Click for: CSSHS Archive Main Page
Vol. IX • 1987

On Faith and Reason
Walter R. Schumm

From a technical standpoint, there is no reason to involve religion in the creation/evolution controversy However, I think it is likely that unless a scientist has a philosophical ground for challenging the most popular viewpoint (or at least what is perceived as most popular by many), one would not waste one's time and energy investigating other alternatives.

Herein the creationist is vulnerable to the accusation that his interest in creationism stems from his religious views and therefore his acceptance of creationism is a consequence of faith rather than intellectual understanding. I would like to present an anecdotal piece of evidence that shows that faith may be an important prerequisite to understanding within science, even in areas unrelated to religion. When I was an undergraduate student at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, I happened to be a physics major, albeit not a particularly distinguished student definitely in the bottom half of my class of ten or eleven seniors. However, my brother had come across a discovery by the Interprobe Company, which was using electrostatic cooling to insure that metal alloy coatings would cool uniformly with fewer fractures due to uneven cooling.

Basically, the company's founding engineer had discovered that when a high voltage (10,000+ volts) was applied to a needle, a very smooth current of air emanated from the tip of the needle, a flow much more even than could be obtained with a rotating fan or other device. For my senior project, I decided to explore what might be causing this phenomenon. Even though I had faith in my brother's honesty and had advertisements from the Interprobe company about their process, my professors did not believe the claims. They debated the idea hotly over their lunches and were unable to arrive at a consensus about how the phenomenon might be working, if indeed it worked at all! Many felt it was a bad idea to let a rather poor student work on such a risky project, fearing what would happen if it failed, as they expected.

Finally, the apparatus was assembled the power supply, the voltage transformer, the macramé needle, and a red hot heating coil about two inches from the tip of the needle. The switch was flipped and indeed the coil turned black near the needle as it cooled down! No longer was the fact a matter of faith it worked. Now what amazed me at the time was that one of the professors upon seeing it work was able to explain how it worked after only five minutes of reasoning. In other words, once faith was present, once there was a reason to believe it worked, it took almost no time to understand the process, even though it had been a matter of hot debate beforehand. Essentially, as the needle got smaller near the tip the effective voltage was magnified to a point where a flow of ions or electrons was created from the high voltages, which then propelled those particles away from the needle in a smooth flow that moved the other non-ionized air molecules along with it.

Before seeing it work, my professors could not understand how the process could work; after seeing it work, it required almost no thought to do so. That change in the difficulty of intellectual understanding, I would propose, is relevant to all science and is a characteristic of human nature rather than a phenomenon peculiar to controversies between religion and science. Opponents of creationism who say that creationists believe what they do only because their faith demands it are sadly mistaken, because a lack of faith in any theory is probably sufficient to hinder anyone's understanding of it. From a scholarly perspective, one would need the flexibility to consider a variety of theories as potentially valid and to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses in the light rather than a priori assuming one alternative to be the only credible theory.

"On Faith and Reason"
CSSHS • Creation Social Science & Humanities Society • Quarterly Journal

Main Page:  CSSHS Archives