Faith and the Scientific Method

English: Science icon from Nuvola icon theme f...Faith and the Scientific Method

 James R. Aist

He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’  and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky…” (Matthew 16:2-4)

Introduction

How can we know that something really is true? Can we prove that it’s true by reason or logic or observation or experimentation? Perhaps we can. But, is there yet another path to truth, a path beginning with a supernatural, all-knowing, spiritual being who communicates truth to us by a spiritual route? Perhaps there is.

Many people believe that science operates apart from faith; that is to say, that faith does not enter into the process of scientific inquiry. This is the claim that I would like to examine more closely with you, to see if it holds up under careful and honest scrutiny.

Two Kinds of Faith

There are actually two different kinds of faith at work in the world. There is a “natural faith” that everyone is born with. It is part of our human nature, and it helps us to deal with the realities and necessities of the natural world.  We use this kind of faith in our everyday lives. By our natural faith, we believe that if we turn the ignition key, the car will start, and so we do it “on faith.” By our natural faith, we believe that the chair we are about to sit on will be strong enough to support our weight, and so, by faith, we “take a seat.” By our natural faith, we believe that if we put a dollar bill into a change machine, it will return four quarters, and in it goes. We are all very familiar with this natural faith. While natural faith is a necessary part of successful and productive living in this world, it is not perfect, as witnessed by the fact that the car doesn’t always start, the chair doesn’t always hold and the change machine doesn’t always return four quarters.

But there is another kind of faith. This is  “supernatural faith.” No one is born with it, so not everyone has it; it is a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8-9). Supernatural faith enables the “born again” believer to understand spiritual things, qualify for heaven and do good works out of a pure motivation of love and compassion. Contrary to natural faith, supernatural faith, when properly understood and applied, never fails.

The Scientific Method

The “scientific method” is the process by which scientific inquiry is conducted to reach a scientific “conclusion.” The five steps in this process are observation, hypothesis, prediction, experimentation and conclusion. Here’s how it works. One first makes a number of observations about something. Then a hypothesis, or tentative conclusion, is formulated to make sense out of the observations. Next, one reasons that, if this tentative conclusion is correct, then a prediction based on that tentative conclusion is true. One then tests that prediction by conducting carefully designed, scientifically sound experiments. If the results of the experiments confirm the prediction, then a scientifically valid conclusion can be made, based on those results. And finally, when one is totally convinced that the conclusions are warranted, then they are considered “proof” that the hypothesis is correct.

Where Is the Faith in That?

Well, there is, in fact, a kind of faith involved at every step of the process. And it is the “natural faith” that I discussed above. By faith, a scientist proceeds from the observations to the tentative conclusion, since nothing has yet been “proven.” And this faith process is repeated at every succeeding step — prediction, experimentation and conclusion – until the scientist is convinced that they have arrived at the “truth.” Note that the end of the process is when the scientist is convinced, not necessarily when the results unequivocally demand the conclusion that was reached. Thus, the conclusion, when published, becomes a kind of “statement of faith” as it were, where the faith involved is not the supernatural faith that is added to natural faith when one is born again, but it is natural faith alone.

If you’re not yet convinced that natural faith is involved in scientific research, then consider this anecdote. When I took an Introductory Biochemistry course in college, the professor, who was also a research scientist, began his first lecture by pointing out that two-thirds of the research upon which the Nobel Prize in biochemistry had been awarded up to that time was later proven to be incorrect. This result would not have happened if (imperfect) natural faith had not played a role in the scientific method.

Conclusions

We can see that faith, in the form of “natural faith”, is, indeed, involved in the process of scientific inquiry. This faith can most easily be seen at the end of the process, when the scientist is convinced that the correct conclusion has been reached, as well as in the fact that much of the best scientific research is later shown to be incorrect.

Natural faith not only helps us to deal with the realities and necessities of the natural world and is a necessary part of successful and productive living, but it also plays a vital role in the scientific method, which, while not perfect, enables us to learn many important and interesting things about the natural world and how it operates.

(For more articles on BIBLICAL TEACHINGS, click HERE

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