Science and Faith: Incompatible?

thinker_contourAre the pursuits of Science and Faith incompatible?

This discussion has come up at the Redneck household as we have been considering participation in some local Co-Ops that have chosen to use some Faith-based Science curricula.

The short answer? Probably, not.

Or, so I believe.

As a practicing “rocket scientist” (engineer) I see Science literally, as its etymology suggests: “know.” As such, Science is the pursuit of that which is verifiable through the senses in context with logical rules and laws derived from axioms. Science is about observation and methodology. However, epistemologically, our senses “lie” to us, our brains filter the overload, and in the end we can never really, truly, know anything. We can only infer, guess, and in the end we should recognize that even our axioms are Faith.

Or, so I believe.

At least for me, Faith is all about belief, as the word suggests. And, just like an axiom, it is a starting point for reasoning. We accept it until supplanted by another, a priori.

Supplanted, not proven invalid.

Therein lies the knowledge trap. Do we know enough to know that we don’t know enough?

At the root of all knowledge trees is an axiom. We must choose which axioms to believe. “Proof“of the invalidity of one axiom inherently requires faithful acceptance of another in order to keep our knowledge connected. But which to choose?

For me it is about choosing the path that provides for growth, the greatest discovery, the largest repository of useful, relevant, and connected knowledge. The path must satisfy a prescribed purpose. The path is invariant to whether I subscribe to Theistic or Atheistic axioms.

Along atheistic lines, knowledge is pursued for its own sake, without any other purpose, ironically with dogmatic zeal. The pursuit is inherently relentless because it is the purpose; pushing axioms further and further back. One must fill those hours, weeks, months, years and eons with something; searching for the root in a universe of uncertain beginning and uncertain ending, being ephemerally comfortable in a self-presecribed purpose.

Or, so the atheist believes.

Within theistic circles, knowledge is pursued to discover and support axiomatic purpose, for which belief in such is similarly self-prescribed. In a universe of certain beginning, ending, or cycles of rebirth, there is comfort and satisfaction supporting a purpose, even an incomplete one. There is no need to push the axioms further back because knowledge must support the now in preparation for the end, or rebirth. There is no need to know all of the details as long as the pursuit serves the purpose to which one subscribes.

Creator of the universe as claimed by adherents of the faith on planet Viltvodle VI. Their legend has it that the universe was sneezed out of the nose of the Great Green Arkleseizure, and they thus "live in perpetual fear of the time they call "The Coming of the Great White Handkerchief." - Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

Creator of the universe as claimed by adherents of the faith on planet Viltvodle VI. Their legend has it that the universe was sneezed out of the nose of the Great Green Arkleseizure, and they thus “live in perpetual fear of the time they call ‘The Coming of the Great White Handkerchief.'” – Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

So where does this leave us?

Should I be concerned about a Science curricula containing discussions on big bangevolutionarycreationist, or intelligent design theories? (And, yes, they are all theories, each one rooted on some foundational belief.)

In the end there is no need for concern since the goal, at this early stage of learning, is the acquisition of knowledge (the Scientific Method), followed by the application of knowledge. Science is about observation, seeking an understanding of how things connect in our world.

As knowledge of the origin of everything becomes more relevant to the here and now, then certainly the student will pursue it. But for now, as long as topics of Faith (either Theistic or Atheistic) are presented for what they are (belief) then the goal of teaching the method will be achieved.

Or, so I believe.

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