Nullius in Verba
~ The Royal Society
Yet another tattoo.
Count it as either 13 or 14, it’s my 2nd in New Orleans. Generally with the tattoos I get each year, they are meant to sum up something about the previous year leading up to the inking, but because I’ve already gotten 1 tattoo here in the city, I decided to get a phrase that was less about marking a moment in time and more just part of my personal philosophy.
“Nothing Upon Another’s Word” (in the original latin) is the motto of the Royal Society of London, one of the oldest (if not the oldest) organizations dedicated to science. It has existed since 1660. There are religions that are younger than that.
This motto is the essential heart of science, and the hallmark of a skeptical mind (note: skeptical, not cynical). Every atheist has the spirit of this phrase running through their veins, even if they’ve never read it. Of course, you don’t have to be an atheist to respect this basic tenet of the scientific pursuit (there are, after all, scientists who are religious), but to live it in your day to day life is to refute the very notions of ‘blind faith’ and ‘authority.’
There are those who will claim ‘science’ is just another ‘faith,’ revealing that they don’t understand either word. The phrase “Nothing upon another’s word” is what sets science apart from religion. Being an atheist or admiring science doesn’t mean one lacks the ability to believe, it only means that we don’t believe based on someone’s word or assurances. If a scientist makes a claim, s/he has to provide evidence to support that claim. Once that has been done, a portion of faith (used in the sense of “good faith” not “blind faith”) is allotted to that person, so long as each additional claim is supported with additional evidence.
Science builds on what has been established. The Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection didn’t just appear in Darwin’s head, he built it on observations and well-established facts. These observations and facts were so well established that Darwin wasn’t even the only person to come up with the theory. He was just the first to get it published and widely disseminated.
Religion doesn’t work that way. It makes a huge claim (an omnipotent God, a Holy Prophet who speaks for Him, Heaven and Hell) and works backwards, demanding that the believers accept the most outlandish claims first (with no evidence) and then everything else they say is pretty easy to swallow in comparison.
When religious people attack science by claiming that the Big Bang Theory or String Theory are just matters of faith, they’re displaying the very mindset that makes them susceptible to religious faith. They are used to thinking about the big and working small, whereas science takes the small and builds up to the big. Those religious people who dismiss scientific theories don’t understand that such theories are built on smaller observations and well-documented facts, because their personal “theories” (God) have no such foundations.
When I say I believe in the Big Bang Theory or the Theory of Natural Selection, I’m not saying I have faith in someone else’s word. I’m saying that there has been enough research, study and established facts to make each theory believable. The theory could be proven wrong, but if that’s the case the base facts won’t change any. On the other hand, if God is disproved (obviously this will never happen), every religion will suddenly be meaningless (I mean, more so).
When someone proclaims faith in a particular religion’s God, their belief is built upon accepting the unproven claims of another. When I state that the only thing I believe in is science, I’m plainly saying, “Nothing upon another’s word.”