Which Requires More Faith, Science or Religion?

Which Requires More Faith, Science or Religion?

For the past several months I’ve been wrestling with this topic, and how to discuss it from a centrist viewpoint.

In an era where the science vs. religion debate has become an increasingly polarizing issue, we see both sides using their own brand of logic as the weapon of choice to gain what they assume will be the higher moral ground.

There are no “separation of church and state” policies between science and religion. They struggle to coexist.

In many respects, the battle between them has denigrated into a “my logic is better than you logic,” arguments when in reality, there are more than enough foibles to go around.

Religion isn’t going away just because some elite scientists say it doesn’t make sense, and science isn’t going to change just because it flies in the face of church doctrine.

No, there hasn’t been anyone put to death because they believed in gravity, although Galileo came very close. And yes, holy wars are the cause of much of the world’s strife and the number of people who have died or been abused in the name of religion are more numerous than any plague.

Even though they employ radically different approaches, both science and religion offer the promise of a better future ahead. They offer hope. And inside each of these promises of hope is a subtle, and sometimes not-so-subtle, request to have faith.

Faith is what bridges the gap between what we know and where we hope to be going. Faith helps us connect cause and effect, bad decisions with good intentions, and everything we think and hope to be true.

Most of our decisions in life have some degree of faith hovering in the background, and science is no exception.

The reason I feel this is such an important topic is because much of our future is being formed at the intersection of science and religion. So join me as we explore bridging the chasm between the here and now and what comes next, and that innocent little thing we call faith.

Statistical Background

According to a recent PEW report on global religions, over 80% of the world’s population is affiliated with a religious organization. So does that mean those who take the side of science only represent less than 20% of the world? Hardly.

In 2010, PEW conducted a demographic study – based on analysis of more than 2,500 censuses, surveys and population registers – and found 2.2 billion Christians (32% of the world’s population), 1.6 billion Muslims (23%), 1 billion Hindus (15%), nearly 500 million Buddhists (7%) and 14 million Jews (0.2%) around the world as of 2010. Many smaller groups added another 460 million people to the overall religious community.

At the same time, PEW also found that one-fifth of American adults have no religious affiliation, a trend that has been on the rise for years. Part of this group includes atheists and agnostics, but many fall into the “religious but unaffiliated” category.

There are many overlaps between science and religion:

  • A 1914 study by psychologist James Leuba, who surveyed about 1,000 scientists in the U. S. found the scientific community equally divided, with 42% saying that they believed in a personal God and the same number saying they did not.
  • The 2008 PEW study found that just over half of scientists (51%) believe in some form of deity or higher power; specifically, 33% of scientists say they believe in God, while 18% believe in a universal spirit or higher power.
  • 7% of scientists say they don’t know what to believe.

In what can only be viewed as the most confusing of all findings, a 2008 PEW study concluded that 12% of atheists believe in God and heaven, and 10% confess to praying at least once a week.

Truth: An elusive commodity

In Search of the Truth 

Both are seeking to find the truth, but truth has become an elusive commodity at best. Here’s a great example.

Benoit Mandelbrot, a Polish mathematician who lived from 1924-2010, was best known as the “father of fractal geometry.” His background included stints as the Sterling Professor of Mathematical Sciences, Emeritus at Yale University; IBM Fellow at the Thomas J. Watson Research Center; and Battelle Fellow at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

At one point in his career, Mandelbrot was asked the simple question, “What’s the distance around a lake?”

He responded by saying, “It depends on your perspective,” and went on to explain.

Viewing a lake from 100,000 feet, the lake has a very defined distance, easily measurable. As the altitude decreases, an observer will begin to take note of bays, inlets, and other shoreline formations making the distance around the lake longer.

Moving closer an observer will begin to notice that the shoreline is filled with rocks and trees, and nearing the ground, things like pebbles, plants, and dirt clumps come into view, making the length still longer.

Even resting on the ground, the journey is not over. Once individual grains of sand and pieces of debris become visible, we move into microscopic particles where the distance involves measuring around individual atoms and molecules.

Because of this growing level of detail, the distance around a lake approaches infinity.

The Mandelbrot perspective has far reaching implications when it comes to issues of science, religion, and faith. Is the distance around a lake measurable? It depends on your perspective, and faith has a lot to do with perspective.

Living in a Proven World 

What would it be like to live in a world where everything is provable?

Every product we buy would live up to proven expectations, every change in weather would result from proven cause and effect, and every business meeting we enter into would have proven outcomes.

It’s rather ridiculous to even imagine living in that kind of world.

Instead, we have faith that what we’re doing is important. We have faith that the world around us will let us live another day. And we have faith that we can somehow make a difference.

Our lives are filled with trillions of variables, and the science of living is as unpredictable as anything in the universe. Virtually everything we do has some element of faith hovering in the background.

Too many questions still have no answers

Religion’s Unanswerable Questions

Even the best theologians admit there are things they don’t know and can’t answer:

  1. How does God have no beginning? If God is all-powerful, why does he need humans? What can people do that God can’t?
  2. How many people does God need? If he needs 100 billion people, is that the magical number, the time when the world will end? What can 100 billion people do that 10 billion can’t?
  3. Why hell? Why not simply let the bad people die instead of torturing them for all eternity in the fires of hell?
  4. Why does God even allow the devil to exist? Why allow the devil to tempt us if he doesn’t want us to fail?

With modern technology, our awareness of the world around us grows every day. As our awareness grows, so does our doubt and uncertainty about unanswerable questions.

Science’s Unanswerable Questions

While scientists like to think they have better answers to life’s questions than religion does, they also struggle to answer the tough questions:

  1. Why does anything exist? How did time and space evolve out of a void that suddenly erupted with a big bang, when there was nothing there to begin with?
  2. Why have humans evolved so poorly? Why are we constantly suffering from illness and disease? Since the dawn of man, upwards of a billion people have died from mosquito bites. So why haven’t we evolved to the point of having mosquito-proof skin?
  3. Is time travel possible? Can we live forever? Are there other universes, other dimensions? Are we alone in the universe, or do other people-inhabited planets exist?
  4. How does the future get formed? Why does time exist? Where does it come from? Why is the future unknowable?

No, scientists are not required to place their hand on “The Origin of Species” and swear an oath to the truths of Darwin. Indeed, that book was wrong on many counts, including its erroneous theories about genetics.

Finding Evidence of Truth

It’s easy to touch a building and know that it’s there. When we watch a tree grow, we witness how it forms itself. When we travel to another city, we know when we’ve arrived.

All of these are factual pieces of information we store in our heads as obvious truths.

But truth also depends on your perspective, and certain truths are sometimes true but not always. We seem to have exceptions to every rule.

As an example, we now know today that the speed of light can vary.

Even with our basic understanding of math, 2+2 does not always equal 4. It depends on what type of measurement scale you are using. There are four types of measurement scales – nominal, ordinal, interval, and ratio. Only in the last two categories does 2+2 = 4.

When we take medicine to cure an illness, we have faith that it’ll work based on past evidence. When we workout, we have faith that exercise will be beneficial based on past evidence.

In a similar way, religious people say prayers because they have they’re own kind of evidence that they are effective. Even though it may not be enough to constitute scientific proof, they have enough evidence to satisfy themselves that God, Satan, heaven, hell, and the human soul all exist. For some, it may be a greater leap of faith than taking medicine, but others would argue that medicine is the one requiring more faith.

Bad Actors

Throughout history, there are countless people who have risen to the top that have abused their position of power in the name of religion. Religious groups have more than their share of bad actors.

Whether it’s a Catholic Priest who abused children, Islamic Imams who declare a holy war, the Salem Witch Trials, the stoning of an adulteress in Saudi Arabia, the Jonestown mass-suicide, or the Duke of Lower Lorraine leading the crusade to defend the Holy Sepulcher, much blood has been shed in name of religion.

Yet even with thousand of acknowledged abuses and public displays of impropriety, religious groups continue to thrive.

Attempting to Bridge the Gap

While the feud continues, several new theories for bridging the chasm between science and religion has been advanced including one by Dr. Robert Lanza, Chief Scientist at Advanced Cell Technology and author of the book “Biocentrism.”

The theory of biocentrism teaches that life and consciousness are fundamental constants of the universe, and that consciousness creates the material universe, not the other way around.

The laws, forces, and constants of the universe appear to be fine-tuned for life, implying intelligence existed prior to matter.

The theory implies that death of consciousness simply does not exist. It only exists as a thought because people identify themselves with their body.

If the body generates consciousness, then consciousness dies when the body dies. But if the body receives consciousness in the same way that a cable box receives satellite signals, then of course consciousness does not end at the death of the physical vehicle.

The human soul, from a biocentrism perspective, existed long before the body was ever created, and simply moves to a different dimension or universe upon death.

According to Lanza, many of science’s most confounding phenomena can be explained through biocentrism. Admittedly this is a heady topic with far reaching implications, but woefully short on anything resembling proof of its correctness, and no understanding of where consciousness came from in the first place.

"What’s less obvious is that science and religion need each other.
In spite of their complex relationship, they fill different roles
and the benefits far outweigh the conflicts."

Final Thoughts

“Faith” is a belief in something that lacks conclusive proof. As science and technology has progressed, we have witnessed a raising-of-the-bar as to what constitutes conclusive proof.

Simply witnessing something happening is not always conclusive proof. Even demonstrating cause and effect is often misleading if there is no understandable linkage between the two.

As a result, we live in a world riddled with doubt, and faith is more necessary now than ever before.

It’s easy for me to predict that 500 years from now we will still have religion. Religions are far better organized than science, and they are far more resilient to external forces and competition because they’ve already had to compete for thousands of years.

It’s also easy for me to predict that science will also be around 500 years from now, and that the findings of science will continue to conflict with the teachings of religion. After all, it was roughly 500 year ago when Copernicus unveiled his theories of a sun-centered solar system, the start of much of this feud.

What’s less obvious is that science and religion need each other. In spite of their complex relationship, they fill different roles and the benefits far outweigh the conflicts.

With everything we know, we still can’t answer the basic question, “Why does anything exist?” And as a result, we are driven by the hope that someday we’ll find answers, and faith that they’ll support what we already believe to be true.

That said, this is a controversial topic and I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please take a moment to let me know what you’re thinking in the comment section below.

By Futurist Thomas Frey

Author of “Communicating with the Future” – the book that changes everything

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15 Responses

  1. Tom

    Tom,
    This is not new. It is called history and philosophy.
    Lew

  2. Hi Tom, thanks for the great challenging thoughts. Here’s some of mine…

    I like to think of faith as like a scientific hypothesis that can’t easily be tested. Faith provides a working theory, and all things being equal it’s probably as good a guess as we can go with.

    To me, it’s very important to remain open-minded and always asking questions, whether dealing with science or faith. Any new information can allow us to form a new hypothesis, or a new point of faith.

    The problems begin, in my opinion, when any point of faith is stubbornly hung onto in the face of new information that in any way questions the validity of that point of faith. The closed-minded will tend to resist the new facts and information, whereas the open-minded will tend to accept and accommodate the new facts and information, and adjust their point of faith to be more accurately in agreement with the known parts of the Universe.

    Having faith does not and should not imply rigidity of beliefs. Science and Faith can both be useful when open-minded people, always asking questions, continue to diligently seek closer and closer to accurate truths, whatever they may be.

  3. Das

    This issue is US specific. An overwhelming majority of future scientists will come from China, India and Europe where there is no such conflict between religion and science. I personally know that the Vedic philosophy of India parallels science.

    This might be a tempest in a teapot. No pun intented about tea.

  4. Roger

    “…..we are driven by the hope that someday we’ll find answers, and faith that they’ll support what we already believe to be true.”

    Congratulations Tom. That’s very well stated; a memorable turn of phrase.

    So it seems that what we have is both science and religion attempting to explain existance, and each failing to convince the other.
    Historically when there are two opposing explanations for the same thing it’s time for a new theory. I wonder if that’s what will happen here?

  5. FuturistSpeaker

    Das,

    Thanks for mentioning this. My wife and I recently met with several Buddhist Monks in Korea and I asked them about the dispute between science and religion. Their response was that they viewed Buddhism as the religion of science and didn’t see any disputes in Korea.

    I found it ironic that the “religion of science” would have people sitting on floors, living in austerity, and eating with chopsticks, but they did use smartphones and were unusually well-informed.

    Thomas Frey

  6. FuturistSpeaker

    John,

    Well stated. But much of what is being stated as new facts about the universe, is in reality, just updated theories with a smidgen more information to back it up. Too many science theories are being presented as science fact.

    In some instances they’re good for creating a mental framework for our thinking, but in many cases they’re little more than a shot in the dark designed to bolster someone’s academic credentials.

    We need a good truth-or-fiction site to help sort science theory from science fact.

    Most religions, on the other hand, are fine with not proving anything. To them, faith is all part of what they’re all about.

    So if both are telling their version of the unknowable, which one is being more honest about it?

    Thomas Frey

  7. Also worth discussing is the emerging connection between Quantum Physics and ancient Eastern Mysticism, and particularly, Energy Healing. For example, Quantum Physics teaches about nonlocality, while Energy Healing teaches about distance healing. There are other parallels as well, enumerated in the movie “What the Bleep Do We Know?”, which was popular 7 or 8 years ago.

    Meanwhile, Energy Healing is quietly coming out of the closet with many clinical trials now complete, conducted by major universities, and in some cases, funded by the NIH. As a “science guy who mediates,” I believe that the old paradigm of “Science vs. Religion” will fall away as phenomena such as meditation and energy healing become better understood.

  8. Well- I’m glad I waited to post. As you mentioned above- my understanding is that Consciousness just IS. Everything flows out of it. We poor humans exist in a state of separation where we believe we’ve been disconnected from that which is god. In my experience there isn’t anything that isn’t god. But god just IS. Religion is man-made- to man’s detriment. But god separated out so that god could experience its self. Humans have sacrificed knowing the self on a plate of dysfunctional beliefs- all of them wrong.

    There is a simple way to become a KNOWER. It requires looking inward- not outward- and anybody can do it. There are simple and readily available tools for assisting in looking inward. Proof is available- but there isn’t a religion on the planet that wants everyone to achieve a state of KNOWING. Knowers no longer need religion- they have transcended it- and it leads to religion’s demise. But humans stuck in their state of separation will never get there.

    Enlightenment and/or illumination are not only possible- but these states of consciousness are what we all should be- and we waste our time not getting there NOW.

    I am an ENERGY CHANNEL- an Energy Healer- a Shaman. You get there by balancing your inner states of masculine and feminine- which opens the channel that you are. Humans with profound gender disconnections who think they are one gender or the other- and who are stuck there- a description of most of humanity- will never get there. They can’t get there. Their dysfunctional belief structures won’t let them get there.

    Read my book- Thomas. I’m a Way Shower. I explain the process in simple common sense terms.

    And/or- come for a reading and some energy work.

    But don’t forget. I’m not a heterosexual. And I’m an enlightened master who can PROVE what I’m talking about.

  9. Matt

    Tom,

    I found your article problematic. I always like to have flaws in my arguments pointed out so I hope you won’t mind me doing the same with you.

    You have confused faith with hope. Faith is an epistemology. Reason is also an epistemology. Faith is belief without evidence; it’s pretending to know something we don’t know. When people make faith claims, they are making knowledge claims. When someone says “You have faith in science” what they are saying is “You pretend to know things you don’t know about science”. Another example would be when someone says “I have faith in God”, what they are saying is “I pretend to know things I don’t know about God”.

    Using your example of having “faith” when we take medicine to cure illness is a bad example because we don’t have “faith” that it’ll work “based on past evidence”. We have past evidence that it will work. Faith being “believe without evidence”, you can’t have faith that it will work based on past evidence.

    Plenty of people use the word faith to mean things it doesn’t actually mean, such as “hope”. This causes confusion due to semantic misunderstanding.

    A book I recommend you read is “A manual for creating Atheists” by Peter Boghossian. http://www.amazon.com/Manual-Creating-Atheists-Peter-Boghossian/dp/1939578094

    The book isn’t actually about creating atheists; it’s about faith as a failed epistemology. It helped me get a much clearer understanding of what faith is, and why it is a failed epistemology.

    I hope you take a change to read it.

    All the best

    Matt

  10. Gavin

    When I have thought about this subject I tend to think humans are spiritual beings. Religion brings people comfort, even though I am not religious myself I can understand and appreciate this.

    I understand the variables that make this universe unlikely, but if it can happen the probability in infinity is it will.

    I also think without us there would be nothing and since that would be the case then there has to be something and that something is us.

    From what I understand even a perfect vacuum will still lead to vacuum energy, which leaves the question could this energy be tapped?

    So no, I don’t believe in the magical man in the sky. :)

  11. Eyad

    I love how people are exchanging ideas and opinions flexibly. Since our topic is mainly the human race, who was given the responsibility and obligation (having a superior brain to other creatures, balanced with consciousness), I think some religions (or faith systems) have more focus on purely spiritual concepts rather than on materialistic things. However, I believe that there is a great Creator whom [He] wanted us to learn and know, and that is the reason why there were messengers in the first place, and messages to follow.
    That being said, religion can be a basis for one’s knowledge, in which it sometimes provides you with answers and insights to some things in science, and it encourages people to search in different fields, and in few religions, there are no contradictions.
    With that, I believe that expanding your knowledge will bring you closer to understanding evidence of the Creator, and hence true religious requirements.
    Thus, if people are trying to match what they found to religion, it always depends on the religion itself and the followers, as sometimes some followers give a bad example of their religion.

  12. Dean

    Joining late, but here’s my $0.02.

    This article gives the impression that religion has done only bad things but continues to thrive in spite of this.

    Many here are old enough to remember first hand the Solidarity movement in Poland. That was tied intimately to the Catholic church. Pope John Paul II told Brezhnev that if he sent tanks into the streets of Poland that he would man the barricades himself. It was the Polish Pope who led the successful and non-violent movement that brought down communism, one of histories great evils which embraced the mantle of science.

    You’ve also certainly heard of the U.S. civil rights movement which was led by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The abolitionist movement was also run by churches.

    If atheism is the natural ally of science then scientists have a lot to explain. 20th century atheist states are the greatest mass killers of all time. If you go back a century things don’t get a lot better. The French Revolution with it’s reign of terror was done in the name of human reason.

    The cliche is important: Faith without science is blind, but science without faith is dangerous.

  13. Karen Majorowski

    Thank you Thomas for your thoughts on religion vs. science. For many years I approached these questions in a dualistic perspective which was the paradigm I was educated in. Separation of church and state was the ideal and what I did on Sunday was a tradition I shared with my parents. I grew up with a strong belief system that made me feel happy and safe. I won’t bore you with my whole life story, even though it’s anything but boring, but at 65 y/o my world view has been fed so much information I am left with more doubts than ever. My doubts are a gift that continues to motivate my life and curiosity for everything. To quote my tradition ” Faith is the possibility of things hoped for,the evidence of things unseen.” The mystery of our existence fills me with wonder and is the source of all that’s beautiful. Whether it’s Mandelbrot’s fractal geometry with all it’s complexity and patterns or one of the questions offered by one of my 11 grandchildren I’m reminded everyday that all of life is held together in some sacred manner that may elude us all. I celebrate each individual perspective as unique and important to the evolution of consciousness and at the same time feel that it’s a unified field that at we all play in. Being a humanoid is a privilege and our thoughts and actions reflect a growing awareness that we a entering a new paradigm, that of the global mind. Be it science or religion, academic, emotional,spiritual or plain old practical we each move through our days with as much integrity and impeccability as we can muster. It’s spring and the natural world continues on creating new life out of the old, beauty beyond measure, beauty without end. I have faith in that invisible embrace and the emerging possibilities never recognized before. We all wish to live our lives with some sense of purpose but I have discovered that all existence is some expression of the primal creative force that is truly a work of art. What we think, how we live, living life on purpose, makes every thought every act creative. For me it’s not so important to understand the “whys” when you experience the divine blueprint that is so perfectly orchestrated even in the flaws. But that’s just me, what IS, is as much as I can handle as we accelerate through the birth canal of a new humanity, come of age. Thank you again for your work and the open forum for expression. It was fun reading all the individual comments, individual world views. The individual is the primal artist greatest masterpiece.

  14. Buxaroo

    Science works. Science doesn’t require faith at all. One does not need to understand Newton’s law of gravity and aerodynamics in order to board an airplane and fly around the world. It’s not faith that you have when you board that plane, it’s faith when you take that plane, and ram it into a building because your “faith” tells you that you will receive 42 virgins in heaven when you die. The plane flies regardless of your faith in it or lack thereof.

    As Richard Dawkins said “It works. If you use science, you cure people. If you use science, you fly to the moon. If you use science, you make computers. Science works, it just works….bitches.”

  15. I agree with Das that the Science vs Religion debate is more western based – in great part due to the agreements and original role that the Church held over what knowledge could be shared (publicly) and what could not in early times.

    Religions in the East are more ‘spiritual’ with traditional practises than they are formal religions. Sitting on floors, living in austerity and eating with chopsticks – are like everything else – a choice – and as with everything, a case of perception.

    The easy embrace of both spiritual practises amongst the development of science happens with fluidity, simply because neither are viewed as the final full stop. It is fairly common for prayers to be made by leading scientists in Asia for funding or publications.

    Thank you for an interesting article.

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