How can we analyze our beliefs objectively to determine their validity, to find whether or not our beliefs are true? Is thinking scientifically the answer? Some believe that the scientific method of research is the only way to determine the validity of anything. In that case, our beliefs must be determined systematically by what can be perceived via physical evidence noted “…through observation and experiment, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses.” as stated in the Merriam Webster Online Dictionary.
I believe the scientific method is a very good resource, but not perfect. It cannot be used to determine the validity of every belief. It cannot prove or disprove the existence of God for example. One person might say there is no physical evidence that God exists. Another considers the existence of the physical world as proof of God’s existence. We cannot determine the validity of everything based on our perceptions. Sometimes evidence exists, but is not available for our observation. There are whistles that only dogs can hear. Just because human beings are not able to hear the sound at the same pitch that a dog can, does not mean that the whistle is not making a sound. However, when observing someone blow a dog whistle, our perception tells us that there is no sound coming from the whistle. If our experiment includes observing a dog’s reaction to the whistle, we come to a different conclusion.
So what makes something true or reality? Reality of course is the state of being real. Webster defines “real” variously as: “….genuine…not artificial…existing in actuality…existing as a physical entity…capable of being detected. If reality is something that is capable of being detected, then that means that anything that cannot be proven or “detected” is not real! People have not always been able to prove that the earth revolves around the sun. Does that mean that the earth did not revolve around the sun until it could be proven? No it does not. It is clear that reality and belief can be two entirely different things. What someone believes to be true may or may not be true. What if an astronaut landed on the moon and tasted a bit of it? If that person thought the moon tasted and looked like cheese, would that make it cheese? Of course not. Just because someone believes the moon is made of cheese, does not mean that it is.
When investigating a matter, your belief may influence how you interpret your observations. For instance, when viruses adapt and become resistant to anti-viral medications, we have evidence of evolution. In these cases viruses evolve to meet new challenges to survival. I accept this as true. Yet, as a believer in the existence of God, I see evolution as a mechanism that God set in motion to ensure an organism’s survival. In other words, I have no problem fitting the concept of evolution into my belief system. Someone who does not believe in the existence of God may also see evolution as a survival mechanism, though they would not include God in the equation.
There is no absolute way of demonstrating truth or reality in every case. Therefore thinking scientifically is not the answer. Depending on a person’s orientation, one might use deductive or inductive reasoning, witness testimony, documentation or other physical evidence to draw conclusions. The researcher must have faith in whatever method is used or the results are meaningless. Still, it is important to examine our beliefs. We must do the best we can to determine to our satisfaction that our version of truth is the correct one. Unless we take the time to examine our beliefs we cannot in good conscience stand on our principles. Without the confidence that we are right, we do not have a leg to stand on.