Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Faith Vs Empiricism

Over at Strange Notions they have an interview with Chana Messinger explaining why she is an atheist.. Here is a quote:
The strength of any epistemology relies in its ability to act differently in the face of true things and false things. Faith, as far as I can tell, does not do this. Empiricism and rationality do. I have never heard a conception of God that is both coherent enough to test by these methods and that passes these tests. Furthermore, it does not appear that the existence of a God explains anything I didn't know before.
There is a common mistake here. That we are faced with a choice. On the one hand we can know things by faith and religion and on the other hand we can know things by empirical observation and science. That is not actually the choice we are faced with. Christians don't reject science. They don't say we can't learn from empirical observation. In fact, that is the preferred method of learning. Christians love science. If there is science to be done on a question then Christians want it to be done and want to know the results. Why? We want to know the truth. Empirical observation is a great way to find truth. So do it. Learn as much as you can that way.

What Christians would say is not that we can't trust science. It is that science won't give us all the answers. There are some questions science is not helpful with at all. These are the questions addressed by religion and philosophy.  So we don't choose between religion and science. Science is just not in the game. It is a choice between thinking about religion or not addressing the questions at all.

Then there is reason. Where is reason used? In science? Yes, big time. In religion? Yes again. The difference between religion and science is not that one is rational and the other is not. They both use reason. They start with different data. Science starts with observation and reasons from there. Religion starts with revelation or alleged revelation and uses reason to arrive at truth.

Now Chana brings up something important here. Science has an advantage. When science uses reason to arrive at theories about the physical world it can test those theories by designing experiments and doing further observations. If the theory is wrong the experiment typically shows it. So we can have great confidence in science.

There is no way to design an experiment for religion. So there is no way to correct the false theories. So we end up with many theories and no way to choose between them. This is where Catholicism shines. It does have a way to choose. It teaches that God did not just reveal something about Himself and leave man to argue endlessly as to what is the best understanding of that revelation. He continues to lead His church and tells us when our reasoning has gone wrong. So we can have confidence in religion.

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