Faith And Reason


Are faith and science in conflict?

The prevailing sentiment of the day seems to be that faith and science are polar opposites that have nothing in common with each other. But for anyone who has taken the time to study the “faith” side of the divide, it’s quite clear this claim is simply not true. The conflict is only apparent, not real. But according to Richard Dawkins “Faith is an evil precisely because it requires no justification and brooks no argument.”

The problem stems from the popular understanding of faith. Faith is not a blind acceptance of something but rather a placing of trust in and belief in the object of your faith. Faith can be blind but it certainly doesn’t need to be. When presented with any idea or worldview, we must subject it to reason and the idea is truly irrational, it must be rejected. The difficulty with faith is that it’s not subject to experiment; you can’t put spiritual matters under the microscope and observe them. But this is also a problem for science too, for example with evolution. Evolution is not something that can observed directly but it’s widely accepted as true based on the evidence in the fossil record. However the lack of intermediate forms doesn’t seem to be a problem for a lot of scientists!

Science operates on the assumption that nothing except physical matter and energy exists in the universe. While this is generally a good thing and has served science very well for many decades, it can be essentially harmful to the scientific endeavour. The multiverse solution to the fine-tuning problem is one example. Because scientists have been unable to solve the fine-tuning problem, the resorted to the multiverse hypothesis. The problem with this approach is that it is unscientific because we can never observe the hypothetical universe and so the theory is not falsifiable. In other words, it’s bad science.

Materialism is self-defeating

Materialism is the belief that nothing except physical matter exists in the universe we live in. Unfortunately this belief is ultimately self-defeating for a number of reasons.

The first if the problem of human consciousness. If everything including our brains are made of nothing but atoms, where does conscious and self-consciousness come from? How can matter produce consciousness? Does a stone aware of it’s surroundings? Does complexity (in the brain) somehow produce consciousness? Is the electrical actvity observed in the brain the thought itself or the effect of thought? This problem has turned out to be so intractable, that it has lead many neurologists go conclude that consciousness is not real but only a very convincing illusion! Surely the fact that the mind can come up with non-physical ideas goes to prove that the mind cannot be something physical? Take for example concepts like justice, wisdom, the number 4, etc. None of these things are physical but we still accept that they exist. If these “things” are not physical, then how can something supposedly physical produce something non-physical? The pure integer “4” does not exist anywhere expect in the mind.

The next problem is the origin of intelligence and the faculty of reason. If indeed it is true that thoughts are produced by firing neurons (electrical activity) then why assume that these thoughts are true or false? Electrical activity just happens and we have no control over it. If for example, I use a logical argument to demonstrate that something is true, how can I trust the validity and meaningfulness of that those thoughts if those thoughts are the product of electrical activity? Electrical charge always flows from positive to negative, it can make no decision about it. So why believe that electrical processes are capable of producing truth, not to mention the concept of truth??

Another problem following from deterministic physical activity at the atomis level is that we have no control over it. So for example if the thought pops into my head to kill the next-door neighbour and I act on that impulse, did I really have any choice in the matter given that the “decision” was produced from chemical and electical activity? Matter does what it does and we can’t alter that fact. In that case, do we really have any free will? Is it wrong to jail people for the crimes they commit? But doesn’t our everyday experience tell us that we do have free-will? Just because a thought pops into my mind, it doesn’t automatically mean I will act on it. I have to exercise my will to do it. In might even say in the my mind, ok, I’m going to kill the neighbour but not exercise my will to actually carry out the deed because the will doesn’t act.

The final point I’d like to make about materialism is the problem of morality (or good and evil). If it is true that only matter exists and that we humans are the product of a natural, undirected process of evolution, then what is the basis of morality? What determines what is good and what is evil? Is it laws, is it social convention, is there any such thing as objective right and wrong. If a human being is made from the same atoms as a stone, then what’s so special about humans? What gives them any rights or dignity? If I kill a human being which in reality is only a bunch of atoms, then is that actually wrong? If it’s wrong, why is it wrong? Is there much difference between crushing a stone and killing a person if both are nothing more than atoms?

But the fact is we all have a strong sense of morality, of right and wrong. For the majority of people, even if we do something wrong, we know it’s wrong becuase our conscience tells us so. Even if you know nobody will ever find out, your conscience still tell you it’s wrong. Where does this strong sense or right and wrong come from? If we’re just a bunch of atoms, why should there be any concern for morality?