This is intended to be one of our reference posts, to which we will link from time to time when it seems appropriate. We’ll be adding to it as we think of new material.
Whenever we hear people speaking of “faith in science,” or “faith in evolution,” we cringe. Why? Because it’s a complete misuse of the word “faith.” In Hebrews 11:1 (King James version, of course) we’re told: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” That’s the unique thing about faith — it doesn’t require any evidence. And of course, that’s what makes it so different from science.
One of the definitions of faith commonly used in on-line dictionaries is “belief that is not based on proof.” In the context of science, however, a more rigorous definition would be: “Faith is belief that is not based on verifiable evidence or logical proof.” Beyond that there’s what we might call brain-dead faith — belief that is flat-out contradicted by evidence or logical proof. That extreme kind of faith is pure reality denial.
So what’s the appropriate word to use when one understands a scientific theory and accepts it, based not only on the verifiable evidence, but also on the fact that in all the theory’s tests, it has never been disproved? Obviously, “faith” is inappropriate. Our preferred word is “confidence,” that is, one has confidence in the theory — which is justified as long as the theory is consistent with the evidence.
There’s an intermediate area. What about matters where we have no expertise, but which we accept anyway? An example is the functioning of aircraft — assuming one isn’t an aeronautical engineer with a solid understanding of such things. We routinely board aircraft, assuming that we will safely arrive at our destination. Is that an act of faith?
No, of course not. Regardless of our lack of technical knowledge, we literally see that aircraft fly, and we know people who have traveled in them. It may not be the same degree of confidence we have in something like evolution, about which we know the theory and the evidence, but we are nevertheless justified, based on our observations, in having confidence that such things are indeed functional. So here too, “faith” isn’t involved. The term “faith” should be reserved for things about which we literally know nothing.
While we’re talking about definitions, we’ll discuss a few others. Creationists love to confuse their drooling followers about the meaning of “theory,” attempting to equate it with a poor definition of “hypothesis,” so that it becomes nothing more that a wild guess — or even an arbitrary assumption.
Creationists are skilled at generating confusion about such matters. They often resort to dictionary definitions of “faith” and “theory” in an attempt to mislead their drooling followers. But when a creationist reaches for the dictionary, you may be sure of two things: First, he has no other non-scriptural reference book; and second, he’s going to select the least appropriate definitions he can find, which have no relevance to scientific work. To counter their shoddy practices, it’s useful to have meaningful definitions available, so we’ll provide a few sources:
A good set of definitions is provided by the National Academy of Sciences: Definitions of Evolutionary Terms. There’s also this: Scientific Hypothesis, Theory, Law Definitions. The National Center for Science Education has definitions right here.
And for the ultimate in creationist distortions of definitions, we must mention Ken Ham’s re-definition of science itself — see Creationism and Science, in which we discuss ol’ Hambo’s bizarre distinction between historical and observational science, with the result that science — as defined by him — can’t tell us anything about the past. Only the bible can do that.
Creationists also like to use a dictionary to “prove” that evolution — and all of science (or atheism, which they equate with science) — is just a religion. Often they’ll quote the fourth definition of religion in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, which is “a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith.” They skip over the more commonly-used definitions given earlier, such as “the service and worship of God or the supernatural,” and “commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance.” Ol’ Hambo did that here: Ken Ham: A Collection of Creationist Clichés.
To be continued.
See also: Creationist Language Abuse.
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