Science, Faith, and Papaw

Your rent a Friend is Listening to: Snow Patrol’s A Hundred Million Suns

He is feeling: Much better, thank you

I’ve been explaining the difference between belief and knowledge, and their need for each other. Belief and knowledge are like John Lennon and Paul McCartney. You can separate them if you try hard enough, but it doesn’t result in anything worth listening to. It only serves to show how very much they need each other. Thus, anti-faith “scientism” is the Yoko Ono of the Metaphysical world.

The pop culture fight between belief and knowledge (or between faith and reason, or between religion and science, depending on what TV news program you are watching) is actually about the kind of evidence one chooses to accept. The word “Faith” is used to imply a belief based on the authority of the source, as opposed to evidence which is quantifiable (which means you can count them, like marshmallows) or empirically verifiable (which means it’s learned with the five senses and likely to be the subject of one of the lab projects in your science class work-book).

If you’re working with empirical /quantifiable data, anyone can say “Michael Jordan was better than LeBron James because when you look at the stats from each of their first 300 games, Michael Jordan scored more points than LeBron James did.” If you agree that “Better” means points scored, your argument is over and the LeBron fans need to start a new one about how LeBron James had more rebounds. (I have no idea why they would WANT to, but they can.) There is data, there are facts. You can reason via the information which exists. But then, if you choose to argue about who was the greatest guitarist of the 1960’s, you will be dealing with subjective opinions. You’ll actually be talking about your own emotional response to their work instead of the work itself. Suppose you and some friends do choose to argue about who was the greatest guitarist of all time. Imagine one person says, “Rawk Powah Magazine says Slash was the greatest guitarist of all time.” Another says, “No way, Blues Tiger Beat Magazine says B.B. King is the best guitarist ever.” And a Third person will say, “My papaw done said it were Woody Guthrie what was the best guitarist of all times.” The first two will stare back in disbelief for a moment, and then say, “Woody who?” But you’ll notice that the discussion is not about data- it’s about authority. THIS magazine (or elderly relation) has stated the superiority of this position, thus it is so.

This is the way the popular media from magazines to the Thursday night sitcoms try to paint the clash between religions:

“Moses says the true God is Yahweh.”

“Mohammed says the true God is Allah.”

“Jesus says the true God is Jesus. I mean himself. Well, you know what I’m saying.”

And the skeptic looks and says, “This is not an answerable debate because it is purely subjective. You must choose to believe one of them, but you cannot know it. It is a matter of faith in an authority, not reasoning with data and evidence. I will put my faith in science.”

And yet, to put one’s faith in science is still to put one’s faith in some authority. When you read a book on science, whether from your college class or something you pick up at the library for fun (Conceptual Quantum Mechanics! Wheeeeeee!!!!!), you are not experiencing indisputable facts. You are trusting the author to honestly present the facts he believes to be true. Furthermore, you are trusting the scientists who actually discovered the data the author is reporting on. Even more, you are putting faith in the authority and reliability of the instruments those scientists used to measure and explore, and you, along with those scientists, are trusting the company who made that equipment or the lab techs who calibrate it. I had a biology teacher who was a died-in-the-wool evolutionist, yet he himself had not discovered the theory of evolution, nor any of the data that supports it. He read books in school just like you did, but those books were not written by Charles Darwin or the other scientists who study life themselves. And even those scientists who do the work themselves trust the authority of the books they’ve read and the studies their peers do as well. It takes a lot of faith to learn about science.

Right now some of you are saying, “This may be so, but some authorities are more trustworthy than others!” Others of you are throwing full wine bottles at your computer screens, which is a waste of good wine. And of course I agree that some authority is better than others! IF, for instance, Blues Tiger Beat Magazine is actually put out by B.B. King’s cousin, Bukka White, you may suspect it’s bias in favor of BB King. Yet if you discover Daryl’s Papaw is the head curator of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, suddenly you would be interested in who Woodie Guthrie actually is. It turns out Papaw is actually the head custodian at the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame. So I think we can discount Woodie Guthrie this time.

Here are my main points:

1. Everyone has to trust the authority of people, books, and organizations or they will never claim to know ANYTHING. They would only know what they had experienced or discovered themselves. They would only read books they had written themselves. They would be really irritating to have a conversation with.

2. We MUST live by faith. We do it every day. Every time you sit in a chair without first testing it’s weight capacity, or get on a plane, or eat food from the grocery store, you are living out of faith in objects, people, and organizations for which you have no proof.

3. It is reasonable to put faith in the proper authority. When I take medicine, I don’t know what it’s made of or even really what it will do. I trust my doctor who says, “It will make you well.” The reason behind this faith is precedent and probability. When you sit in a chair, you know from all the times you have sat in chairs how rarely they have failed you and caused you to fall on the floor in a heap of broken chair pieces. Thus, there is a precedent of reliable chairs. The precedent tells you it is reasonable to trust the next chair. When you drink soda from a can, you know the odds of that can being poison to be very small because MILLIONS of people drink soda every day with no side effects worse than a good belch. Thus, it is PROBABLE that your can is OK, or, inversely, it is VERY IMPROBABLE that your can is the one in several million which is somehow harmful. Drink up, friend. You’ll be fine.

It is improbable that the precedents of your experience have misled you. So don’t be afraid to sit down, have a soda, and argue with your friends about which guitarist is the best of all time. Is it Slash? Eric Clapton? The Edge? I’ll let you decide that for yourselves. But if it comes up, Michael Jordon and LeBron James both feel it was Jimi Hendrix. At least, that’s what Daryl’s Papaw said.


About rentafriend2000
Rocking my 40's with a heart full of love and muffins, science and technology. Jesus loves me and wants me to totally rock! And I am here to help.

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