Sunday, July 22, 2012

We went to Guatemala

And it was terrific.  But that's not the real subject of this post.  I will save all our trip stuff for another post.

Due to some recent thoughts about losing faith and science and things from various relatives and friends, I have been thinking a lot lately about my faith, and about science, and the interaction of the two in my life.  I like science and science-y things, I think there's a lot of interesting stuff to be learned from chemistry, physics, biology, astronomy, geology, etc, etc, etc.  I also like my faith.  I think there's a lot of interesting stuff to be learned from my religion, from the scriptures, from prayer, from temple attendance, etc, etc, etc.
I was reading a blog post about scientific literacy, and ran across a couple of quotes from commenters that I liked and wanted to share.  First:

""Science teachers need to teach skepticism as being core to the scientific method".

Exactly. Core not just to the scientific method, but to life. The challenge is to try to maintain that sense of skepticism while at the same time teaching a scientific subject that teaches a large number of "you'll just have to take this on faith for now" facts. That's a tightrope walk."


"What we know is not the whole story. How we know it is equally important."

There are a great many things I run across in life that I am skeptical about.  Claims made in books, movies, advertisements, the internet, by people I know or have never met.  Issues of correlation vs. causation.  "This thing happened right after that thing, so this must have caused that" is generally an opinion that I consider ill-informed.  Frequently I run into statements that I can't make up my mind about due to a lack of sufficient information.  Sometimes I go look up information, hopefully from trustworthy sources without too much bias one way or another (though all sources, of course, contain some bias).  Then I think about what I've read, and come up with my own conclusion on the subject.  Other times, I really don't care enough about the subject to bother searching out sufficient information to come to a conclusion.  For instance, politics.  Don't talk to me about it, I really don't know enough about it to come to an informed decision and will therefore probably just be a very boring conversational partner.

Yet at the same time there are a great many things in life that I simply take on faith.  I don't understand how or why they work.  I may have researched them and not been able to find anything that helps me understand them better.  I may not have researched them at all, but have simply accepted that they are, they exist, and there is somebody somewhere who understands it much better than I that I will trust.  Sometimes that someone I am willing to trust is a friend, sometimes a relative, sometimes a researcher, sometimes God Himself, through His prophets or through the Holy Ghost.

There seem to be two very different ways of knowing things in my life, which I have been thinking about due to that second quote above.  What I know is important, how I know it perhaps is equally important.  There are the things I know because other people have done experiments and have come up with hard data and have interpreted that data and other people have taught me those interpretations.  Then there are the things I know because of what I might call soft data (there is probably a specific definition of soft data which may very well be different than how I am using the term here, please excuse me).  There are thoughts and feelings, and what other members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints would term as revelation and promptings.  Some of this soft data I have acquired myself, some of it other people that I trust have acquired, interpreted, and taught to me.

I am well aware that there are plenty of things which I know, through either method of knowing, which could be wrong.  There is information I have undoubtedly learned that has already been or someday will be proven false.  There are things which, with my limited understanding of the universe and the life present in it, I have undoubtedly misinterpreted.  I think one of my cousins said recently that you can know something 100% and yet still be completely wrong.  I don't think there are many things in my life that I would say I am 100% sure of, and those few things I would say that about, I don't think I am wrong about (obviously).

One theory as to how I reconcile my skepticism with my faith might be that my skepticism itself is based in faith.  I believe some of the sources I find, I have faith in their validity.  Other sources I throw out the window as being completely ridiculous.  The soft data, or my feelings as to what feels right and true and honest, probably overrules everything else when it comes to what I do believe, and what I don't.  I am not very good at logical arguments or apologetics or honestly (despite my English degree) at even writing essays that follow a progression to "prove" a point.  You've undoubtedly realized that by now.  I can't really explain to someone else why I am skeptical about the miracles of homeopathic healing, and yet I am not skeptical about the miracles of Priesthood healing; or why I am skeptical of almost all self-help books, yet I am not skeptical as to the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.

My favorite scripture lately, with all this thinking about faith I've been doing, is Hebrews 11:1:

"Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."

I have faith in God, that He is my Heavenly Father, that He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to atone for the sins of mankind, that I will have the opportunity to live with them again if I strive to live a worthy life.  I have faith in the gift of agency.  I have faith that the Book of Mormon is a book of scripture written by ancient prophets and translated by Joseph Smith through the power of God.  I have faith that the Holy Ghost will guide me in my life if I listen and seek after him.  I have faith that the prophets who lead the church today receive revelation from God, and are able to share His commandments with me.  I have faith in black holes, and dark matter.  I have faith that calculus, which I do not understand in the slightest, works and forms the backbone of most modern scientific endeavors.  I have faith that there are supernovas and magma chambers and all sorts of magnificent wonders throughout the universe, most of which I will never be able to see, and am unlikely to ever understand intimately (at least in this lifetime).  And I have faith that all the wonders of the universe were created through the power of God, which process I am also unlikely to ever understand intimately in this lifetime.  I have faith that after I have died, that my spirit will still exist, and will still be capable of learning and growing, and that I will someday be able to be resurrected, that my body and spirit will reunite and be perfected, and that just maybe, someday in the eternities, I will be able to understand all the things that I can't in this life.

Man is fallible.  The leaders, past and present, of the church I believe in are fallible just like anybody else.  They are not perfect, as I'm sure they'd be the first to tell you.  While I believe that they often speak for God, they also sometimes just give their own personal opinion on subjects about which they have not (yet (sometimes)) received revelation.  Man has his agency, and the only person who has ever even been able to be perfect is Christ.  People are, for the most part, good hearted.  These are all things I believe.

Faith is the substance of things hoped for.  I like that word, substance, and its derivatives, substantial and substantive, as applied to the concept of faith.  Faith is the evidence of things not seen.  I find that phrase interesting, that faith is the evidence.  There are innumerable things that I have not seen, and am not likely to ever see.  I can't measure them.  I can't perform experiments directly on them.  I can see how they affect the world around them, and in some cases, I can see how they affect my life itself.

There are many who would probably argue for the necessity of extensive scientific literacy among the general population.  There are people who similarly argue for spiritual literacy among the general population, whether they define that as being well-versed in your scriptures of choice, or knowledgeable about many different religions besides your own, or just in-tune with your spirit, or your inner being, or whatever it is that your belief system tells you makes up the essence of who you are.  My knowledge of probably the majority of scientific concepts is fairly shallow at best.  My knowledge of probably the majority of religious concepts is also probably fairly shallow.  I am not a great scholar of science or religion.  But I enjoy learning more about science, and I find joy in my religion and my faith.

I apologize if this post has been disjointed and rambly.  I am prone to rambling no matter what I do, and the disjointedness can be attributed to being interrupted many, many times to take care of the little ones whose needs are more pressing than my need to write down my thoughts on this subject.  Also, I don't proof-read and edit my posts, because I am a lazy writer.  I sincerely hope that somebody, somewhere might be able to make some sense of what I'm trying to say, as convoluted as it's been.  I also sincerely hope that I haven't managed to offend anyone.  This post is not directed at anybody, I'm not trying to convince anybody else of anything, I'm simply trying to write down and maybe make a bit of sense of my own thoughts after reading three separate blog posts in as many weeks from three different people, all of whom I like and admire for various reasons, regarding their personal loss of faith, and the loss of community that accompanies that.  Maybe someday when I'm getting more sleep and have longer chunks of uninterrupted time I will be able to make more sense of my thoughts and on the resolution between the apparent dichotomy between scientific skepticism and faith.  For now, hopefully this will appease that little niggling need in my brain to write things down.

In closing, I would just like to say, have peace.  And I would recommend avoiding trying to read chemists' blogs when your glasses, eyes, and brain are all fuzzy (I need new lenses).  And maybe avoid writing blog posts under similar conditions.  And get a good night's sleep.  And maybe eat some vegetables.  I will stop now, before I end up advising you to use the potty, pull up your pants, flush the toilet, wash your hands, and don't forget to brush your teeth. (You say something enough times, and it starts to just slip out into every conversation eventually, regardless of whom you're speaking with.)


Joe Chott said...

In reading this, I have to say that I am utterly stunned at how VERY similar our thought processes are!

In my work for NASA, it is rare that I encounter others that actually share faith in God, nearly everyone is atheist, many of them pronouncedly so.

A few weeks ago I gave a talk in Sacrament meeting and touched on this concept of faith and science. Among my comments was something along these lines:

When man was POSITIVE that everything was composed, at a low level, by earth, wind, water, and fire, I am certain that God thought to Himself "if that helps you to think that, then good for you!"

When man was POSITIVE that everything was composed of atoms I am certain that God thought to Himself "if that helps you to think that, then good for you!"

Same for the discovery of electrons, protons, neutrons, quarks, etc.

Here we are, with the discovery of the Higgs Boson, and I still can't help but picture God thinking to Himself "if that helps you to think that, then good for you!"

tpmotd said...

I like your post, and Joe, I like your comment. I would take it a step farther and picture God saying to himself, "Yes, that's closer! Great job! Keep trying, and you'll figure it out someday," the way I do with my kids. I'm convinced he even gives hints the way I do, too, given the number of scientific discoveries that started with a hunch or some idea seemingly out of nowhere. He's disappointed when people make bad decisions based on faulty conclusions based on science and religion both, but he also knows exactly how imperfect we and the methods available to us are, so he won't hold earnest effort against anybody so long as they're willing to admit the mistake in the end.

Matt said...

I've waxed on this topic with many people I met over the years. I have always said the same thing, God works by natural laws of the universe, it's just that all creation must respects him including dirt, water, mass, ect... Therefor what we find in science to be true, is true because these are the means in which God works are done. How else was the earth created magic? Science always taught me how marvelous gods works are, rather then how improbable they are. Good topic, would have enjoined your talk immensely I imagine Joe.

Jeanna Stay said...

Hey. Been meaning to comment on this post forever. Thanks for writing it! I think your thoughts on the subject were just right. I get frustrated at these same things too. You're not alone! :)