While I would never consider myself a person of faith, I can make a case for a certain kind of faith, based on reason and experience, for which I am confident of outcomes. For instance, if I had strep throat and a doctor prescribed the antibiotic penicillin, I would have faith (confidence) that it would cure me. Why? Because I have evidence that penicillin has cured most people with strep throat, even though I have no guarantee it would cure me.
I also have confidence that the chair I’m sitting on while writing this article will hold me, because it has held me hundreds of times before. I once had a bumper sticker that said, “I have faith in reason,” even though I know that my reasoning sometimes leads me astray.
I have confidence in the Higgs boson, originally nicknamed the “goddamn particle” because it was so difficult to verify. For many years scientists had to take it on a kind of faith that the particle even existed. It’s more commonly known today as the “God Particle.” The theory was laid out by Scottish physicist Peter Higgs and others in 1964 and is thought to be what gives all matter in the universe its size and shape. The existence of the subatomic particle was finally verified by physicists in 2012 using the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator. Most people can’t follow the mathematics involved in proving the Higgs boson, so they accept on “faith” the science that proves its existence.
A lot of religious believers claim that science and religion both require faith. They say that scientists have faith in the accuracy of what they observe, in the laws of nature, and in the value of reason. They then argue that science and religion are not that different because both seek the truth and use faith to find it. Some then conclude that science is a kind of secular religion. This makes no sense because the “faith” we have in science is completely different from the faith religious believers have in their god and the dogmas of their creeds.
Even though we might not understand some scientific theories, we know that scientists usually question their assumptions and try to find errors in their reasoning before experts review their paper and agree to publish the theory in a well-respected journal. In this sense, science is largely self-correcting, and scientists always look for new evidence that will confirm or reject various theories. No scientist will ever swear an oath to Darwin with a hand on The Origin of Species. You’ll never hear a scientist say, “I have faith in evolution” or “I have faith in molecules.”
In contrast, many believers must regularly swear adherence to unchanging religious claims, like the Nicene Creed, and many church leaders must swear to uphold church doctrine. The claims about a god made by these leaders are no more demonstrable than an ordinary person’s claim about gods. Despite the many scientific advances, we know no more about any deities today than we knew thousands of years ago—nothing.
The U.S. Constitution embraces a theory of evolution—societal evolution. As Thomas Jefferson said, “I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times.” That is why our founders recognized that amendments to the Constitution should be allowed. They understood that what they knew in the late 1700s wasn’t all there was to know, and our system must evolve and change. For instance, the original Constitution condoned slavery until the 13th Amendment ended it in 1865. Women were not granted the right to vote until 1920, when the 19th Amendment passed. The 14th Amendment, passed in 1868, granted citizenship and equal civil and legal rights to African Americans. This amendment was cited in the argument for passing Title IX of the Civil Rights Act in 1972, which prohibited education programs from discriminating on the basis of sex if they received federal assistance.
In contrast, the Bible and the Quran reject evolution, not just in the scientific sense, but also in the humanistic sense. The words of the Bible and Quran are unchangeable (unamendable), no matter what compassion, science, or many years of reason and evidence may reveal. Our Constitution was written by some of the most prominent and educated people in the world. God and the Bible myths were created starting around 500 BCE by scientifically ignorant men. Why would you trust these Bible writers in the Middle East for absolute knowledge about the universe morality, or anything else?
Scientific “faith” (confidence) is based on reason, evidence, and empirical data. Religious faith is not based on any of these, but on revelation, authority, and so-called holy books. Religious faith involves wishful thinking and pretending to know things people don’t know. Such a view is essentially confirmed in Hebrews 11:1: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
I like what Mark Twain said about faith: “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.” And Benjamin Franklin said, “The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason.”
I do believe in some form of revelation because Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein offered real books of revelation that elegantly explained some marvelous rules of our universe.
So, when we hear people talk about faith and revelation, we need to listen carefully to what they mean by these terms. Usually, it turns out to be bullshit.