When it comes right down to it, human beings have to operate on belief. To survive, we cannot prove and demonstrate every aspect of life anew each day. Based on past experience, we believe that the sun will rise each day. When we take trip on an airplane we believe it will get us there. But there are two kinds of belief. There is belief based on the intangible and belief based on the observable and demonstrable.
Belief in a deity or a greater power is belief in the intangible. I’m not saying that a higher power does or does not exist. I am saying that there is absolutely no physical evidence that the universe in which we live was created by such a power or that such a power intervenes directly in our lives. Nor is there any physical evidence of an afterlife. All that may or may not exist, but all religions that postulate any or some of those beliefs as fact are based on faith, not on observable or provable evidence. Conceivably, if improbably, in my opinion, that could change. Robert Sawyer wrote a science fiction novel [Calculating God] in which a future human society and an alien society discover such observable and physical proof of the existence of a higher power.
So when critics of science insist that scientists operate on belief and that the sole difference between scientists and fundamentalist deity-worshippers is in what they believe, the only element of truth in that assertion is that, by necessity, all humans operate on what they believe, to a large degree, in their everyday lives. The question isn’t whether we believe; it’s what we believe.
At one time, the Catholic Church insisted that the earth was the center of the universe. Giordano Bruno insisted otherwise, particularly that stars were actually suns similar to our own, with planets with life upon them, and that there was no “Celestial center” to the universe. Unsurprisingly, given the fervor of true believers and a Church wanting to maintain control, his “beliefs” were denounced, and he was executed. He was, of course, largely correct, especially in overall concept, and the guardians of religion were wrong, as they have been to a great degree whenever they have opposed what science has discovered.
One of the problems that believers in intangibles have is that all too many of them want a simple and complete explanation to the universe. Belief in a supreme deity offers such. So, in a more limited way, does intelligent design explain where we as a species came from – except that explanation is totally at variance with what science has discovered.
Science cannot offer the sweeping absolutes that religion does, because science is based on what we have discovered, and we have not yet discovered everything that is potentially discoverable about life and the universe. In the recent past centuries of scientific progress we have learned more and more about both, but whether we will ever learn everything, I suspect, is unlikely. To me, belief based on facts and what can be demonstrated to be so, even if such explanations of the universe and life are not totally complete, is far more satisfying than simplistic wish-fulfillment. And, in the meantime, until all the evidence is in, I’m perfectly happy in not knowing whether there is or is not a supreme deity, especially since, if there does happen to be such a deity, given all we’ve undergone as a species, there’s certainly no proof that such a deity is unreservedly just and beneficent.