Paul Davies recently attracted some attention with his New York Times article “Taking Science on Faith.” In this he made the claim “that science has its own faith-based belief system.” He went further to state “both religion and science are founded on faith – namely, on belief in the existence of something outside the universe, like an unexplained God or an unexplained set of physical laws, maybe even a huge ensemble of unseen universes, too. For that reason, both monotheistic religion and orthodox science fail to provide a complete account of physical existence.”Religious apologists love such situations – someone of standing in science putting religion on the same level as science and asserting that science, just like religion, is, in the end, dependent on faith.
Inevitably this article will be wheeled out to support religion and this has already happened on a few blogs (eg. DavidUsher, conservative colloquium and Creedal Christian) However, I am interested to see there has been a much bigger reaction from pro-science writers who feel Davis is misrepresenting science (See for example The Edge Reality Club discussion).
I agree the article does misrepresent science and is confused. At the same time, however, it does conclude that “physical laws” are part of the universe and not imposed from outside as religious believers assume. He also suggests the origins of these laws can be revealed by research – which surely removes any justification for claiming science to be “faith-based.”
What do we mean by “faith?”
The religious use of the term is different of the scientific or even everyday use. In the religious use “faith” implies acceptance of ideas without relying on supporting evidence, without evidence, without evidence or even against the evidence. A “believer” has faith that their god exists, or that their scriptures are true. This is such an essential part of religion that adherents of ten refer to specific religions as “faiths.”
When used in a scientific sense, however, faith is based on evidence. We have “faith” the sun will rise tomorrow morning or that energy and matter will be conserved in the reaction we are studying. This is because of past experience, observation and knowledge (theory) incorporating that experience. Sometimes that “faith” proves to be unwarranted. An outcome is different to our prediction. Then we have to revise our knowledge, incorporate the new knowledge into our theory and revise our “faith”. Science progresses by continually testing our ideas and revising our theories. Faith, in the religious sense, is and should be excluded from scientific inquiry.
Does the scientific method start with assumptions?
Of course we often use existing scientific theories without personally confirming them. We have entrusted that to others and, in a sense, we assume them to be true. Our findings may, of course, give use reason to question those theories and we can do so.
To me the only real basic assumption scientific inquiry starts with is that the universe has its own logic and order and that this is, in principle, knowable. This seems reasonable. After all, no inquiry would even be possible if this weren’t true. What is more, this assumption is, in effect, tested every time we investigate our surroundings, the natural world or the universe.
Revealing the source of order in the universe
Davies describes the “laws of physics” as being the basic assumption in science. In a sense, these laws are man-made. We describe the basic properties and order of the universe in such laws. Davies’ statement that “the laws should have an explanation from within the universe and not involving appealing to an external agency” is a statement about the basic properties of matter. Its objective existence, and its ability to interact and be understood, to be knowable. I think this is what we mean by when we say the universe has its own logic and order and is, in principle, knowable.
I agree with Davies’ suggestion that science may be able to understand, or explain, why matter has these properties, why the universe is the way it is. It’s obviously not a simple problem and we may not reach this understanding in the near future. However, I think the current situation in scientific discovery shows promise. It’s interesting that we are seeing a merging of particle physics with cosmology. The study of the fundamental nature of matter and the origins of matter itself is coming together. This suggests possibilities of researching and explaining these most fundamental of questions.
Inevitably at such an important juncture philosophical questions become important. Human philosophy also becomes involved in the investigations. However, I can’t see that religion, with the reliance on faith divorced from evidence, can have any value here.
Faith is not a prerequisite for science
Questions I have for Paul Davies after reading his NYT op-ed.
The Romeos Wore a Perfect Wave
Taking Science on Faith
Taking Science on Faith
Paul Davies: Taking science on faith
Paul Davies undermines inteligent design
Miracles and the supernatural?
Can science enrich faith?
Limits of science or religious “fog”?
Debating science and religion
Questions science cannot answer?
Humility of science and the arrogance of religion
Science and the supernatural
The Enemies of Reason
Morals, values and the limits of science
Most ideas in science are wrong!