Tuesday 9 February 2010

Knowledge and faith are not remotely the same thing

On this morning's Thought for the Day the Rev Tom Butler, who claims to be trained in both science and theology, said this:
One physicist has written: "Our measurements point to a universe filled with a kind of matter which we've never seen, propelled by a force which we don't understand." If believing that isn't faith, I don't know what is.
It might help if Tom Butler had been trained in logical thinking as well. The unnamed physicist is clearly making a statement about a lack of knowledge, and it is revealing that the cleric interprets this as faith. Cosmologists speculate about about the nature of the universe, and see that their knowledge about it is far from complete. Clerics may speculate about the nature of God, and with even less knowledge go on to claim that they know in detail what this deity wants you to do with your genitalia.

Sorry to labour the point, but I find it frustrating that this has to be pointed out yet again. Cosmologists may indeed suggest that the universe is largely composed of quantities of matter and energy that they know next to nothing about. But they then go on to suggest how this stuff might be accounted for. They hypothesise. They speculate. They calculate. They test.

Theologians, on the other hand, faced with something about which they have a comparable lack of knowledge, do not do this. They just make stuff up.

Thought for the Day is available as a podcast feed here:

or from iTunes here:

(BBC podcasts, like the iPlayer streams, usually expire after seven days, but all the Thoughts are available for audio download as mp3s on the TftD archive website.)


  1. Good post Paul, but you really have to stop listening to Thought for the Day. It only seems to upset you.

  2. Yeah, I know. My morning schedule usually ensures I miss TftD, but today I caught it.

    BTW, this isn't the first time Tom Butler has made statements that seem to argue for the opposition.

  3. I absolutely agree with you, having found this link because I was also incensed by TftD. You'd think a man of the clergy would have some idea about what 'faith' is, but if he thinks quoting someone proves anything then here's another on the subject: "Faith is believing what you know ain't so".
    I think the difference is that scientists might hypothesise these things, but they admit that they don't know yet and they try to find out.
    You don't need to have faith in these things, because we can see them happening. If someone comes up with an explanation that works, it will be tested and tested until it seems likely to be right. If it ever fails a test, it will be wrong. That's not faith.
    Faith is still believing something even though there's no evidence for it or likelihood of it, and continuing to insist on it even after every test has failed to prove it.
    And that's not science.

  4. "You'd think a man of the clergy would have some idea about what 'faith' is..."

    And he claims to be a theologian. Small wonder that I have so little respect for theology.