"The function of mathematics is to allow you
to be *absolutely certain* of things
which you cannot possibly know at all."

I quote myself. I'm not sure how long I've been promulgating that definition of mathematics, but only recently -- while reading a biography of Isaac Newton -- has it occurred to me that this truth about math lies at the heart of the apparent conflict between science and religion.

We all know from the Letter to the Hebrews that faith is being certain of things which are not seen. We also know that, at least since Newton, mathematics is the language of science. Now I say that math permits certainty about unknowable things. It is easy to form a fuzzy syllogism concluding that science is the new faith.

This is not entirely false.
There are people for whom experiment and theory,
the processes of science, *are* the sole basis
of their conscious faith. For these people,
science is the only way to truth.

For most of us, science is one way
by which we can recognize truth,
but not a sufficient method to encompass
all truth about the universe
and not an infallible method, either.
For us, having faith in science means
that we faithfully allow the processes
of science to discover, confirm, and refute
whatever pieces of the whole truth
are amenable to scientific investigation.
More specifically to mathematics:
We gladly have mathematic rigor applied to those problems
for which a mathematical model can be formulated.
We recognize that there are questions
for which a comprehensive mathematical model
does not exist, and we observe that some models
may later prove inadequate statements of **actual reality**.

In fact, my pronouncement about mathematics is ambiguous.
If you are certain of things you cannot possibly know,
does that mean that previously you could not know
but now mathematics has opened a new route to knowledge?
Or does it mean that these things are truly unknowable
and you have become certain where certainty is unwarranted?
Both interpretations may be true.
(Perhaps they can even be true at the same time.)
Mathematics provides us with unparalleled power
to achieve certainty about our intellectual models,
but this is not necessarily the same
as being certain about what is true in **actual reality**.

This is why in science experiment must test theory and theory must explain experiment. The two cross-check each other and this requires that models and reality must align with each other. It is a very good system, for everything that can be expressed in mathematical terms, in every part of reality for which we have both metrics and models on which theory and experiment can be based.

Mathematical science is a new means to faith. The question about the apparent conflict between science and religion can only be understood in terms of a conflict among faiths.