Being a scientist living in the land of religious lunacy, I’m often asked what I believe in. My stock answer to this is “Gravity.” After all, you just can’t escape it. Don’t believe me? Try to make the egg you just dropped levitate before it hits the floor or stop yourself when you’re half way to the ground from an uncomfortable height. Gravity’s a bitch, and it will get you every time. This is truly something you can believe in.
That had to hurt, and believe me, those people would have become instant atheists if it would negate the effects of gravity. See? I’m thinking of a clever advertising slogan here: Gravity: Finally there’s something to believe in.
I’m a chemist. Well, let me clarify. I’m an American chemist, which means I can design and make the drugs, I just can’t sell them. It goes without saying that I don’t have much use for theories you can’t prove and phenomena you can’t replicate. I also don’t have much use for people harassing me about how I “just have to believe” something, “have faith in things unseen”, or “need the _______ (Fill in deity of your choice, except Cthulhu. That guy’s just a bastard.) in my life.” I don’t buy any of this, and I make no apologies for it.
This is not to say my life is entirely devoid of faith. See, I have tons of faith in things unseen. When I do an enzyme assay, I have to take it on faith the enzyme is in there, because I can’t actually see it. I have to have faith that a color change indicates a chemical reaction took place. A lot of science takes place on paper, white boards and in the heads of individuals. You have to have faith in the math. No easy task.
At the risk of boring the vast majority of you who all too readily recognize the above equation, let me do a little explaining to the new initiates. What you see above you is a portion (only a portion) of the equation that explains the existence of alternate realities. It helps explain the universe’s response to paradox. It tells us a little bit about how an object is not really there until we turn around and observe it.
The above elementary musing is a portion of the String Theory equation. String Theory and quantum theory are intimate and incestuous. It makes me feel dirty just thinking about it. You can barely separate them, but they are, technically, different disciplines. One other thing: both take approximately one assload of faith to accept. The door to the universe one atom away from you is always open; you just have to have faith in the math. But think about this for a minute and tell me it doesn’t take your mind to wondrous places. You can see the past, the future, the world where the glass repairs itself after being broken or the world after the Allies lost World War II. Don’t worry if you’re a failure in this life, because in another string you’re actually the King of Sweden. Neato.
Of course, maybe we’re just pulling this out of our asses.
Well, no matter. You don’t need to be a physicist to appreciate the sense of wonder the universe can instill. Here, take a look at this:
That’s a galaxy, and it’s a real object. If you have a mighty radio telescope, you can see it for yourself. Right now, we just have to leave it up to Hubble and the Internet. Look at it and tell me you don’t have faith in something grander than yourself. The thing is, unlike rule books written by perfectly fallible human beings or supposed miracles barely witnessed by anyone, this thing is hardcore reality. There it is; hanging around the cosmos, minding its own business, completely oblivious to your presence. It does not give a shit about you. Giving a shit about you is what we would consider “Well BENEATH Its Pay Grade.” It’s larger than your mind can comprehend. Nobody has to “believe” it’s there, we can see it’s there. Faith made simple.
Okay, now that the religious zealots have called me all sorts of names, bragged loudly about how they’re all praying for me and left the building, let’s take a minute to calm down, clear our heads, and think this thing through one last time.
I believe my enzyme is in there. I believe in LeChatlier’s Principle. I believe there are 6.02 x 10^23 particles in a mole. I believe in that nebula. I believe the cat will be there when I open the box. Science is faith. Religion is rules and semantics. Don’t ever tell a scientist that s/he lives a godless life devoid of faith and hope. Far from it. We all believe in something larger than ourselves, otherwise, why go to work every day?
I love you and want the best for you, so I’m leaving you that very special religious ceremony. It’s been passed down among our people for about a century. Now you can believe in LeChatlier’s Principle too. Safety tip: you’re not going to want to drink those when you’re finished with them. It’s one thing to believe in the practical and wonder-inspiring. It’s another thing to drink the magic Kool-Aid.