and frivolous meanings they have in the ordinary world.

      You trust your friend even MORE now. That’s how reliable reliable can be.

      • Lee
        Posted March 8, 2016 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

        Well said!

  9. JJH
    Posted March 7, 2016 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    “Why do people like Emerson mix up these uses of faith?”

    My answer; Sophisticated Theologians (full disclosure, not using the WEIT tm for profit) are down to two logical fallacies to defend their beliefs, equivocation or “god of the gaps.” Emerson went with former.

  10. Heather Hastie
    Posted March 7, 2016 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    Now I see where Jerry got the moniker ‘Angry Cat Man’.

    Having said that, I agree with everything he said, and I also find ideas like Emerson’s extremely annoying and frustrating.

    It also annoys me that Emerson will be lauded by a huge portion of the population (and make a lot of money) basically for believing a myth and persuading others they’re right to do the same.

  11. Al
    Posted March 7, 2016 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    To play devil’s advocate on this one:

    First, justifying faith in science as “confidence based on experience” doesn’t strike me as a watertight argument. A religious person, who has prayed to god all his life, can claim that god will hear his next prayer based on his “experience”. He can rationalize his life experience (and many religious people do) as being steered by god and claim that that gives him “confidence” in god’s help.

    Also, when you write:

    “You have faith (i.e., confidence) that the sun will rise tomorrow because it always has, and there’s no evidence that the Earth has stopped rotating or the sun has burnt out.”

    Are you claiming that before science understood the nuclear processes inside the sun or the parameters of the Earth’s orbit people didn’t have faith in the sun rising? Because then it’s in tension with your claim that confidence is based on experience. In fact, you’re actually claiming both here – that the sun will rise “because it always has” and because of scientific causes of sunrise.

    In fact, before Copernicus most educated people would have bet on the Earth being in the center of the universe based on *evidence* of the parallax measurements first done in antiquity. Before Michaelson and Morley conducted their famous experiment, most educated people would have bet that aether exists because every previously known wave phenomenon (gravity waves in water, sound waves in air) needed a medium for its propagation. And finally, Carlo Rovelli is right that the LIGO experiment was based on faith in Einstein’s theory, specifically its applicability in the strong field regime. Einstein’s general relativity hasn’t been tested in this regime before and as examples in this paragraph show just extrapolating a known theory can sometimes be very wrong. LIGO scientists bet hundreds of millions of taxpayer’s money based on their faith that this extrapolation would work.

    Second, I understand that you construe science broadly as all rational thought. But I think that claiming that (paraphrasing) “we have faith in reason because it works” is not correct. What kind of evidence would cause you to stop believing in reason? If such evidence existed, wouldn’t you need to use reason to draw the conclusion that reason is not to be trusted? That seems impossible to me. There’s no evidence that would cause you (or me, for that matter) to give up on reason. In fact, I suspect that reason is hard-wired in our brain, that our brain is biased towards recognizing patterns and discerning chains of cause and effect. It’s similar in some sense to the free-will conundrum. We can accept that free will doesn’t exist and yet we can only act as if it did. The notion of subject is built-in in our brain just as logical reasoning is. The whole edifice of science (understood as applying this logical reasoning to the world around us) is based on the faith that the world around us is perceptible to this reason (developed by the evolutionary process).

    Now, on some level, it’s not too surprising that it is. After all, logical reasoning evolved to respond to the environment so it should reflect essential properties of the world (like causal chains, for example). However, one has to wonder if the reasoning processes that evolved in one particular species on one particular planet are capable of building a coherent picture of the realm of elementary particles and quantum physics or the Big Bang and the beginning of the universe, domains that are far removed from the environment where the evolution of our species has occurred. Continued scientific progress is based on the faith that they are capable.

    • Posted March 7, 2016 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

      You’re wrong about Rovelli. The money wasn’t spent to confirm Einstein, but to test Einstein. The fact that Einstein was confirmed is a good result. But falsifying Einstein would have been more interesting …

      Continued scientific progress is based on the continued demonstration that those reasoning processes are capable. Consistent failure over all spheres of inquiry would be very interesting …


      • Al
        Posted March 7, 2016 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

        Not exactly. If LIGO had failed, it wouldn’t necessarily falsify Einstein since its success depended on a lot of astrophysical contingencies like the rate of occurrence of binary black hole systems, their frequency of merging etc. Tweak some of them and LIGO would still be groping in the dark (or should I say, in the background noise). The fact is those scientists involved in the LIGO project were betting on detection.

        ” Consistent failure over all spheres of inquiry would be very interesting …”
        I’m not claiming “failure over all spheres of inquiry”, just that some areas are so far removed from our experience, one has to wonder…

        • Posted March 7, 2016 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

          You’re right — an “open verdict” was another possible, and likely, option. But falsifying Einstein *still* would have been more interesting …

          But in those areas far removed from our experience, would it be a lack in the reasoning processes or would it just be a failure of imagination … not being able to come up with the right guesses, per Feynman’s description of the scientific method?


          • Al
            Posted March 7, 2016 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

            “But in those areas far removed from our experience, would it be a lack in the reasoning processes or would it just be a failure of imagination… ”

            Exactly, in this sense this reliance on logical reasoning is close to faith. It’s impossible to falsify – as I wrote in my original comment, there’s no evidence that would convince you to give up on reason, you’d just ascribe it to a failure of imagination or the right person not having been born yet or…

    • darrelle
      Posted March 7, 2016 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

      “Continued scientific progress is based on the faith that they are capable.”

      Could you define what you mean by faith in the context of this claim?

      I don’t think continued scientific progress is based on any definition of the word faith that I know. Whatever will be, will be. The results of tests are not dependent on human minds, though interpretation of them certainly is. So far there is no good reason, no good evidence, to suppose that human senses, cognition and the continually evolving tool kit of science have reached their limits of being able to construct useful understandings of the phenomena of the reality we find ourselves in.

      No faith is required. All that is required is we do what has proven to work best by continuous testing and we will either continue to make progress, or not. Having or not having faith won’t make any difference.

      • Al
        Posted March 7, 2016 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

        Science is done by humans. It doesn’t just progress by itself, it needs people to devote their lives to scientific inquiry. If these people didn’t have faith that the world is perceptible to logical reasoning, they wouldn’t engage in it and scientific progress would stop (possibly until humans go extinct and another species with more evolved reasoning replaces it).

        • Posted March 7, 2016 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

          Again, I have to disagree with you as I did before; it is demonstrably true that the world is “perceptible to logical reasoning”. But in any case there is a more fundamental drive, the pleasure of finding things out (to allude to Feynman once more). If we found out that some aspect of the world was “immune” to logical reasoning, well that would be an interesting thing to find out …


          • Al
            Posted March 7, 2016 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

            As I said above, I don’t think it’s possible to find out that “some aspect of the world was “immune” to logical reasoning” – it would just be ascribed to something else. I don’t believe that humans can escape their dependence on reason, it’s hard-wired in our brain as I phrased it in my original comment.

            • Posted March 7, 2016 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

              Well, the capacity for reason might be hardwired, but reason itself is clearly sadly lacking from some.

              But why *shouldn’t* it be ascribed to something else?

              Epistemic humility is all very well, but at this I think you’d have to have a very good, and reasoned, argument to show that reasoning princesses themselves had failed. It’s not faith, it’s … confidence.


        • darrelle
          Posted March 8, 2016 at 6:46 am | Permalink

          From my perspective you are confusing faith with confidence based on experience. Granted, the word faith is actually used in that sense sometimes.

          It seems clear, however, that you are using the word to mean something more like confidence that is not warranted by experience. And you take this position because you believe that the claim “reason is an effective tool for figuring things out” is not falsifiable. Is that correct?

          I disagree. If reason didn’t work we would never have evolved in the first place. If there were not regular patterns in nature, all that is necessary for reason to be effective, there would be no galaxies, stars, planets or any living things of any kind.

          That all of those things do in fact exist is clear evidence of persistent patterns. The biosphere of earth is clear evidence that living organisms are capable of perceiving reality accurately enough to live their lives. The history of humans seeking knowledge about reality and the results achieved thereby is clear evidence that our senses and cognitive abilities are capable of discovering and explaining useful things about our reality and that reason is reasonably effective.

          Absolute proof is not only not necessary, it just doesn’t map to reality at all. The reality is that everything is probabilities. Scientists have confidence in the process of science because it has a very good track record of working. People have confidence in the factual claims of their religion because they really, really want to, or because they have been indoctrinated effectively enough that they don’t know any better.

    • JohnE
      Posted March 7, 2016 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

      I’m not sure you’ve refuted Jerry’s claim that we have confidence (not “faith”) in reason because it works. I understand the dilemma presented by the fact that we would need to use reason to conclude that reason didn’t work, but if it WERE actually the case that reason didn’t work I think we would simply have had intellectual chaos, and we would never have gotten to the point where we concluded that reason DOES work to successfully address our needs and solve problems.

      • Posted March 7, 2016 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

        This – that if reason didn’t work we would be thrown into chaos – is true and important. Reason faces genuine consistency tests, and keeps passing them.

        On the other hand, consider the “anti-inductive principle”: if something has never worked in the past, it will work in the future. That principle has never worked in the past. So by its own lights, it should work in the future! It passes its own test, just as induction passes its own test.

        We trust in induction, not anti-induction, because we instinctively (in a loose sense) trust reason. There’s an a priori core to reason, contrary to Prof. Ceiling Cat. Norms of logic can only be rejected for conflicting with other norms of logic (typically in conjunction with observations).

        • reasonshark
          Posted March 8, 2016 at 9:22 am | Permalink

          It’s not as simple as consistency: in fact, consistency with current evidence is a notable low bar in pseudoscience and religious claims. There’s also confirmation and parsimony. Induction is used in part because it can be readily confirmed over and over, and once done it doesn’t require that much in the way of assumptions. By contrast, anti-induction is rarely if ever confirmed (you can only go “it’ll happen tomorrow” so many times before confidence in that hypothesis starts to wear thin) and it assumes more about the future than current evidence can justify.

          On simple logical grounds, anti-induction is not much of a rebuttal.

          • Posted March 19, 2016 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

            (Sorry this is late. My WordPress account is on an email account I read rarely.) I’m not saying anti-induction is a *good* argument! I’m saying the reason we reject it is a priori, not empirical. The empirical results – a track record of failure – are exactly what the anti-inductivist wants.

  12. Posted March 7, 2016 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    “I’d bet $100,000 that the sun will rise tomorrow (i.e., day will break, for it might be cloudy!), but I wouldn’t bet $5 that Jesus was resurrected bodily. ”

    As they say, a bet is a tax on BS.

    • Steve Pollard
      Posted March 7, 2016 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

      I would bet more than $100k, even at current rates of exchange, not (just) because the sun has risen every day as long as we’ve been watching it and we have “faith” that it’ll do it again, but because we’ve deduced a more fundamental principle – conservation of angular momentum between two bodies circulating their common centre of gravity – that has worked in every such physical system we’ve observed.

      • Posted March 7, 2016 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

        And I’d bet still more, because if the sun doesn’t rise, we’re all doomed anyway, and we probably won’t survive long enough for the other bettor to collect. 😉

    Posted March 7, 2016 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    When supernaturalists make the claim that “science is just like religion”, are they implying that science is “as bad” as religion? Anytime I hear that old canard being used, I make sure to refer to it as the ol’ “I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I?” argument.


  14. Posted March 7, 2016 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    “May 3”?


  15. Posted March 7, 2016 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Logical Place.

  16. Posted March 7, 2016 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    So the faithiacs are trying to ride the coat-tails of science again? I assume Angry Cat Man will be sending off a strongly worded letter to the Journal

  17. Posted March 7, 2016 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    With respect, I wish this particular type of argument (on both sides) would drop the misleading -or incomplete- analogy of a conflict between “faith” and “science”, because it’s not really “faith” that is being contrasted against “science”, but “theology”.

    Faith is not a way of knowing or understanding things and their various relations, in the way that science is; it is theology which investigates things and their various relations (full disclosure: in reference to God). Faith is a component, or a principle of theology, that speaks of trust and confidence in the source of knowledge being analyzed, but it is not faith that does the analyzing.

    A better statement of the conflict, to my way of thinking, is that of doubt versus trust: i.e. that Science is based on methodical doubt (at least since Descartes) and Theology is based on methodical trust.

    • Posted March 7, 2016 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

      theology:science :: faith:empiricism

      • Posted March 8, 2016 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

        Except that science is more than empiricism: Bunge’s neologism “ratioempiricism” is more correct. (For example, hypotheses are invented, not “induced” from data.)

        • Posted March 8, 2016 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

          you’re technically right, of course — i’ve always assumed that the exercise of reason had to be baked into the cake of empiricism, so to speak. practicing empiricism without employing logic is of little use, no better than sniffing chicken entrails or throwing darts at a wall. so when i speak of empiricism, yes, i mean ratioempiricism.

  18. Merilee
    Posted March 7, 2016 at 4:46 pm | Permalink


  19. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted March 7, 2016 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

    I have ‘faith’ (based on experience) that when I hop in my car and turn the key it will start. In fact I plan a large part of my life based on that assumption. However, I don’t bet my life on it.

    (I also know exactly why and how it all works, from the battery through to the starter motor to the fuel injection. It has also, on rare occasions, not started, but this is sufficiently rare not to impair my confidence in it as a working methodology. I also carry a set of jumper leads, though, for the 0.1% of occasions.)

    So I’d say my ‘faith’ in my car is quite close to physicist’s ‘faith’ that their reasoning is valid. But quite different from assuming that it works by ‘the power of prayer’.


  20. chris moffatt
    Posted March 7, 2016 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

    “The dependable regularities of nature are, unlike the tenets of theology, not acts of faith, but observations that we accept as holding widely, because they always have. This is simply confidence based on experience!”

    Not exactly. This is more than confidence based on experience; it is confidence based on Knowledge of how and why the sun “rises”. Barring a cosmic catastrophe the motion of the earth around the sun will continue tomorrow in its slowly decaying orbit. There will come a tomorrow when this will no longer be happening but we’re not there yet.

    Believing something and knowing something are not the same.

    • aljones909
      Posted March 7, 2016 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

      “dependable regularities of nature”. The fact that matter exists and has existed for billions of years is dependent on strict adherence to “regularities” or physical laws. This is an observation on how the cosmos has evolved to date. It’s not an article of faith and it’s not assumed that these regularities will continue. We could be a nanosecond away from the collapse of our universe. The collapse may have happened a billion years ago but the “shock wave” (travelling at the speed of light) as not yet reached us.
      Physicist Jens Frederik Colding Krog:

      “The phase transition will start somewhere in the universe and spread from there. Maybe the collapse has already started somewhere in the universe and right now it is eating its way into the rest of the universe. Maybe a collapse is starting right now right here. Or maybe it will start far away from here in a billion years. We do not know”

  21. Posted March 7, 2016 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

    there is one nut in emerson’s squirrel poop:

    “These seekers of religious truth are … compelled by the testimony of those who have previously studied the matter”

    theology is simply the study of theologians. theology need never contribute a single novel discovery to our ever-growing of human knowledge, for, as p.t. barnum famously quipped, “there’s a theologian born every minute”

    • Posted March 7, 2016 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

      correction: “ever-growing body of human knowledge”

    • darrelle
      Posted March 8, 2016 at 6:56 am | Permalink

      And note the word “testimony.”

  22. Shiffer Braynes
    Posted March 8, 2016 at 7:06 am | Permalink

    I think it is worth re-emphasizing what a few commenters said: Emerson is comparing “what one group of people think about a scientific model” to “what another group of people think about a theological model” & discovers that, surprise! –the two groups have many thought processes in common!

  23. Robbert
    Posted March 8, 2016 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    Jerry hits a good point about ‘theological truths’. The word ‘truth’ is abused heavily to play apologetic games. The scientific and dictionary meaning of ‘truth’ implies a very high level of confidence and evidence. A ‘religious truth’ – on the other hand – requires no evidence other than testimonies of a few fellow deluded people or a bronze-age manuscript. By using the word ‘truth’ to refer to arbitrary religious beliefs an utterly unjustified level certainty is implied.
    ‘Truth abuse’ is a crime against reason because it lowers standards of evidence to meaningless levels.

  24. Posted March 8, 2016 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    Scientists eventually find what they’re looking for. Can anyone show me Yahweh or Jesus? Oh, right, God is invisible and Jesus floated away to the sky like a savior-shaped hot-air balloon. How convenient for those who don’t have to be bothered to provide evidence of their claims. If they had evidence, they would not need faith.

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