Monday, August 20, 2012

Science involves faith

One reason I do not like the dichotomy: science versus Christian faith is that it implies that science does not involve faith.

This issue is also nicely discussed in Priyan Dias' paper: Are science and religion really different?

Scientists have faith. They believe/trust/hope:
  • The universe is ordered. There are laws of nature to be discovered.
  • These laws are independent of time. They are the same yesterday, today, and forever. 
  • These laws are independent of geographic location. They are the same in Brisbane, Bangalore, Paris, on the surface of the sun, and in a galaxy millions of light years away.
  • Other scientists are trustworthy and present their results with objectivity and integrity.
  • Well designed experiments give results that are independent of the observer.
These foundational beliefs are not without "evidence". The history of science has shown these to be "reasonable" beliefs. Science does work! However, these working assumptions cannot be "proven".

I wonder whether the day to day practise of science by individuals and groups requires greater faith than the assumptions above. The daily practise is not necessarily supported by as strong as history and evidence as the broad sweep of successful science. Individual scientists of average ability and with modest resources have the hope/faith/confidence that their own investigations will produce reliable knowledge. They stake considerable time, energy, and reputation on it. Yet it is not clear to me that such faith is necessarily any more justified than aspects of Christian faith.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Prof. Ross,
    We were having a similar discussion after the advanced computational physics lecture today, spurred on by the upcoming BrisScience talk on if modern science has made religion obsolete. Whilst I believe that this is definitely not true (for a start, religion and science are not mutually exclusive and generally serve valid and different purposes in the modern world), it seems that some people become hung up on the assumptions that come before the scientific method. Theology can be pursued with a scientific method by making hypotheses and testing them by examining evidence (usually from the past, as with history, psychology, and other social sciences), regardless of the initial assumptions.

    At least with religious endeavours, the work one 'theologist' does individually has perhaps more applicable benefits to reward their devotion. Perhaps we need to stake as much of our reputation, time and energy on this study as we do on science (and for those non-relgious ones out there, the study of one's own nature is rarely futile)?

    At some point I shall have to read the paper, too....