The Atheist’s Caricature of Faith
Macht, one of my favorite intellectual Christian philosopher bloggers, has a really nice article which discusses three definitions of faith, and how your view of faith affects how you view the integration of science, religion, and faith. His second definition of faith is the typical caricature that atheists hold to:
faith #2 – Believing something without any evidence or reason or in spite of evidence or reason. This is what a lot of atheists seem to think that this is what is meant when somebody says they have faith in God.
But Macht includes two other definitions, the third of which are what xians are talking about when they discuss faith:
faith #3 – Trust or commitment. This is what we mean when we say something like "I have faith#3 the surgeon will perform a successful operation." A person is putting his trust in the surgeon, most likely because the surgeon has done the operation hundreds of times before (i.e., he has good reasons to trust the surgeon will be successful).
Macht discusses the functions of science v. religion
[Science] works very well for what people intend for it to do. People join religions for any number of reasons, maybe they think the religion is true, maybe they are looking for some sort of purpose in their lives, maybe the like the hope a certain religion gives them, whatever. Religion does tend to work well for what people intend for it to do. Religion gives people all these things, just like science gives people computers and cell phones and hybrid cars.
He also quotes another author who compares scientific faith to religious faith, but in doing so, misses the point that there is little difference, because in both cases you are taking someone else’s word for it:
Now, science has become far too big for any one person to go and look at all of the evidence, and all of the methodology of analyzing that evidence, to completely and totally reproduce the chain of reasoning for everything we’ve come to understand in science. In principle, yes, anybody can do that… But, in practice, you can’t.
He makes the conclusion below, which I totally agree with:
Science is based on faith-3, just like religion. Science is based on a faith-3 in a number of of basic beliefs about both nature and man (see section II-B of Del Ratzsch’s paper here, for example). This doesn’t mean scientists don’t have good reasons to believe them, it just means that they have to commit themselves to them in order to do science. If they turned out to be wrong, "science [would have to] to give up." The same can be said of religion. Science and religion are also very often based on faith-3, in that they rely on trust in other people. Scientists trust that the work that has come before them has been tested and confirmed, often without doing it themselves, knowing that – in principle – they could. Religious people very often have faith-3 in pastors, priests, and parents that their interpretations of some religious text are correct and that their doctrines are correct, without checking into it themselves, knowing that – in principle – they could.