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.

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Plumpin’ the Puppies

Beagle de 60 dias

Plumpin’ the Puppies

James R. Aist

[DISCLAIMER: I meant no harm, no one really got hurt bad, I am opposed to cruelty to animals and I provide the answer to the big “research” question at the end (so that you will have no excuse for trying this at home; shame on you, in advance, for even thinking of it!)]

When I was growing up in central Arkansas, we had Beagle dogs for rabbit hunting and, of course, for instant affection and validation anytime, whether we wanted it or not. When I was 10 years old, my family re-located from our dairy farm in Cypress Valley to an equally rural area in the vicinity of Naylor, where we moved into a parsonage, located at the end of a dirt road off a dirt road; Daddy had received his very first assignment as a newly ordained Methodist minister. During our first Spring there, one of our Beagles gave birth to a litter of puppies, and we kept two of them for ourselves. I luuuuuv Beagle puppies! They are so soft, so cute and so affectionate; and, so much fun to play with.

Every school-day afternoon while the puppies were still quite small, I could hardly wait for the school bus to get to the end of our dirt road. I would spring off of the school bus and run all the way to our house so that I could spend the next half hour or so just playing with “my” precious little puppies. Of course, these little darlings seemed to always be hungry when I got home, and I liked nothing more than to bring out a small pitcher of milk and a couple of cereal bowls and settle down with the puppies in a patch of fresh green lawn beside the house. They would eagerly lap up all the milk in the bowl, and I would just as eagerly give them “seconds” just to watch them do it all over again. What fun!

Well, one day I got an idea for what would turn out to be the very first of many biological experiments I would conduct over a long and successful career in biological research. I was pondering the gusto with which these innocent little biological units would scarf down all the milk in their bowls, including the “seconds”, and it occurred to me that it would be interesting to find out just how much milk they would drink if I provided an unending supply of it. Would they drink only until they were full, or would they just keep on drinking until they just couldn’t keep any more milk down? With an innocent curiosity and no malicious intent whatsoever (keep in mind that I was just an 11 year old boy and I really loved those little puppies), I resolved to find the answer to this monumental question.

So, the next day I filled up the milk bowls once and then twice, and then I went where no boy had gone before (at least not to my knowledge); I filled the bowls yet a third time! To my surprise, these valiant troopers just kept on lapping up the milk and wagging their tails for more. After the third round of refills, I began to get a little worried, because now, the puppies were visibly swollen in the middle. Yet, they weren’t whining or whimpering yet, so I filled their bowls for a fourth time, determined to get the final answer to my seemingly innocent research question, but without inflicting any harm on the little guys. This time, I noticed that they were slowing down but still lapping and swallowing eagerly, and so I decided to take some additional, preliminary data on the progress of the experiment. With no little trepidation, I reached down and very gently squeezed their swollen bellies between my thumb and index finger to assess the degree of danger I might just possibly be exposing the thoroughly plumped puppies to. Their bellies were now tight as a drum, and this put a serious scare into me. Had I gone too far, already? Will they bust open right before my eyes? If they do bust open, how can I explain it to my parents so as to escape the punishment I so richly deserve for heartlessly murdering these tiny little helpless bundles of life just to conduct a silly scientific experiment? So, like a flash, I jerked away the milk bowls to minimize any further potential damage, and I was not prepared at all for what happened next.

I observed that these two little puppies turned, in unison, to walk away, still lapping and swallowing as fast as they could, but now just to try and keep down the last of the milk that was dribbling out of their mouths. I observed also that they were breathing heavily and with great difficulty, because there was no room left in their little bodies for a lungful of air, thanks to their excessive intake of cow’s milk. And finally, I observed that their now-bloated bellies were actually dragging along the ground as they waddled slowly away. In some sort of sick way I suppose, this scene was to me both humorous to watch and scary to contemplate, at one and the same time. But, as I continued to keep my eye on them, it became apparent that they were, indeed, way too full, but not to the point of bodily harm. This realization enabled me to take a deep sigh of relief and get an, albeit somewhat sinister, little chuckle out of the entire affair, especially the ending.

So, what is the answer to the big question: how much milk will Beagle puppies drink if they are given an unending supply? The answer is… just as much as they can possibly keep down with constant lapping and swallowing, once it starts to come back out as fast as it goes back in! Oh, and by the way, my parents never found out about this experiment. Hey, what they don’t know won’t hurt me, right?

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