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On the Role of Faith in Science


We often hear, "In science, everything is empirically verified; so there is no dogmatic faith in scientific methodology." Contrary to popular belief, we will consider some salient examples of the "scientific" approach to show that faith is an integral part of any strategy for acquiring knowledge. The scientists' attempt to understand the origin and functioning of the universe (and life) in purely physical terms is based on three assumptions:


1.All phenomena can be completely explained by natural laws expressed in the language of mathematics,

2.These physical laws apply everywhere and at all times,

3.The fundamental natural laws are simple.


Most people have taken these assumptions as facts, but they have not been proven to be facts - nor is it easily possible to prove them. Being axiomatic principles, they are simply part of one strategy for approaching reality, and the scientists have implicit faith that these principles are correct. In essence this approach consists of trying to reduce everything to measurements and trying to explain them by simple, universal physical laws. Indeed, there is no logical reason for ruling out, in advance alternative strategies that might involve laws and principles of irreducible complexity. Yet, many scientists insist that their chosen strategy to explain the universe is the actual nature of the universe!


One reason why the scientists feel compelled to adopt their strategy of simplification is that, if the underlying reality of the universe can be described by simple quantitative laws, then they can understand the universe and (possibly) manipulate it, even considering the limitations of the human mind. So they assume it is so, and invent myriad theories to do this. If the universe were infinitely complex, however, then their reductionist method is doomed to fail at the outset.The scientists' belief that the physical laws discovered in the laboratory experiments on earth apply at all time and space is certainly open to question. Yet such assumptions are crucial to the scientists' attempts to explain such things as the origin of the universe, and the nature of faraway objects such as quasars. After all, we can't really go back billions of years in time to the origin of the universe, and we have practically no first hand evidence, even cosmologists say, of anything beyond a limited part of our own solar system.


Thus, believing in an empirical (or physical) scientific theory requires just as much faith as in believing that a personal God creates and maintains the universe. But when this point is vocalized, many adherents of modern science raise loud objections that in the scientific method, nothing is accepted without proper experimental evidence. But has any experiment been performed to prove that physical laws are valid at all time and space? In the  absence of this proof, we must deem that the element of faith has only been given a new garb, not eliminated.In any scientific methodology, the scientist must make suitable hypothesis, conduct experiments, and then conclude whether the hypothesis is correct or wrong. In conducting experiments, the experimenter must muster enough faith that his chosen method of experimentation will be able to capture the essence of his theory or hypothesis.


Quite apart from the scientists' implicit faith in their chosen methodology, there is another avenue where the principle of faith asserts itself. How do we know what the scientists are saying is true, or even that they truly portray what they find? After all, we do not, in general, understand the complex experimental or analytical procedures used to verify hypotheses. In fact, most common people neither understand the hypotheses, nor the chosen experimental method to verify them. But they have implicit faith in scientists. The question then is what is the basis of such faith? Our faith is nurtured by the authorities in the particular field of concern. For instance, even though we might never experience any of the conclusions of relativity theory in our day-to-day life, because a highly recognized physicist, Albert Einstein, is the chief proponent of such a theory, we tend to accept it. Our faith is strengthened by the acceptance of such a theory by other eminent personalities in the field. Furthermore, our faith is strengthened by our factual experience of related events proposed by our respectable authorities. For instance, our faith in the modern scientists is enhanced by their many technological innovations, which seemingly provide us a greater degree of comfort in life.


Once again, we are caught in the predicament of having to adopt double standards. We choose to accept the so-called scientific method based on faith in our intelligentsia. However, we reject callously the faithful teachings of some of the greatest anti-material scientists like Ramanujacharya, Madhvacharya, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. The followers of such scientists have indeed experienced the truth of their "theories" by proper experimentation. The element of faith is the same, whether you accept the standard of the anti-material scientist or the material scientists. There is one big difference, however. The methods advocated by the anti-material scientists like Shri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu can be followed by even a child, and the appropriate results can be realized by him. But in order to understand the universe in the line of the modern scientific thought, one has to pretty much pursue high-level degrees, and understand so much jargon and terminology. This makes the process accessible only to a very few chosen "elite" members of the society. The rest of the society? Well, they just have to have faith that these elite (but, nonetheless, fallible) members are not only perceiving but also portraying the truth as it is.


Indeed, there is one other big difference: the empirical method of realizing the truth as advocated by the material scientists precludes any possibility of perceiving the ultimate truth, in case it is anti-material. Because, we cannot perceive anything non-material with material senses or extensions of the material senses.Therefore, by accepting exclusively the authority of the material scientist, we can never have access to the absolute truth as perceived by the anti-material scientists.The choice of faith is ours. We can have faith in the fallible elite with their limited minds and senses, or the infallible proponents of the absolute truth, who have actually seen the truth, who are not merely speculating about it in so many contrived ways.