June 17, 2013

Science, Reason, and Faith

Why the three are not in conflict and must act in harmony.

Science is the process of determining the behavior of matter (the universe) using observation, testing (controlled observation), and reason; with reason defined as the ability to observe, comprehend and accept self-evident truth.

[Reason is] “the discovery of the certainty or probability of such propositions or truths, which the mind arrives at by deduction made from such ideas, as it has got by the use of its natural faculties…” –John Locke

Faith is any belief based on that which is unobservable and un-testable, which is to say any belief which is undiscoverable by science, which is to say any belief beyond the discovery of reason.

“Where revelation comes into its own is where reason cannot reach. Where we have few or no ideas for reason to contradict or confirm, this is the proper matters for faith… that Part of the Angels rebelled against GOD, and thereby lost their first happy state: and that the dead shall rise, and live again: These and the like, being beyond the discovery of reason, are purely matters of faith; with which reason has nothing to do.” –John Locke

Religion contains faith that an eternal God created matter (the universe) with a finite beginning at the Big Bang – a supernatural belief not based on direct observation of that which preceded creation. If the universe was not created by God, then where did it come from? We know from the law of conservation of energy that without outside force neither mass nor energy can create its self, nor can mass or energy be destroyed; the sum of mass and energy is always constant in any closed system including the universe its self. Mass can be converted into energy, and visa-versa, so mass and energy are limited to interchangeability (E = MC2), but according to the law of conservation of energy only nothing can come from nothing. According to the most fundamental law of science a self-created universe is an un-scientific belief – an irrational belief.

It is self-evident that if the universe was not created by God, and since it did not create its self, and since it cannot be destroyed, it must be eternal in time, both in the past and in the future – possibly an infinite series of Big Bangs – or a universe in rotation around an eternally old ultra-massive black hole at its center. The most basic law of science tells us that outside power is a requirement for the creation of nature’s mass and energy, so we are left with either an eternal un-created God with no beginning and no end who created our finite universe with a Big Bang (religion), or we have an eternal un-created universe with no beginning and no end (atheism).

Since faith is any belief based on that which is unobservable, such as belief in God, and since no one was or could be present to observe the beginning of a Universe with no beginning, belief in an eternal un-created universe (atheism) is based on faith. Here we have the irreducible basis for both religious and atheist belief. Adherence to the law of conservation of energy does not require us to choose one belief over the other – it simply requires that one must be true and one false. Both religion and atheism represent leaps of faith equal in magnitude but opposite in direction – two mutually exclusive beliefs – each beyond the discovery of reason.

It has been repeatedly claimed by those who believe themselves to be atheists that atheism does not require a belief, that atheism is only an expression of no belief in God, but it is never logically explained, as is done here, that atheism, of scientific necessity, requires belief in an eternal uncreated universe. Many who think of themselves as atheists are only able or willing to express their lack of belief in God, but the only scientific alternative to this lack of belief is belief in a universe with no beginning – a truth left un-considered. Only the agnostic can escape faith by an inability or refusal to choose between these two mutually exclusive beliefs. Thus, I believe that many, even most, who think of themselves as atheists are actually agnostics – those who really don’t have, and are not required to have, a belief regarding the origin of the universe.

There is no conflict between religion, properly understood, and reason; religion and reason are in fact mutually exclusive. Reason is simply the ability to observe, understand and accept self-evident truths which are physically observable and often expressed mathematically, i.e.: reason is science. Religion is not based on reason or science; it is based on faith in the eternal God of creation – a belief which is undiscoverable by scientific observation – a belief beyond the discovery of reason. Likewise, atheism is not based on scientific reasoning; it is based on faith that the universe is eternal – a belief which is undiscoverable by scientific observation – a belief beyond the discovery of reason. It should go without saying that nobody was or could be there (other than God) to observe the beginning of anything (the universe) whose timeline stretches back into the eternal infinite past – a universe with no beginning. Science and reason are relevant to the universe which we can all observe, both the atheist and the religious, but faith, not science and reason, is relevant to the origin of the universe – two entirely different subjects. Reason is capable of comprehending the universe but not the origin of the universe; belief regarding the origin of our universe requires one of these two mutually exclusive faiths – religion or atheism.

Some atheists (or agnostics) have defined faith as any belief which is in conflict with reason, that is to say any belief which is refutable by scientific observation, but this is actually the definition of error. Some atheists (or agnostics) define faith as acceptance of an idea in the absence of evidence or proof, which is to say faith is any belief undiscovered by reason and science, but a belief undiscovered by reason and science is not the same as a belief beyond the discovery of reason and science. Accepting the idea that a new species of beetle exists in the Amazon rain forest in the absence of observable evidence is a type faith – an idea yet undiscovered by scientific observation – a belief undiscovered by reason – yet the belief may well be confirmed when such a beetle is finally discovered (observed) with the passage of time. Belief in God (religion) or an eternal un-created universe (atheism) are ideas which are not only undiscovered by reason – undiscovered by scientific observation – these two competing ideas are beyond the discovery of reason because in both cases there is an absence of observable evidence or proof which, barring revelation by God, will not change with the passage of time.

Faith is any belief which is beyond the discovery of reason; beliefs beyond the discovery of reason cannot be in conflict with reason. Since God is undiscoverable by scientific observation (reason), then belief in God becomes faith. By the same token the origin of an eternal un-created universe is also undiscoverable by scientific observation (reason) since no person was or could have been present to observe the beginning of a universe whose origin stretches back into the eternal past and thus, like God, has no beginning. Atheism, like religion, is based on faith – a truth which for the most part lies undiscovered.

Faith in a good and rational God can be made tangible and rational by accepting the idea that each individual possesses infinite and therefore equal value in the eyes of an equalizing Creator; value which thereby renders to individuals corresponding equal unalienable rights to life, liberty and the fruit of labor in their creative pursuit of happiness. This view of human nature was held by our Founding Fathers and was expressed in the Declaration of Independence, and similarly before them by John Locke.

“The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one: and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions: for men being all the workmanship of one omnipotent, and infinitely wise maker; all the servants of one sovereign master, sent into the world by his order, and about his business; they are his property, whose workmanship they are, made to last during his, not one another’s pleasure: and being furnished with like faculties, sharing all in one community of nature, there cannot be supposed any such subordination among us, that may authorize us to destroy one another, as if we were made for one another’s uses, as the inferior ranks of creatures are for our’s.” –John Locke

As with John Locke, Albert Einstein understood that there is no conflict between faith and reason.

“The doctrine of a personal G-d interfering with natural events could never be refuted… by science, for it can always take refuge in those domains in which scientific knowledge has not yet been able to set foot.” –Albert Einstein

Religious faith in God will end when scientific knowledge finally sets foot into the domain of God; at that point men with religious faith will finally possess direct and observable knowledge of God through revelation. Atheistic faith in an eternal un-created universe cannot have a similar denouement because science on its own will never be able to set foot into the domain of the eternal past, that is to say, without God we will never have scientific knowledge of the origin of an eternal un-created universe since no person was or could have been present to observe the beginning of a universe with no beginning.

(Images courtesy shutterstock /  tuntekron petsajun / Anemone / Dr. Morley Read / Brandon Alms)

Ronald R. Cherry, MD, is a board-certified specialist in lung disease and sleep disorders who is in the full-time practice of medicine in Sweetwater, Tennessee. Dr. Cherry also stays busy raising a family, reading, hiking, and fishing. Dr. Cherry is not involved in politics, but he has come to the conclusion that all liberty-loving Americans must educate themselves on the principles and values that were held by our Founding Fathers, and that to maintain our freedom each generation of Americans will be required to make sacrifices and emulate the founding generation of Americans.

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