Sunday, November 25, 2007

Faith in Science

Until science comes up with a testable theory of the laws of the universe, its claim to be free of faith is manifestly bogus.
These be fightin' words!

The general idea offered by Paul Davies in a NYTimes editorial yesterday is that science is actually based on faith - specifically that scientists mus adopt a belief that the universe is ordered and has special conditions that enable life. You can expect there is another another side to this story. Actually, many other sides. I appreciate the concluding statement in PZ Myers' lengthy rebuke:
Maybe Davies has faith in science, but I don't. I take it as it comes. I have expectations and hypotheses, but these are lesser presuppositions than what is implied by faith—and I'm also open to the possibility that any predictions I might make will fail.
Of all the responses that I have read, I most appreciate Dr. Free-Ride's distinction between metaphysical commitments and methodological strategies. When discussing the perspectives of scientists in action (Latour reference intended), it is important to consider what the practitioners recognize as the foundation of their activities. In the trenches of wet labs, field plots, and modeling suites, there are many more scientists willing to accept the utility of empiricism than a theory of universal existence. Don't get me wrong: many scientists do nurture their own metaphysical understanding of the universe, but my guess is that the color of those beliefs varies widely between individual. When it comes down to it, I think that most scientists do experiments and leave questions of metaphysics to the philosophers and theologians.

I think that my resistance to Davies' article is founded on the comparative comfort that cosmologists have in talking about origins, faith and world-views relative to other scientists - especially biologists. Maybe I am jealous that cosmologists can write in the New York Times about science and faith, while in the current setting, most biologists must pick a side: science or faith. Some readers are not willing even to grant cosmologists the right to seek common ground between science and religion.

I applaud Davies' efforts to point out an important understudied element of existence - origins - but agree with many other blogs that he was clumsy in his attempt. Anyway, is science even capable of studying origins?

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