Sunday, November 25, 2007

Is Science Based on Faith?

I've heard the assertion that humanism is just another religion, only one that's allowed to be taught in the public school, and as a humanist myself, I wonder whether that's true: I'm still considering it and on the lookout for articles both pro and con. So I was very interested to read this article, an op-ed by Paul Davis that's the New York Times' most emailed article for yesterday (and number two so far for today.) It's called Taking Science on Faith, and is about how science is as much based on faith as is religion. The article ends with the statement: "But until science comes up with a testable theory of the laws of the universe, its claim to be free of faith is manifestly bogus."

However, open as I think I am to considering this idea, his article fails to convince, and, in fact, doesn't even make much sense.

Davis states "Therefore, to be a scientist, you had to have faith that the universe is governed by dependable, immutable, absolute, universal, mathematical laws of an unspecified origin. You've got to believe that these laws won't fail, that we won't wake up tomorrow to find heat flowing from cold to hot, or the speed of light changing by the hour." Well, no. If we woke up tomorrow and these things were different, there would be obvious signs, things would most likely be flying all apart and I'm sure scientists would be on it trying to figure out what was happening. If what he is saying that possibly these things are happening all the time, then cold-to-hot would be showing up in experiments and studied. If these sorts of things are changing all the time, experimental results won't be replicable.

Davis then goes on to explain that scientists need to be able to explain what caused the laws of science, or what is out there beyond the laws of science, or WHY these laws exist. Scientists he asks say "that's not a scientific question" or "nobody knows" or "There is no reason they are what they are -- they just are." He doesn't find these answers satisfying. And yet, to me these answers show just the opposite of the point he's trying to make: that science is NOT based on faith. If his point was why he didn't find it satisfying and why you shouldn't either, and that science doesn't really explain very much, then, ok. But he overplays his hand by a lot.

The strongest part of his argument is where he states: "All science proceeds on the assumption that nature is ordered in a rational and intelligent way. You couldn't be a scientist if you thought the universe was a meaningless jumble of odds and ends haphazardly juxtaposed." I might admit to some faith here. I certainly don't walk around thinking the universe is a meaningless jumble of odds and ends haphazardly juxtaposed and that would indeed be a very different mindset. Although not that different, because my dreams are often that way, so I've experienced it plenty of times. Do any of you know anyone, or of any cultures past or present, or of any mental illnesses that answer to this description (other than dreams)? I don't think this is admitting to much faith.

Do you find his article convincing? Am I missing something?

1 comment:

rusnash said...

Not convincing.

To my mind science is a method, so the idea of "orthodox science" has no meaning.

Also, reason is a human characteristic. It makes no sense to describe the universe as rational. We can use reason to understand the universe. Many things do seem to "make sense" although oftentimes further inquiry suggests that things seem the most reasonable when they are oversimplified.

From an NLP perspective, I would point out that throughout the article he uses language (e.g. terms like a "Maker's mark" imprinted on the universe etc) that implies that he wants to call up and emotionally validate creationist imagery although with his explicit statements he claims that validating creationism is not his goal. This incongruity is what I find disturbing.

Mr. Davies makes a similar type of argument that I have heard before from intelligent design proponents. The need to "explain" the laws of physics leads people to "discover" that the only "explanation" is some "intelligent designer."

So I don't really find much of value in his article because it seems to me that he just wants to set a frame that places religious texts on an equal footing with the results of scientific inquiry.