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Paul Davies: Science and Faith
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I'm a little late getting around to commenting on this, but better late than never. Paul Davies had an op-ed last month in the NY Times repeating the well-worn canard that science relies on faith just as much as religion.

Here we go:

The problem with this neat separation into "non-overlapping magisteria," as Stephen Jay Gould described science and religion, is that science has its own faith-based belief system. All science proceeds on the assumption that nature is ordered in a rational and intelligible way. You couldn't be a scientist if you thought the universe was a meaningless jumble of odds and ends haphazardly juxtaposed. When physicists probe to a deeper level of subatomic structure, or astronomers extend the reach of their instruments, they expect to encounter additional elegant mathematical order. And so far this faith has been justified.

The belief that the universe some degree of structure and order is most definitely not one that is based on faith. That would imply that there is no evidence to suggest that there is structure in the universe, which just ain't true.

If there was no regularity in the universe, that is, if similar causes didn't repeatedly result in similar effects, then we wouldn't be able to learn anything. Our repeated exposure to regularity on a daily basis provides first-hand experience that there is structure to the universe. This isn't some kind of metaphysical leap. Regularity is inherent in every second of every minute of every hour we experience.

To call that "faith" is obscene. Faith is holding a particular belief with very weak justification. The belief that the universe is structured is repeatedly confirmed through experience, so Davies is already making bogus claims.

I already covered this pretty well here.

But back to Davies:

Over the years I have often asked my physicist colleagues why the laws of physics are what they are. The answers vary from "that's not a scientific question" to "nobody knows."


In other words, the laws should have an explanation from within the universe and not involve appealing to an external agency. The specifics of that explanation are a matter for future research. 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.

There he goes again. I always find it strange when someone who claims to be a scientist is unsatisfied with the answer "I don't know" to a question about the universe. Uncertainty and ignorance are at the core of scientific inquiry. We don't know how something works, so we come up with possible explanations and ways to try to test those explanations. Thus, to the question "Why are the laws of physics what they are?", the answer "I don't know" or "Nobody knows" is perfectly acceptable. But Davies doesn't like it.

Apparently he thinks that unless we have it all figured out, we're relying on faith, which is a crock of shit. If you asked me (to take an example from my own study) to explain the function of dreams, or exactly how memory consolidation works, or exactly what the functional architecture of the mammalian brain is, I'd say "I don't know". That is not relying on faith. If I say that I believe there are regularities in the way the brain functions, and proceed to study the brain in order to determine what those underlying regularities are, that also is not a reliance on faith. I have plenty of evidence to suggest that proceeding in this way will bear fruit.

So Davies is wrong. Sadly, mistakenly, and in a very silly way, wrong.

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