Sunday, April 11, 2010

Science requires faith

A little over 2 years ago Paul Davies wrote an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times, Taking Science on Faith, which produced quite a strong negative reaction from some of my fellow theoretical physicists. Here are a few quotes from Davies article:
science has its own faith-based belief system. All science proceeds on the assumption that nature is ordered in a rational and intelligible way....

The most refined expression of the rational intelligibility of the cosmos is found in the laws of physics, the fundamental rules on which nature runs..... But where do these laws come from? And why do they have the form that they do? be a scientist, you had to have faith that the universe is governed by dependable, immutable, absolute, universal, mathematical laws of an unspecified origin.....

Clearly, then, 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....

This shared failing is no surprise, because the very notion of physical law is a theological one in the first place, a fact that makes many scientists squirm. Isaac Newton first got the idea of absolute, universal, perfect, immutable laws from the Christian doctrine that God created the world and ordered it in a rational way....

....until science comes up with a testable theory of the laws of the universe, its claim to be free of faith is manifestly bogus.

Overall I agree with Davies and I think the criticisms of his article are not justified. His response makes interesting reading.


  1. Many supernaturalists have since the enlightenment has tried to argue that science is just like supernaturalism, and requires a faith. There is an effort on the part of the supernaturalist to make supernaturalism seem "reasonable", and put it on a par with science.

    But it is not working. People realize that supernaturalism and science are two completely different things.


  2. Many apologists of scientism side-skirt the issue of faith by referring to the pragmatic value of their assumptions. "Science works."

    So what? Truth and "that which works" are not necessarily the same thing. And the 20th century synthesis of the two is- in itself- just another unproveable assumption.

    I don't get why so many scientists are afraid to admit faith as their starting point. In light of their stammerings and philosophical balbutiations, my suspicion is that they don't like the idea of not having ultimate hold on reality. Their claims to the contrary I have no choice but to take on faith. But who wants to do that?