(I'll apologize in advance, this is a long post – but you likely have another half year before I post again, so that should give you time to read it.)
So, I spent the weekend debating evolutionary biology, and I've decided to write a blog post about the results of that. Thing is, I have little more than a high school education in the natural sciences, yet I made an arrogant fool of myself, and got accordingly planed (check out this link if you'd like to see). Though we have similar levels of formal scientific education, Ash has spent his spare time studying evolutionary biology, while I've spent mine studying faith. When we debate evolutionary biology, he is much more knowledgeable, and it shows.
Somewhat humbled now, I do have to concede that there does exist significant amounts of observed data which fits the evolutionary model very well, and if any valid arguments against evolutionary theory do exist, I am not competent to see them through. So I'm not going to try again (at least for a while - I tend to forget about getting planed every so often … it's a character flaw, and I really should work on it). Instead, what I'd like to talk about is faith, and hope that that is a subject about which I know at least as much about as Ash does of biology.
You see, there's this misperception I've seen that “faith” is exactly equivalent to “blind faith” - simple belief without evidence or reason to support it. This is not the case. Instead, I would say that faith is conviction of a truth, and action on that conviction. Now, this conviction may indeed be blind – if I say that “I dreamed last night that the sky was green, therefore it must be green.”, this is a blind faith, and, what's more, a faith that's easily contradictable by a simple observation that is available to almost everyone (as I sit here, I can tell you with confidence that the sky is, in fact, gray (at least right now - experience also suggests that it is often blue as well)). Now though, the fact that some faith is blind does not imply that all faith is correspondingly blind. When I brought up to Ash an argument of scientific form (though, I'll now admit, not so much scientific rigor) – an observation, an extrapolation based on that observation, and an argument as to how that extrapolation fit various hypotheses – his initial response was basically “that's wrong, science does not support it”. Now, this is not a scientific argument, but rather a statement of faith – the counter-argument of “science does not support it” itself has nothing to do with observed data about nature, but is simply an appeal to the beliefs of others. This faith, however, is well founded in the life study of thousands of people much more knowledgeable in the field than I am, people who've made and rebutted many more scientific arguments of significantly more subtlety and rigor, such that a small selection of such scientific rebuttals was sufficient to demolish my argument.
So, faith is founded on evidence – some sorts of evidence can be easily tested for truth, and are thus more convincing (such as the scientific predictions of natural phenomena), other sorts or less so (like whatever my subconscious comes up with when I dream). There are some sorts of evidence which are somewhere in the middle – consider a court case, where there are exactly two eyewitnesses, and those witnesses give contradictory testimony – it's reasonable that one of them is telling the truth, but determining which can be difficult. As this evidence does not all claim to be of the same rigor and falsifiability that scientific evidence claims, it is not necessarily as easy to contradict as bad science is, but this does not render it invalid as evidence. As an example, if someone tells you they love you, do you take them at their word, or do you do brain scans on them to test that they're telling the truth – if you do believe them (are convicted of the truth of their statement), you have faith in the fact that they love you. Most people would base that faith on the word and trustworthiness of the person, rather than medical science (though the latter would make an amusing xkcd comic).
This, I think, gets to the core of why people (myself most definitely included) tend to react badly when our articles of faith are challenged. If what we are convinced of the truth of, and which we have been acting in accordance with the truth of is, in fact, untrue, we have been making some very serious mistakes, and no one likes the suggestion that they're doing the wrong thing.
For myself, I believe that humans are different. I think almost anyone would agree with me that humans are the most intelligent beings on Earth. This fits the evolutionary model, and it fits the Biblical model:
26 Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground." 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:26-27 (NIV)However, where the agreement between the two models starts to break down is in defining this difference. Evolution would argue that it is a quantitative difference, that humans are essentially just smarter apes. In my interpretation at least, the Bible seems to strongly suggest a qualitative difference – that humans, among all the inhabitants of planet Earth, are uniquely created in the image of God. Thus, if someone could genetically engineer a strain of chimpanzees with human-level intelligence, or build the fabled general AI that is as or more intelligent than you and I, it would really rock my world. Now, the two models are not irreconcilable – many prominent Christian theologians (I believe C.S. Lewis, for one) subscribe to evolutionary theory as well, with greater or lesser degrees of divine intervention. (My response to this is that if you're willing to assume a God that could start and/or push along evolution, why not assume a God that would create everything in a week, and then explain himself clearly?) However, even in the Biblical framework I laid out here, it is only an initial difference between humans and everything else that is required by the model, not necessarily a continuing qualitative difference (if the singularity occurs, I'll be the first missionary to the robots :-) ).
To conclude, all I really want to say is this: we all have faith, and it is all founded on various types of evidence: scientific observation, personal experience, the word of other people, etc. It seems like recommended best practice should be to pick the set of articles of faith (one could also phrase this “model of reality”) which best explains to you the evidence which you have, though we could all (again, myself most definitely included) strive to give fair consideration to evidence that seems to contradict those articles of faith, and attempt to give reasonable explanations for such evidence, modifying our world model, our articles of faith, if necessary.