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Jon Stewart Equates Science with Faith. He’s Wrong

Even witty liberal television personalities sometimes misunderstand science.

It's not only members of the religious right who go around saying science is a form of faith. I just found out from the blog Cosmic Variance that Jon Stewart has made similar claims on his show. Stewart uses antimatter as an example of something scientists just believe in, despite our inability to see it. Read the post and watch the clip here.

Here's what Stewart has to say about faith and science:

"I've always been fascinated that, the more you delve into science, the more it appears to rely on faith. You know, when they start to speak about the universe they say, well, actually, most of the universe is antimatter. Oh, really, where's that? Well, you can't see it. [Robinson: "Yes, exactly."] Well, where is it? It's there. Can you measure it? We're working on it. And it's a very similar argument to someone who would say God created everything. Well where is he? He's there. And I'm always struck by the similarity of the arguments at their core."

My first reaction is that Jon Stewart must be kidding around, but he seems to be serious. He isn't playing a character the way Colbert does. It's sad if Stewart really thinks physicists just make up things like antimatter. Positrons are so well-established they are used in medicine. Physicist Sean Carroll addresses Stewart's strange assertion. In his blog post, Carroll assumes Steward probably meant dark matter since nobody is claiming most of the universe is antimatter. Either way, Stewart is missing something important about the nature of science:

Obviously he means something like "dark matter," not "antimatter," but that's a minor mixup of jargon. Much worse is that he clearly has absolutely no idea why we believe in dark matter — what the actual evidence for it is in real data. He betrays no understanding that we know how much dark matter there is, have ongoing strategies for detecting it, and spend a lot of time coming up with alternatives and testing them against the data. What kind of misguided "faith" would lead people to believe in dark matter, of all things? (The underlying problem with appeals to faith is that they cannot explain why we should have faith in one set of beliefs rather than some other set … but that's an argument for a different day.)

Very well said. In this column some prominent biologists explain why evolution is not faith-based, even when it comes to the origin of life.