I was intrigued by Joe’s recent post and the hubbub of comments that ensued, so I decided to weigh in on a tangent to the issues Joe and a number of commenters raised. The issue is this: In pointing out the unsecure footing of the scientific worldview, critics sometimes claim that scientists have faith in science just as religious persons have faith in God.
The point here is that the scientific worldview is based on a host of assumptions that are not themselves verified (or verifiable) by science. The scientist must take (or has already taken) an epistemological leap. Because the scientific worldview, being steeped in the rationalism and empiricism of our age, is so prevalent, it is often taken as given fact rather than one mode of interpreting the world. Critics are pointing out (rightly so in my mind) that those who operate within a scientific worldview are making as much of a leap as religious persons are making in their own worldviews.
Where I take issue is when we apply the label of “faith” to the leap made by the scientist. Perhaps this issue is far too semantic. I realize that our common usage of the word “faith” would suggest that is quite appropriately applied in this instance. However, I like to think that there is perhaps something more to faith than simply acknowledging a measure of uncertainty and the necessity of assumptions in one’s epistemic stance in the world.
I consider myself a relationist and so I must first say that I like to think that faith in a being (a Being) is something other/greater than “faith” in an idea or a concept. There are a host of ontological, epistemological, metaphysical, and ethical implications when I declare my faith in a Being with whom I believe I have had first-hand experience (however invisible that may be), than when I profess a willingness to make an assumption such as “the natural world is all there is” or “the natural world is nothing but inert matter.” I am not beholden to these principles in the same way I experience myself as beholden to a Being (however real or imagined) in whom I put my faith.
I haven’t thought this out as far as I’d like to. For example, it seems to me that when we talk about “faith to move mountains,” the faith that “precedes the miracle,” or “faith unto salvation” that we are talking about something more than the fact that we are operating on a degree of uncertainty. I’m curious to hear what you all think.