Belief, hope, trust and faith. These are powerful words. They are not less powerful than fact, proof, or truth. Actually, I would argue that they are more powerful. But they are words with meaning and meaning is important. Confusion over their meaning can lead to unexpected results. Persecution in all areas of life can result from confusion over the meaning of these four words. In politics, science, society, and religion the confusion of facts with beliefs causes division. For example, you may well believe that your choice of political leader is best for the country, but in fact the United States has survived for over two centuries with many different types of people at the helm. In science what become our facts are, in reality, only our best estimates. Take medicine for example: Most of what I was taught in medical school is now out of date, wrong, or in many instances, actively dangerous. In fact, a study a few years ago by scientists at the Mayo Clinic found that about half of articles published in top tier, peer-reviewed journals were overturned in just a few years. So, it’s fair to say that in society our “facts” change all the time. Whether it is civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, or human rights at large, views change. If you have closely-held religious convictions they may be your rock and solace, but the faithful are called to faith. The mysteries of God transcend all human understanding. If in any of these areas we confuse our beliefs for facts, we diminish both ourselves and the beliefs we hold.
Physics is the most fundamental of the sciences and, by its own admission, it really can’t tell us much about the universe. Four percent of the universe is the stuff we can see and feel, ordinary matter and energy. Seventy-three percent is dark energy, and twenty-three percent is dark matter, which we know nothing about. Going the other way, we go down into the atom to subatomic particles to… we don’t know what. My point is that we have this idea that we know things. The truth is that we have faith in things.
I’m a science nerd. But science is about studying the limits of our knowledge and understanding, and it is a continuous evolution. In our society we like to think that we have it all figured out and that science rules. However, if you look at the totality of life experience, science is a small part of it. Most of it is “liberal arts”, humanities and the rest of the “squishy” stuff. By keeping these words: belief, hope, trust and faith, in their proper place and not confusing them with fact, proof, or truth I try to maintain the humility to have a civil conversation with someone who holds a different viewpoint even when I have deep convictions on a topic. It is in the challenging of our deep convictions and in being open to new points of view that wisdom is born.
“It’s the repetition of affirmations that leads to belief. And once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to change.”
“Not everything that can be counted counts. Not everything that counts can be counted.”
(William Bruce Cameron) (although often attributed to Einstein)
“Keep an open mind, but not so open that your brain falls out.”
(Professor Walter Kotschnig) (although often attributed to Groucho Marx)
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