Great timing, Steve. Your comment today on my "Why 'man of faith' is an insult" post came soon after I'd come across a perfect reply. But first, the comment:
Brian, thank you for taking a moment to respond to my post. I understand and agree with both of your references (although I have a special affinity for chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream).
Still, I'd like to understand your perspective on faith just a bit more. You indicate that neither of your examples require religious faith, and I agree with that premise.
My question is this (and expanding upon your examples just a bit): Do self-discoveries based upon personal experience ("I like vanilla ice cream") and scientific discoveries based upon proven methods of objective analysis (evolution, gravity, physics, chemistry, medicine, etc.) negate faith?
Steve referred to my comment-reply to his previous comment-question, "Are you a person of beliefs or a person of opinions?"
Steve, we all believe in some things that are only subjectively true. Like, I believe that I like vanilla ice cream more than chocolate, based on a lot of previous personal experience.
I also aspire to believing in objective truths, such as those known to science. Like, a big bang brought the universe into being 13.7 billion years ago, and evolution has guided life on Earth.
Neither of these sorts of beliefs requires religious faith. Hopes this points at an answer to your question.
So, yes, I do consider that both self-discoveries based on personal experience and scientific discoveries based on methods of objective analysis negate faith. More exactly, "faith" as it is used in personal experience and science is very different from how this word is used in a religious context.
Jerry Coyne, a biology professor who runs the marvelous Why Evolution is True blog, is able to explain this much better than I can.
Check out his recent post that I noticed a few days ago, "Another misguided believer claims that science is based on faith." Here's how it starts out.
I guess it was too much for me to hope that my 2013 Slate essay, “No faith in science,” would once and for all dispel the claim that science is just like religion in depending on faith. My point was simple: what “faith” means in science is “confidence based on experience,” while the same term in religion means “belief without enough evidence to convince most rational people.”
It’s the same word, but with two different meanings. Yet religious people mix up those meanings regularly—and, I expect, deliberately. I wish they’d read my goddam essay.
So someone’s done it again: Matt Emerson, a Catholic whose blog says, “I teach theology and direct the advancement office at Xavier College Preparatory in Palm Desert, CA.” He’s also written the book Why Faith? A Journey of Discovery, to be published by Paulist Press this May; it apparently aims to help people maintain and understand faith.
At any rate, Emerson published a short essay in the March 3 Wall Street Journal—”At its heart, science is faith-based too“—that, as usual, conflates the meaning of “faith” as applied to science (but we scientists avoid that word!) versus as applied to religion. Rather than go into detail, I’d recommend you read my Slate piece, and Emerson should have, too!
This got me to read Coyne's Slate "No Faith in Science" essay. It demolishes the argument that "faith" in science, or everyday life, is anything like religious faith. Here's the first part of the piece:
A common tactic of those who claim that science and religion are compatible is to argue that science, like religion, rests on faith: faith in the accuracy of what we observe, in the laws of nature, or in the value of reason.
Daniel Sarewitz, director of a science policy center at Arizona State University and an occasional Slate contributor, wrote this about the Higgs boson in the pages of Nature, one of the world’s most prestigious science journals: “For those who cannot follow the mathematics, belief in the Higgs is an act of faith, not of rationality.”
Such statements imply that science and religion are not that different because both seek the truth and use faith to find it. Indeed, science is often described as a kind of religion.
But that’s wrong, for the “faith” we have in science is completely different from the faith believers have in God and the dogmas of their creed. To see this, consider the following four statements:
“I have faith that, because I accept Jesus as my personal savior, I will join my friends and family in Heaven.”
“My faith tells me that the Messiah has not yet come, but will someday.”
“I have strep throat, but I have faith that this penicillin will clear it up.”
“I have faith that when I martyr myself for Allah, I will receive 72 virgins in Paradise.”
All of these use the word faith, but one uses it differently. The three religious claims (Christian, Jewish, and Muslim, respectively) represent faith as defined by philosopher Walter Kaufmann: “intense, usually confident, belief that is not based on evidence sufficient to command assent from every reasonable person.”
Indeed, there is no evidence beyond revelation, authority, and scripture to support the religious claims above, and most of the world’s believers would reject at least one of them. To state it bluntly, such faith involves pretending to know things you don’t. Behind it is wish-thinking, as clearly expressed in Hebrews 11:1: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
In contrast, the third statement relies on evidence: penicillin almost invariably kills streptococcus bacteria. In such cases the word faith doesn’t mean “belief without good evidence,” but “confidence derived from scientific tests and repeated, documented experience.”
You have faith (i.e., confidence) that the sun will rise tomorrow because it always has, and there’s no evidence that the Earth has stopped rotating or the sun has burnt out. You have faith in your doctor because, presumably, she has treated you and others successfully, and you know that what she prescribes is tested scientifically. You wouldn’t go to a shaman or a spiritual healer for strep throat—unless you want to waste your money.