Faith is a complex concept that in varying degrees supports and undercuts people’s lives.
Faith by definition requires a blind adherence to beliefs over actions or facts. It requires a cognitive acceptance of that which cannot be verified by our senses of touch, sight, hearing.
Science is a discipline of discerning facts of the physical world that can be observed, tested, and reproduced. Science does not require any type of faith whatsoever. Actually, science does not want to ask anyone to take anything on faith. Science works hard to provide evidence of its own findings.
Neither is inherently better or worse than the other.
Great people have done great things guided by faith. Social changes. Tolerance. Fortitude in the face of crises.
Great people have discovered great things with science and the scientific method. Technological innovations in computing and machinery. Engineering feats of building and transportation. Medical advances in prevention, repair, and cures.
As long as faith and science stay in their own lanes, so to speak, everything is fine.
When faith tries to outthink science or science tries to out-meaning faith, therein lies a prickly path.
Overstepping Each Other
Science must remain grounded in the physical world, adhering to the rules of the physical. These rules are absolute (mostly) and equal.
For example, take gravity. Gravity increases in strength relative to the mass of an object. This can be measured and predicted. It does not vary based on someone’s hair color or profession. It applies equally to matter.
Another example is chemistry. Chemical elements are absolute in their number of protons and electrons. Hydrogen ceases to be hydrogen if it acquires more electrons. And if it combines with another atom of hydrogen and an atom of oxygen, it becomes a molecule of water. This is absolute and equal on Earth and any other planet.
Faith, on the other hand, addresses the condition of the human soul. Faith seeks to apply meaning and morality to human life. Faith does not attempt to measure the area under the curve.
Faith is as individual as the billions of people who practice it. It must be defined by each person. There are no absolutes of faith, nor can it be measured by physical instruments.
Thousands of years of human evolution and history have sought to attach meaning to existence through language, music, and practices. Scripture, poetry, symphonies, and pilgrimages have been written, composed, and undertaken in order to answer questions of what we are doing here.
Faith in the unseen and unknowable creates a perspective of humans that they are part of something larger, a special part.
But then we see lane-switching.
Science trying to elicit the blind devotion of faith.
Faith trying to take the place of scientific knowledge.
And we see big problems with that today.
Faith vs COVID-19
There have been many failures in the past few months. Failures of communication. Failures of prevention. Failures of planning. Failures of leadership.
But we cannot fault medical science for failing to cure COVID-19. The science is catching up as fast as it can.
And all indications are that science will be able to isolate the virus and produce a vaccine to prevent future infections. No one has said as yet that it’s impossible. It’s a matter of time, good science, and good medical practices.
In the meantime, we are faced with a pandemic the likes of which hasn’t been observed in 100 years. And it makes sense that people are leaning on faith in a myriad of ways during these uncertain and isolating times:
Praying for family and friends who are ill.
Praying for the world at large.
Using faith as a source of comfort during the pandemic.
Discovering faith as a comfort.
Hiding behind faith as a panacea for any and every poor decision regarding public health and safety.
Witness this news report.
Medical science will do its best to find a cure and/or vaccine.
Until then, humans have the ability to consider their actions, consider other peoples’ needs, and alter their behaviors. This is the act of faith that will defeat this pandemic.
Faith in humanity and its ability to adapt and change. Faith in our creativity and survival instincts.
Humanity will not be helped by faith masquerading as science. We will not survive if individuals choose to act as agents of the disease. Faith in one’s infallibility is as dangerous as COVID-19.
Disregard for medical advice and health guidelines is not faith in a special cure from God. It is reckless hubris. Disease thrives on misunderstanding and obscurity in the same way that prejudice does.
We must shine the light of reason on our current predicament. But we must also shine the light of reason on each others’ behavior during this time.
Do not ask science to define the human soul, but do not ignore medicine’s contribution to the extension of that possibly meaningful life.
Remember the allegory about God’s reply to a man pleading to win the lottery: “Give me a break and at least buy a ticket!”
Stay home, stay safe.