How Science Also Makes Faith-Assumptions

Note: a version of this initially appeared in an article for RockinGodsHouse.com -- a review of National Geographic Channel's new series called "Breakthrough," which looks at the latest tech breakthroughs.

The first episode of "Breakthrough" called "Fighting Pandemics" presents little hints of a Naturalist worldview that assumes the theory of evolution to be fact. For example, when describing how killer viruses come into being, the narrator says, "Evolution has created the perfect assassins." To be clear though, the episode does not bash religious people at all. I'm venturing into tangential territory that is not addressed in this episode.

But in any documentary tackling a scientific topic from a Naturalist worldview, the assertion of evolution as fact is usually inevitable. I love science, but I also love faith. I do not see them as irreconcilable. I relish documentaries like these that cover new technology. It's incredibly fascinating to see what humanity is capable of creating. That being said, there are illogical presuppositions going around about the nature of science itself. It's been happening for decades -- so long that these assumptions have taken the form of cultural tradition. But we need to at least question those presuppositions.

For example, the use of the theory of evolution to explain our origins is, in its own way, a faith-assumption. Sure, some folks will prefer that faith-assumption over any religion any day of the week, but I'm tired of hearing that science itself contains no faith assumptions or metaphysical claims embedded deep within the layers of its process, its language, and its many theories.

In this ongoing debate, Creationists are critiqued for using the terms microevolution and macroevolution ontologically in a way that scientists never used them originally. But I think there is some merit in the distinction because it reveals that the theory of evolution does contain at least one faith-assumption.

Let me explain what I mean by that: the observable changes in a mutating virus is an example of the small genetic changes of microevolution -- which is certainly verifiable by observational science and is not contradictory to Biblical viewpoints about origin -- but microevolution's observable mutations have only been limited to the rearrangement, corruption or loss of preexisting genetic information. However, the theory of evolution assumes that a vast accumulation of microevolution leads to macroevolution -- i.e. a fish experiences small genetic mutations (changes in size and color), so we can safely assume that enough of these small mutations will eventually evolve the fish into a human being. 

But there is a barrier that gets in the way of that seemingly logical assumption: microevolution has only been observed to be a rearrangement, corruption or loss of preexisting genetic information -- never a process that sees an addition of new genetic information. Macroevolution requires new genetic information to be added that did not exist before. Therefore it is a faith-assumption to believe that this new addition of genetic information that didn't exist before just magically appears at some point in the eternal accumulation of microevolution.

I mention that because it bothers me when people claim that science is 100% empirical and 0% faith-based. That is simply not true, and evolution is just one minor example, really. In fact, the evolutionary-based philosophy known as Verificationism put forth by the Logical Positivists in the 20th century, particularly A.J. Ayers -- the bedrock of today's New Atheism -- collapsed under its own weight and was eventually abandoned for being self-refuting (i.e. "Can the principle of verification be verified?" as they said) for this very reason: there are faith-assumptions and flecks of metaphysics that lie in the very foundation of science. It is not wholly empirical.

However, people will use the claim that science (and the theory of evolution) is 100% empirical and thus superior to any other worldview that has a faith-assumption. This leads to a deep sense of superiority among those who make this claim -- an arrogance that actually (oddly enough) reminds me of the works-based, moralistic, religious arrogance of the ancient Pharisees. (And there is, by the way, a difference between works-based religion and grace-based religion, but I cover that in an another article.)

But there really are faith-assumptions in Science. That's my point. The evolutionary argument is just one example.

Sure, you may prefer those faith-assumptions to the beliefs of a religious person, but -- to be totally honest, here -- it doesn't help the situation when you make yourself out to be superior to religious people because you think your view is not "contaminated" by faith.

To be clear, this is a major tangent because, thus far, Episode 1 "Fighting Pandemics" does not make explicit claims about the superiority mentioned above. It's certainly not bashing religious people. Its mentioning of evolution is very peripheral and not central to the topic. Evolution does take on a more central role in future episodes, however, so this debate eventually becomes much more relevant.