Monday, January 17, 2011

Trust and Truth in Science and Religion

Some trust in Science, some trust in God, some trust in both.  There are truth gaps in both Science and Religion that force us to trust if we are to continue to live by it.  It is our past experiences within that realm that will inform us whether we can safely place our trust  there or not.  The same principle applies to human relationships, favourite authors, Internet providers, and a host of other fields with unknowns that we commit to based on what we already know about them.  For now, we will look at trust and truth in Science and Religion.

Is there enough truth for us to trust in what we trust in?
This is not so much a difficulty in the Science realm, because the scientific method is formed to be able to make rational sense of observation of the universe.  Any theory or hypothesis that does not square with experimental data is replaced with an updated one that does work.  It’s a clear and simple, common sense process of human exploration of the natural world.  It doesn’t always work though, as it relies on fallible people to spot the inconsistencies in a theory, and even then it might take a while for people to be willing to let that theory go, especially if they have been making good use of it for a long time.  This gives rise to the question, “How much truth has to be compromised before the trust is compromised?”

Take the case of the dinosaur bones found with blood cells preserved inside.  Actual dinosaur blood.  Read the journal article for yourself here (or here for one of the articles at  It seems that any rational scientist would have to make a choice, assuming he or she holds to dinosaurs existing over 60 million years ago along with a much shorter decomposition rate for organic material.  The choice would be between which theory is wrong.  Either dinosaurs didn’t live that long ago, or blood cells decay at an impossibly slow rate under particular conditions.  Trust in that portion of science must drop away, otherwise enough trust has already been built up that the scientist would safely assume that more evidence will come to light to explain how both can work.

When it comes to the bible, people are not so willing to trust.  
If we start on the same grounds that we might start from with science, we can see that there is no difference in how we can apply our trust to the bible.  There are truth claims, some of which are obvious and easily believed and it is a wonderful resource of accurate wisdom about human nature and life principles that work.  

However, there are gaps and contradictions that don’t seem to make sense and there are claims that we can’t know anything about through “natural” means of knowing.  Yet the parts that we can believe should convince us that it is worth looking a little deeper before throwing the baby out with the bath water.  Some contradictions readily dissolve with the right context or understanding of how God is working through history.  Others are not so easy to deal with, much like the science situation above, and require a re-think of past ideas; yet there is no reason to think we should dismiss the lot.

God of the gaps
Scientists are quick to accuse believers of “invoking the god of the gaps” .  When things in the universe don’t stand up to the claims of the religion (a gap in knowledge) then a miracle or mysterious action of god is used to cover the gap.  God of the gaps can be seen as a faith that the gap is a part of god’s plan or something that we can trust Him about despite not understanding how it fits in with the rest of reality.

What many scientists don’t realise is that they use science itself as a god of their gaps.  Scientists will come across something such as the dinosaur blood cells discovery and then say that “science will discover something that explains this, it’s just a matter of time.”  This is essentially putting faith in science to cover a gap in knowledge (or a contradiction in current knowledge).

Both rely on faith/trust but for different reasons
Science builds our trust with accurate accounts of physical reality.  The bible builds our trust with accurate accounts (primarily, but not exclusively) of moral/philosophical reality.  These two different reasons make it hard to compare the trust that we place in each, but that does not mean that either is totally wrong.  When each encounters a truth that stretches the bounds of belief, the adherents to that field (science or a particular religion) must decide if that claim is too far out for that system to adopt.

As a final note, I have focused on the bible, and by implication Christianity.  This is because I am a Christian and have explored the claims of Christianity more than other religions.  After looking at the other major world religions (and some minor ones also) I decided that they didn’t match with reality enough to bother trusting.  In short, where a religion makes their god lower in stature than man or who requires sub-standard payment for mans sin, I don’t think it can be true.  That is another discussion for another time though.
Some useful links