Yes, science does require faith for several obvious reasons. I will also draw a few parallels to my major of psychology. Psychology is essentially the scientific study of human behaviour. Developmental psychology is the scientific study of development and change in human behaviour within a person’s life starting in conception and ending in death. Within this field an element of faith is certainly required.
An obvious aspect of faith that science requires is that our rational cognitive faculties correspond to the external world. This is an unprovable assumption that must be taken on faith whether we do science or even just perform any daily activity. In fact, a Solipsist is one who denies the actual existence of the external world beyond his/her own mind. This may sound absurd to some but it is an entirely debatable topic. For instance, I am an Objective Realist; I believe that the external world exists, but I also know that I take it entirely on faith that it exists. In other words, I believe that there are better reasons for being an realist than not. So when a psychologist interacts with her client she takes it on faith that her client exists independently of herself; that her client has a mind independent of herself is an unprovable assumption. This extends to all spheres of human knowledge, science included. For example, the biologist has to have faith that the live bacteria he examines through a microscope is a product of a world external to his own mind.
A second point is that the scientist has to have faith in the testimony of her fellow human beings. For example, when I do an assignment I am required to consult several journals authored by psychologists on studies that they have completed; studies that give insight into human nature and behaviour. However, I cannot prove that their testimony is reliable; instead, I have to take it on faith that it is. So when I submit my paper for marking a large part of an argument that I’ve made is grounded upon the human testimony of one or several other psychologists; psychologists that I’ve never met in person and who probably live in countries many thousands of kilometers away. I take their testimony on faith. This extends to every scientific discipline beyond psychology.
Thirdly, scientists have to trust their instructors and coworkers. They trust their scientific instruments. They trust their memory. And they ultimately trust the natural world to display the regularities of natural law. If scientists threw out trust and became across-the-board skeptics then science would grind to an immediate halt. In this way science requires faith to even operate. The physicist Paul Davies explains that:
“All science proceeds on the assumption that nature is ordered in a rational and intelligible way. You couldn’t be a scientist if you thought the universe was a meaningless jumble of odds and ends haphazardly juxtaposed. When physicists probe to a deeper level of subatomic structure, or astronomers extend the reach of their instruments, they expect to encounter additional elegant mathematical order. And so far this faith has been justified” (1). In a similar manner Professor Lennox, a philosopher of science, explains:
“After all, if as certain secular thinkers tell us, the human mind is nothing but the brain and the brain is nothing but a product of mindless unguided forces, it is hard to see that any kind of truth let alone scientific truth could be one of its products. As chemist J. B. S. Haldane pointed out long ago: if the thoughts in my mind are just the motions of atoms in my brain, why should I believe anything it tells me – including the fact that it is made of atoms? Yet many scientists have adopted that naturalistic view, seemingly unaware that it undermines the very rationality upon which their scientific research depends!” (2)
Consider the existence of aliens; a topic of some scientific interest and investigation. The interested scientist has to have faith that aliens may actually exist somewhere in the universe for him to discover, or what would be the point of putting cash into such a project of investigation? Even for an atheist to say that he “believes in science, not religion” is a statement of faith. Where there is a claim to belief there is an aspect of faith. They go hand-in-hand.
Does science require faith? Very much so.
1. Davies, P. 2006. Taking Science on Faith. Available.
2. Lennox, J. John Lennox on Science and Faith. Available.