More on the Scientist’s Faith

More on the Scientist’s Faith

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This recognition will resolve what may seem like a paradox to some: that profound and creative scientific minds can also be profoundly religious. Johannes Kepler and Isaac Newton were mystically religious, Galileo Galilei and Augustin Cauchy were deeply Catholic, James Clerk Maxwell and Michael Faraday were personally religious, Srinivasa Ramanujan and Chandrasekhara Raman were traditionally religious, to name only a few. There are countless other instances of great scientists acknowledging the existence of some supreme principle undergirding the world (Frankenbeger,1973). Weinberg explains this by saying that “religious skepticism is not a prejudice that governed science from the beginning, but a lesson that has been learned through centuries of experience in the study of nature” (Weinberg, 2002, 26-27). But this idea that scientists have finally awakened to the truth as against the clouded visions of their ancestors does not explain why Max Planck and Albert Einstein, Werner Heisenberg and John Polkinghorne still were (are) among the faithful.

The paradox is cleared up if we distinguish between different types of faith. Intelligibility faith is indispensable for the practice of science, just as religious faith is quite unnecessary for science. At the same time, religious faith is also quite neutral in its impact in the context of scientific research. The oft-quoted faith of scientists is quite different from religious faith. For many, though not certainly for all scientific thinkers, the existence of a superior intelligence puppeteering the phenomenal world suggests itself as a persuasive possibility, or even a deep-felt feeling. They are led to this on the basis of their global vision of a universe governed by precise and inexorable laws. However, this is very different from religious faith in the sense of an unquestioning acceptance of God or His messenger(s) with specific historical attributes such as traditional religions proclaim.

Indeed, unlike scientists of past centuries, most modern scientists, when they speak as scientists about God, refer to the Divine in generic terms, rather than with a name that is particular to a religion. It is important to distinguish this trans-denominational, non-anthropomorphic, mathematically sophisticated entity from the religious faith of traditional religions.

It is equally important to distinguish between science as an enterprise and religion as an experience, and to recognize that intelligibility faith goads us to further research, whereas r-faith gives us inner peace. Every scientist who works hard on a theory has full intelligibility faith in its correctness even if it is as yet only partially established, but this faith is very different from a committed Catholic’s Faith in Christ as the Savior or a devout Hindu’s Faith in Vishnu or in the law of karma.