There’s a lot of press these days about scientists believing in Evolution or believing in Global Warming. Of course the tactic here is to equate a scientific understanding with a leap of faith. The simple fact is that these two systems operate in very different ways.
Science, real science, does not seek to prove anything. Rather, it sets up hypotheses (and ultimately theories) with the intention of disproving them through experimentation. This is, in essence, the scientific method and it has served our world well for a few thousand years. Strong ideas survive, weak ones die out.
Faith, real faith, seeks no proof at all. Rather, it sets up fundamental truths and tells adherents to believe them in the absence of observable evidence. In fact, it is this absence of, or even resistance to, observable evidence that forms the core of true faith.
Given these polar systems, it should come as no surprise that science thinkers and faith thinkers arrive at conclusions in fundamentally different manner.
The scientist observes evidence, crafts hypothesis, and seeks to design experiments to test the validity of said hypothesis. In essence he or she does not “believe” anything, but seeks reasons to disbelieve. His/her conclusions are often transitory for this reason. “I’ll believe this until someone rigorously disproves it.”
The faithful begins with a belief and seeks evidence to support it. His/her conclusions are often steadfast for this reason. “I believe this and so should you. Here’s why.”
It seems to me that our society is increasingly choosing to engage at the level of faith rather than science. The almost inevitable result is a growing polarization of opinion and general lack of willingness to compromise. And spin. Lots and lots of spin.
Part of the reason could be that science has become so complex it’s just too difficult to fully understand. Much easier to believe Global Warming exists or does not exist (as if it were as so simple as that) based on whatever talking head we follow on tv or radio.
Science fiction could have a helpful role to play in this ballet of beliefs. In the 20th century, science fiction brought a new understanding of physics (especially the more speculative facets of the field) and computers/AI to a broad audience. I believe SF can do the same in the 21st century for the life sciences. It’s beginning to happen, but we can do better at speculating from real hypotheses and understanding current research (cognition and behavior, epigenetics, epidemiology, etc). Mundane SF is one attempt to start this process.
Check it out.