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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss

Science V. Faith

Science V. Faith

One of the many byproducts of the current pandemic is an increasing confrontation between those who profess a deep sense of faith and those who are guided by logic and science, irrespective of their faith. This takes many forms, from the issue of wearing a mask, to questioning the existence or even the cause of the Covid virus. Of course, this is neither new nor limited to our present circumstance.

Science and faith have been pitted against one another since the dawn of humanity. Anything that is inexplicable is fair game. So, whether disease is real or a punishment from on high is a matter of perspective in the absence of any basis for discerning the difference. What is accepted ‘truth’ today was heresy yesterday.

I knew a gentleman who was a pilot for a major airline. He was also a devout believer. There is nothing about these two facts that should be cause for a cognitive disconnect but in his case it was. One day we had a discussion in which he cited a ‘fact’ with which I could not agree. He claimed that the earth was 6,000 years old according to the bible. He was wrong on several accounts. The bible says nothing whatsoever about the earth being 6,000 years old—that is a date widely attributed to James Ussher, the Archbishop of Armagh in the 17th century. This view rests on two mistaken theories—that Ussher and others who followed him correctly understood the ancient Sumerian calendar, and that the Bible was intended to provide a Mosaic chronology—neither of which happen to be true as we now understand.

Ussher worked with what he had at the time—he was not being unscientific just limited by the knowledge and tools at his disposal. Today we have both a better understanding of various dating systems in use by the ancient Hebrews, Greeks, Sumerians, Babylonians and Assyrians, and we have scientific methods such as carbon dating to help establish a more precise reckoning. There should be no reason to insist that the earth is 6,000 years old—it alters not a single word of the Bible, and yet that is just what my acquaintance did.

The cognitive dissonance for me was that this same individual got into a plane and flew across the country for more than 40 years believing that the plane would stay aloft based on his understanding of the principles of flight—but otherwise rejected facts and science when it came to the subject of the earth’s age. It is precisely the same disconnect I have when I hear people reject medical science out of some misguided belief in what a pastor said or what they interpret the bible as saying.

In reality the bible provides grounding for a lot of science—especially in the various laws and prohibitions it advances that not ironically are based on what our forefathers understood about hygiene, medicine, food safety, disease transmission and other subjects. While the laws are given as biblical injunctions they are based on fundamental observations –empiricisms if you will. That is the scientific method—observe, theorize, seek a means of proof, test, re-test and conclude. And as humanity has evolved what we know and accept as truth –that is what we accept as provable and repeatable—evolves as well.

There was a time when we believed that disease was caused by temperament, or by vapors or any number of other things. We could not see what was invisible to the eye—bacteria, viruses, or microscopic pests and we had no way of understanding how disease spread. Gradually, as we observed, theorized and tested we came to a new understanding—one that even today we know will be further refined as we learn more about the biology of our species.

None of this is at odds with faith. God provided humans with the ability to think, observe, and form ideas. Yes, that’s right, Science is God given. What defines us and separates us from all other creatures on the earth is this conscious ability –denying it is to deny God’s handiwork. And yet—that is what those who would further the belief that science is the enemy of faith would have us believe. We need not indulge this hypocrisy. To quote Hamlet: “What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving, how express and admirable in action, how like an angel in apprehension, how like a god!

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