Evolving Thoughts

Physicists on science

I have a rule (Wilkins’ Law #35, I think) that if any scientist is going to draw unwarranted metaphysical conclusions, it will be a physicist, and in particular a cosmologist. Witness Paul Davies in the New York Times.

Davies wants to argue something like this:

Premise: there are laws of the universe and we cannot explain the existence of laws

Premise: the assumption that laws are to be found is the basis for doing science

Conclusion: Ergo, science rests on an act of faith

Can anyone spot the enthymeme? That’s very good, children. You spotted the easy mistake. Davies moves from “assume that there are laws” to “make an act of faith”, as a number of the advanced students in other classes did. Assumptions are not acts of faith, they are the starting point for an act of reasoning. Well done.

But did you spot the difficult mistake? Anyone? Bueller?

OK, let me take you through it.

Suppose I say something like this – “Fido is a black Labrador”. I describe and name Fido for you. Is it an assumption that names exist in the physical world? Descriptions? Does the act of naming Fido mean that we must now explain the essence of Fidoness? Or, for that matter Labradority? Of course not. To say that would be to confuse the name or description with the thing named or described. This is what Alfred North Whitehead once called the “fallacy of misplaced concreteness”, also known as the Fallacy of Reification (by me, anyway). Take words and declare them properties of the universe.

Now, what does Davies say? He says “there are laws of the universe” that rely on a belief in the rationality of the universe. But like Fido, the universe just is – it has a structure (which is what extreme physics tries to explain). We describe this structure in terms of laws. Sure, we assume that the universe has a structure, for without that assumption we cannot gather knowledge (imagine if the sun rose when it felt like it, or pigs flew), but the description of laws is just a provisional summary of what we now know. Just as there is no Fidoness other than the dog standing in front of you, there is no “lawfulness” out there in the universe, just a structured world. We find out that structure, but we no more need to make an act of faith to do this than we need to believe that 1 plus 1 will equal 2; it is a necessary presumption in order for the business of science to get going, but it is most definitely not a metaphysical foundation.

That’s not to say you couldn’t make it a metaphysical foundation if you liked, and clearly Davies likes, but it need not be. To say other wise is to confuse the knowledge with the thing known (or, in philosophese, epistemology for ontology).

It’s a common mistake made by scientists (and more than a few philosophers and others). I find it in taxonomy, where people argue over the “reality” of a taxon when they are in fact discussing the warrantability of a diagnosis of a taxon. But nullius in verba as the motto of the Royal Society has it. Nothing in words Take no one’s word. As Maynard Smith used to say to lunchers in his cafeteria, “Are you discussing words, or the world? If it is the world, I will stay, but if it is words, I will go”.

Let us go, and leave the confused physicist to his own meanderings.

Comments

  1. #1 John Farrell
    November 25, 2007

    Well said. I like many of Davies’ books but he’s reaching here. What’s depressing is the number of conservative magazines and of course the flaks at the DI you just know will now cite him approvingly –and uncritically.

  2. #2 James McGrath
    November 25, 2007

    It reminds me a bit of Goedel’s theorem, although it would lead to an infinite regress if one pushes the logic. But cosmology takes us to the edge not only of what we currently know but what we can reasonably hope to know, and so it is perhaps not surprising – and less inappropriate – to find physicists thinking about metaphysics.

    http://exploringourmatrix.blogspot.com/2007/10/when-cosmologists-and-biologists-speak.html

  3. #3 Scott Hatfield, OM
    November 25, 2007

    This is what Alfred North Whitehead once called the “fallacy of misplaced concreteness”, also known as the Fallacy of Reification (by me, anyway). Take words and declare them properties of the universe.

    Ah. And here I was, thinking of it as the Caledonian Fallacy. Shows what I know.

    BTW, John, just as a point of clarification, granted that it is a fallacy to reify the convention of a law as a property of the universe, isn’t it a fair statement that science as we know it emerged from a culture that derived the lawfulness of the universe as a consequence of their conception of God? That is, perhaps a way to respond to Davies is that he is conflating the theology of the past with the science of the present? That may be a muddled way of expressing it, but I wondered what you thought…

  4. #4 John S. Wilkins
    November 25, 2007

    In fact, the notion that the universe is subject to rational enquiry goes back to the early Greek philosopher Thales, well before any monotheism was in play. In fact, Thales and the other Milesians realised that explaining things in terms of deities was incoherent, as a deity may do anything at a whim, and this can neither be predicted nor controlled. Hence, to do science, we needed that idea early on. Without Thales, Aristotle would not have been possible.

    While it is true that the notion of a “natural law” arose in the middle ages as a correlate of “moral law”, and both rested on a conception of a rational deity, nevertheless, science is based on ideas that predate either Christianity and its child Islam, or the general influence of Judaism on the western world.

  5. #5 Brian English
    November 26, 2007

    This is more fodder for believers to waylay scientists with. It’ll need to be refuted ad nauseum. Sigh.

  6. #6 heddle
    November 26, 2007

    Davies may not have worded it cleverly, but in the big picture he is correct. He is not confused; you are.

    Most of us who are scientists have faith that our activities are not a fool’s errand. It may be based on nothing more than experience and history, and ultimately it may prove to be misplaced faith, but we are forging ahead fully expecting that with the cumulative hard work we will end up understanding more about the universe; we will not hit an impregnable brick wall. Wordsmith however you like, split hairs about assumption versus faith, but the bottom line is we proceed, undeterred, motivated by the recognition that the universe is regulated by laws (experiments are reproducible) and by the faith that we can, albeit often at an agonizingly slow pace, uncover and, at least to a limited extent, understand those laws.

  7. #7 Irving Watanabi
    November 26, 2007

    I love it when Heddle insists that others are confused. Heddle has no training in philosophy, of course, but insists he knows more philosophy than philosophers.

    There’s a huge difference between the “faith” that a scientist has and the “faith” that a religious believer has. Calling the first kind “faith” may please the religiously muddled, but it’s just a propaganda ploy to equate two completely different ways of knowing.

  8. #8 John S. Wilkins
    November 26, 2007

    Suppose you have a problem with your car. The mechanic says “Assuming that the laws of physics haven’t changed – the problem is with your distributor”. Is that faith?

  9. #9 David Marjanovi?
    November 26, 2007

    I find it in taxonomy, where people argue over the “reality” of a taxon when they are in fact discussing the warrantability of a diagnosis of a taxon.

    Usually it’s the content of the taxon.

    Nothing in words.

    Not even close.

    Nullius is genitive. Verba is (nominative or) accusative, so in doesn’t mean “in” (which would require the ablative — verbis), but “into”. So, “into nobody’s words”. Or “against nobody’s words”. That’s a strange motto, but I can’t help it.

    “Nothing in words” would be nullum in verbis.

    While I am at it, it’s ad nauseam. Nausea, nauseae, nauseae, nauseam, nausea…

    Most of us who are scientists have faith that our activities are not a fool’s errand.

    Nope. It’s not faith, it is itself a testable hypothesis that is being tested in every single experiment or other observation. :-)

  10. #10 David Marjanovi?
    November 26, 2007

    Heddle has no training in philosophy, of course, but insists he knows more philosophy than philosophers.

    He insists he knows, period. In fact he just believes.

    I also object to the claim that religion is a way of knowing. It’s a way of believing.

  11. #11 Dave S.
    November 26, 2007

    So…when I lost my keys and went looking for them this morning in every room of the house, was that an act of faith? I mean, they could have turned invisible overnight or something. I found them under the cat treat bag, so does that mean there is a God or not?

  12. #12 heddle
    November 26, 2007

    JW, and DM,

    The case of the auto mechanic is, of course, not faith. However the case of a hypothetical String Theorist who has now worked for twenty-five years is a good example. He has faith his efforts, as I said, is not a fool’s errand. That the mathematics he will require will be both comprehensible by the human mind, can be invented as needed, as is amenable to performing calculations. And he has faith that his work will ultimately make contact with experiment.

    Science (not automechanics) proceeds on the faith that new theories and mathematics can be developed, that they are not beyond our cognitive means, and that they can be tested. This has nothing to do with what David M comment regarding testing and refining existing theories.

    Heddle has no training in philosophy, of course, but insists he knows more philosophy than philosophers.

    I assume that this “this is not your field so shut up” criticism is applied across the board. I’m fairly certain, though I’m going out on a limb here, that (to take the obvious example) PZ has, at least on that rare occasion that with lots and lots of research I’m pretty sure I can uncover, criticized someone outside of the domain of biology. I gather I can find similar rebukes from Irving and David M?

  13. #13 John S. Wilkins
    November 26, 2007

    Heddle, I think you are wrong. Science proceeds just so long as it can make progress. There’s no faith that it will indefinitely do so, but while it works, we proceed. Individual sciences have in fact run up against a barrier of knowability, until a novel technique comes along. It was once said that the nature of stars was forever unknowable. There was no faith involved there that we would be able to understand the composition of stars until spectrography was developed.

    I think that theology itself distinguishes different senses of the vernacular term “faith”, but that is for another time, as I’d have to look up sources I haven’t read for thirty years.

  14. #14 CapitalistImperialistPig
    November 26, 2007

    Once again physics envy leads the biologist down the path to shallow fallacy. It seems like overkill to mention that you completely mischaracterize what enthymeme implies here (nothing!), but Davies’ argument is not philosophically deep – it is essentially obvious. You don’t go to the refrigerator unless you have some expectation that you will find a cold beer (or something else you want) there, and you don’t spend your life studying the universe unless you hope to make some sense of it. His point is that the power of reason to apprehend and understand the world is insufficient without some built in software (call it faith if you like – or not) that allows you to build theory from induction and test theory by deduction.

    Needless to say, philosophy has understood this almost forever.

  15. #15 Brendan S
    November 26, 2007

    The way I see it, Science makes basically one assumption:

    The Universe is deterministic. (In the algorithm sense, not the philosophical sense.)

    For those of you not into algorithm theory, that means that given the same inputs, you will get the same output.

    That’s it. That’s all science assumes. It follows naturally from this assumption that there will be named laws and constants to the universe. A circle will always have the same ratio between it’s diameter and circumference. Gravity will always act at the same ratio as the relationships between mass and distance dictate.

    In a mathy sort of sense, let’s say we have inputs x and y that seem to effect Z. We want to find the relationship between x,y and z. That is, we want to find f(x,y)=z. So we do a bunch of observations, and get some candidate values for x, y, and z, then model a formula to specify the relationship. The formula might look something like:
    Ax + By + C = z. A, B, and C are constants. They are what create the relationship for us. We knew going into it we would find some relationships, and some constants. The Relationships are called Laws (Ohm’s Law, for instance).

    The other think about these assumptions is that they are constantly tested. If we determined our formula above, then found something that didn’t fit, we would be forced to: A) Find a new formula, B) Find a new factor of relation between these things.

    If the universe were non-deterministic, for instance, it’s probabilistic (You get X result 78% of the time, Y result 21%, etc. etc.), you couldn’t ever find the laws of the universe, cause they wouldn’t ever hold true in every case. Or even most cases, for any useful use of the word ‘most’.

    In short, there IS an interesting discussion to be had about the assumptions and the philosophy of science, but it doesn’t start with saying that somehow God i Planck’s Constant.

  16. #16 CapitalistImperialistPig
    November 26, 2007

    Brendan S.,

    Well then, your science is screwed. If you had stayed awake in freshman physics, you would know that your determinism has been falsified – ever hear of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle? I think you put your faith in a false god here, Brendan.

  17. #17 Blake Stacey
    November 26, 2007

    Sigh. I know so many well-grounded physicists, people who are skeptical and pragmatic and just generally full of good sense, but they never get Op-Eds in the New York Times.

  18. #18 GTMoogle
    November 26, 2007

    CIP @ #14, even if we accept that as the original argument, that still only shifts the problem to a poor conflation of varying concepts that can be shoved under the umbrella of ‘faith’. That huge blanket definition of faith is neigh meaningless and leads the argument into ridiculous word play. It’s clearly not the same thing as the ‘faith’ of those that would classify themselves as believers that the article seems to want to excuse.

  19. #19 Brendan S
    November 26, 2007

    CapitalistImperialistPig:

    Why does everyone on these blogs have to resort to belittling and name calling when making a point?

  20. #20 JohnK
    November 26, 2007

    CapitalistImperialistPig:

    “…you don’t spend your life studying the universe unless you hope to make some sense of it.”

    Appears CIP and, effectively, heddle are using “hope” and “faith” as synonyms.
    Unlike heddle’s Saint, Paul.

  21. #21 Caledonian
    November 26, 2007

    Most of us who are scientists have faith that our activities are not a fool’s errand.

    Wrong. Scientists do not presume that any particular orderliness will describe the phenomena they study, nor do they presume that ANY order will do. It is entirely possible that chaos reigns and that’s the only meaningful thing we can say about what we’re studying.

    What scientists do is explore the possibility that there’s something more to learn about the world and aspects of the world than randomness, because that possibility is the only one that we can make progress in.

    If you have ‘faith’ about an aspect of what you’re studying, you cannot apply science to it. Science is incompatible with faith.

  22. #22 Stephen Wells
    November 26, 2007

    @David Marjanovic: Nullius in verba means “Take nobody’s word for it,” or (at the foot of the letter) “By nobody’s word.” That is, the point of natural philosophy is to resolve disputes about the natural world by actually seeing what the natural world has to say on the matter, rather than appealing to the statements of authorities.

    @Heddle: there’s no “faith” involved in a testable hypothesis. Count me as a Thomas, rather than a Peter.

  23. #23 heddle
    November 26, 2007

    I have a related comment/question. Isn’t the question of “where do the laws of physics come from?” of supreme interest to philosophers of science? To me, not being a philosopher, as has been eloquently pointed out, I can proceed on the assumption that “they just are.” But if I attended an international philosophy of science conference on this question, and the conference concluded “they just are, and the question itself is dumb,” I would leave wondering–hasn’t this discipline (philosophy of science) just neutered itself?

  24. #24 Richard Carnes
    November 26, 2007

    [i]While I am at it, it’s ad nauseam. Nausea, nauseae, nauseae, nauseam, nausea…[/i]

    Thank you, David. Are educated people these days really unfamiliar with the words “nausea” and “nauseating.” I see [i]“ad nauseum” ad nauseam.[/i]

  25. #25 mark
    November 26, 2007

    Most of us who are scientists have faith that our activities are not a fool’s errand.

    I’m neither philosopher nor theologian, but I definitely disagree with this. As a scientist, I know my activities are not a “fool’s errand” because those activities are fruitful most of the time. When they are not, it is not because of misplaced faith, but because I did not have enough knowledge about the system I was working on. That additional knowledge might later be gained (by me or by others) and the process can then continue fruitfully. At no time do I consider that I am working toward some grand, Rapture-like coda that depends on the activities of scientists.

  26. #26 Brendan S
    November 26, 2007

    heddle:

    I agree. Where the laws come from might be interesting. Maybe there’s laws below the ones we currently know. Maybe we’ll find GUT. That’s interesting.

    What I don’t find interesting is saying ‘God Did It.’ Then throwing up our hands and saying there’s nothing left to discover. And while you may not personally be an advocate for this, many of those that attack science along these lines are.

  27. #27 Slippery Pete
    November 26, 2007

    Heddle -

    You are using two different meanings of the word faith and intentionally conflating them. It’s telling that mystics almost invariably resort to deliberate obfuscation when trying to win arguments.

    A scientist’s “faith” that his experiments will be fruitful has nothing to do with an evangelical’s faith that his soul will be spared an eternal barbequeing because he believes Jesus was nailed to a cross. Don’t be silly.

    Further, no scientist I know of has “faith” that his experiments will bear fruit – he has HOPE they will, frequently an expectation, but scientists know that experiments can and do fail – more often than not. So it’s not really a kind of faith at all, not even in the word-game sense you’re wedded to. You keeping using this term fool’s errand – what you’re getting at is that scientists, as they proceed step by step, must have “faith” that at the conclusion of all learning, science will have built something grand and worth the effort. Nonsense. Science proceeds step by step. That’s it. Maybe something beautiful emerges, maybe not. It is neither a credit nor a discredit to science if the end result of all its efforts is something that allows you to sleep peacefully at night.

  28. #28 Stephen Wells
    November 26, 2007

    @Heddle: philosophy of science is not about “where did the laws come from,” it’s about how science is or should be carried out.

  29. #29 Peter Barber
    November 26, 2007

    CapitalistImperialistPig,

    I admit to some confusion about your comment.

    Firstly, I would say that that power of reason is the same thing as our ability to build and test hypotheses (i.e. the scientific method).

    Secondly, this ability to build and test hypotheses is not faith. No ability can be a faith: they are in different categories. It is a mode of enquiry – whose validity people believe for better or worse reasons.

    Thirdly, methodological naturalism does not require “hope” that the natural world is explicable, only an initial assumption of explicability. Until either physics or biology starts throwing up results that not only contradict our theories but each other, I see no reason to discard this assumption.

  30. #30 Bill Dauphin
    November 26, 2007

    Late to this party, I know, but…

    You don’t go to the refrigerator unless you have some expectation that you will find a cold beer (or something else you want) there, and you don’t spend your life studying the universe unless you hope to make some sense of it. [emphasis added]

    Yup… and your “expectation” is based on evidence: You’ve found cold beer in the fridge in the past, and you’ve observed whoever does your shopping putting it there. In casual usage, you might call this “faith,” but this sort of evidence-driven expectation is fundamentally different from religious faith, which is explicitly belief in the absence of evidence.

    I have “faith” that the sun will rise tomorrow, but that’s because of the evidence of every day of my life… and not because I have a freestanding belief that Yaweh put the sun there or that Apollo drives it around in a chariot.

  31. #31 Bill Dauphin
    November 26, 2007

    Richard:

    Are educated people these days really unfamiliar with the words “nausea” and “nauseating.”

    Many educated people these days are unfamiliar with Latin. My own high school didn’t even offer it, and I’ve had no pressing professional need to acquire it in the intervening 3 decades. My only acquaintance with Latin comes from a more or less random smattering of literary and cultural references, any of which might be in error without me knowing it.

    I’m familiar with “nausea” as an English word (borrowed though it be), but I wouldn’t have known (in fact, didn’t know until this morning) that ad nauseum was incorrect.

  32. #32 heddle
    November 26, 2007

    Bill,

    The “faith” does not come into the fact that we have confidence that the sun will rise. The faith came in when Newton invested his time and energies into solving the problem mathematically. His faith was placed in the following: that there was a law governing the motions of the planets, that that law was expressible mathematically, that humans could understand the law, that humans could understand the mathematics, that humans could, if necessary, invent the necessary mathematics, that the mathematics would prove amenable to calculation, and the results of the calculation could be tested. In short, he had faith that he was not engaging in a fool’s errand. In his case, extreme faith since he was a trailblazer. Now, at least, we can look back and say that our faith in the success of science has not been misplaced–but we still operate on the faith that that past accomplishments will lead to future successes. That we haven’t reached a brick wall–that physics, for example, is not dead.

    Why are so many of you inventing religious connotations? This has nothing to do with religion or religious faith.

  33. #33 Stephen Wells
    November 26, 2007

    So apparently “Let’s try it and see if it works” is now a faith position. Shift goalposts much?

  34. #34 mgarelick
    November 26, 2007

    That huge blanket definition of faith is neigh meaningless and leads the argument into ridiculous word play.

    Does “neigh meaningless” mean there’s no word for it in horse-language? (Did somebody say “ridiculous word play?”)

  35. #35 Robert O'Brien
    November 26, 2007

    Wrong. Scientists do not presume that any particular orderliness will describe the phenomena they study, nor do they presume that ANY order will do. It is entirely possible that chaos reigns and that’s the only meaningful thing we can say about what we’re studying.

    What scientists do is explore the possibility that there’s something more to learn about the world and aspects of the world than randomness, because that possibility is the only one that we can make progress in.

    If you have ‘faith’ about an aspect of what you’re studying, you cannot apply science to it. Science is incompatible with faith.

    You are wrong, as per usual, Caleduncian. The “axiom” of an ordered, rational, comprehensible universe underlies all scientific endeavors.

  36. #36 Stephen Wells
    November 26, 2007

    It’s not an axiom, R O’B, because you actually check empirically to see if it’s true or not, and if it weren’t, you would know. It’s a testable proposition, as has been made abundantly clear already.

  37. #37 CJColucci
    November 26, 2007

    Where do the laws of physics come from? They come from physicists. The physicist becomes interested in some phenomenon in the physical world, investigates it in various ways under various conditions, sees how it relates to other phenomena, and, if lucky and smart, comes up with some formula or principle that describes it in a useful way. Then we call it a “law.” The physical world, meanwhile, keeps doing what it does, as it did before the physicist came along and will continue to do long after the physicist’s “law” is superseded by something else.

  38. #38 SabrinaW
    November 26, 2007

    Hooray! Someone addressing this on a philosophical level (here via Pharyngula). In mulling over this, I see a difference between saying the universe is ordered and striving to explain the universe in ordered concepts (ie: scientific models), with a prerequisite assumption that the universe can be explained as such. And isn’t that just a goal of any human endeavor, like cooking or art? Is an Iron Chef who claims that any food can be made into a tasty dish (with plenty of lobster and truffle) acting from a religious basis, or simply from human inspiration to accomplish something?

    The misuse of words like “faith/Faith” and “theory/Theory” which underlie these types of debates don’t help matters.

  39. #39 SabrinaW
    November 26, 2007

    #36 – I agree; scientific “laws” are simply conceptual constructs to help us to better describe and discuss an otherwise intangible concept. But they are pretty much just placeholders to help us wrap our brains around these ideas, and not some Absolute Truth inherent to the phenomenon.

  40. #40 Norman Doering
    November 26, 2007

    Beyond the enthymeme noted here, I already said this on PZ’s blog: Davies is just playing the same old shell game Christian apologists always play when they use the word faith and say things like “atheists have more faith than theists.”

    Christians (from the dawn of the New Testament) have loaded some words for “faith” with extra meanings and they manage to play a shell game with the word, making a well earned ‘trust’ come off like an unearned ‘faith.’

    There are about 5 meanings for faith, a couple of which are synonyms for trust.

    They are:
    1) Confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing.
    2) Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence because it is magically given by God/Holy Spirit.
    3) Loyalty or allegiance, as in “keeping faith with one’s supporters.”
    4) “Faith” is often used as a synonym for Christianity itself in America.
    5) The body of dogma in any religion, as in “the Muslim faith.”

    Only the first definition is a direct synonym for “trust.” “trust” can be a term of art for 3.

    Who would you use ‘trust’ in the same pejorative way we use the word ‘faith’?

    The “pejorative” element is usually defined by 2, “a belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence because it is magically given by God/Holy Spirit.” But theists can’t make that accusation, so they play the shell game — you need number 1, some trust, just to get by in life and because they use they same word for all those other aspects of their own belief they accuse us of that too.

    The difference is that the scientist’s trust and faith are earned. Religious faith doesn’t seem to be. Faith is only bad when it’s gotten through bogus means, when it is dishonestly earned the way modern religion tries to earn it, which is what’s really going on in 2.

    In a way I do have a kind of “faith” in science but that is a faith that has earned its credit while religion’s checks have been bouncing since I was in grammar school. Religion is in a deep promise-debt and has no faith-credit left for me.

  41. #41 Norman Doering
    November 26, 2007

    heddle wrote:

    Why are so many of you inventing religious connotations? This has nothing to do with religion or religious faith.

    Because Paul Davies explicitly compared science to religion.

    Didn’t you bother to read the article this whole post is about?

  42. #42 Jack
    November 26, 2007

    Disclaimer: all of what follows is either false, or old hat within the philosophy of science. I’m willing to stand corrected.
    In the course of my life, I have made a some number of observations of rocks on the surface of the Earth falling. Now, I can come up with the hypothesis that objects always fall at 10ms^(-1). Or I can come up with some wacky hypothesis which happens to fit the (finite amount of) data I have. Of course, any such hypothesis is trivially falsifiable, by just doing an experiment. However, before I do perform such an experiment, why should I prefer one model over the other? You can say that they are just models, ‘conceptual constructs’. But doesn’t this somehow miss the point that when I drop a rock, I really do believe that it will fall at approximately 10ms^-1.
    What I’m trying to say is that, in the strictest sense of science, faith is not a prerequisite; however, science would be extremely dull if scientists spent all their time falsifying ‘obviously’ false premises. When we act, we act with faith.
    Of course, most religious folks (read – intelligent, educated religious folks, or at least those that I know) also have this kind of scientific faith; they just claim that religious faith is similar. And that’s very hard to refute without the word ‘obviously’.

  43. #43 bob koepp
    November 26, 2007

    Norman Doering – It appears that you’ve pretty much lifted the 5 meanings of ‘faith’ from an online dictionary — very likely from thefreedictionary.com — although you’ve ommitted the 6th definition on offer there; i.e., 6) A set of principles or beliefs. OK. But you’ve also taken liberties with (2), adding the clause “because it is magically given by God/Holy Spirit.” That’s rather too like tampering with the evidence, for my tastes at least.

  44. #44 Bill Dauphin
    November 26, 2007

    The “faith” does not come into the fact that we have confidence that the sun will rise. The faith came in when Newton invested his time and energies into solving the problem mathematically. His faith was placed in the following: that there was a law governing the motions of the planets, that that law was expressible mathematically, that humans could understand the law, ….

    Hmmm… you’re using “faith” here as a near-synonym of “confidence” (in the common-usage sense, I mean; not the statistical term), or perhaps “expectation.” IMHO, Newton’s expectation (and that of all scientists… not to mention rational people generally) that the world is orderly and describable is based not on “faith” but on observed evidence: Any person’s daily life is full of observable, repeatable effects that are observably related to causes. The accumulated human observations of cause-and-effect relationships, many of which can be fairly easily described, reasonably gives rise to the hypothesis that effects generally have causes that can be described, even when the description of that relationship is neither obvious nor easy. Thus Newton was not making an act of faith in expecting that he could describe the motion of physical bodies; he was simply testing (yet again) the hypothesis that physical phenomena and their causes are describable. In fact, you could see the entire history of science as an experimental program dedicated to testing that hypothesis… and to my knowledge, it has not yet been falsified.

    Now, you could certainly say that scientists have “faith” in the scientific method, in the sense of the first meaning Norman Doering provided above, but…

    Why are so many of you inventing religious connotations? This has nothing to do with religion or religious faith.

    …Davies seemed to be equating scientific “faith” with the second meaning in Norman’s post, and you have seemed to be defending Davies’ approach. So those of us responding to you are not “inventing religious connotations,” we’re responding to you.

  45. #45 Jim Thomerson
    November 26, 2007

    In my ignorance, it seems to me that any scheme of logical inquiry is based on an assumption. Said assumption not being testable except by dissatisfaction with the results of inquiry. Euclidian geometry rests on the basic assumption that parallel lines do not cross. and the QED’s of proving theoriums are quite satisfying. I suppose the same is true for non-Euclidian geometry, which assumes that parallel lines do cross. So it is not a matter of faith in the basic assumption, but rather a pragmatic matter of what good figgerin’ can we do given this assumption. I bet your house was built on a flat earth, for example.

    Another question; I am fairly sure the sun will come up tomorrow. Why do I think this? Is it because of many years of observing the sun coming up in the morning; or is it because we have a robust theory of the solar system which predicts that the sun will come up tomorrow?

  46. #46 bob koepp
    November 26, 2007

    Bill Dauphin -
    See my comments regarding the way Norman massaged the second meaning of ‘faith.’ If that isn’t a clear example of “inventing religious connotations,” I don’t know what would be.

  47. #47 Norman Doering
    November 26, 2007

    Here’s the original source:
    http://www.thefreedictionary.com/faith

    faith
    1. Confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing.
    2. Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence. See Synonyms at belief, trust.
    3. Loyalty to a person or thing; allegiance: keeping faith with one’s supporters.
    4. often Faith Christianity The theological virtue defined as secure belief in God and a trusting acceptance of God’s will.
    5. The body of dogma of a religion: the Muslim faith.
    6. A set of principles or beliefs.

    Yes, I changed it — because Christians kept telling me that 2 was wrong. They don’t think “Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence” is what they do, they claim god enters their heart. So I changed it to adapt to their criticism.

    I left out 6 because it’s really the same as 5. A set of principles or beliefs is essentially a dogma of a religion.

  48. #48 Blake Stacey
    November 26, 2007

    I have a rule (Wilkins’ Law #35, I think) that if any scientist is going to draw unwarranted metaphysical conclusions, it will be a physicist, and in particular a cosmologist.

    Except when it’s a cell biologist.

  49. #49 Bill Dauphin
    November 26, 2007

    bob:

    See my comments regarding the way Norman massaged the second meaning of ‘faith.’

    Fine. Remove the objectionable clause and end meaning No. 2 with the word “evidence”; it doesn’t materially change the point I was making to heddle. (As an aside, you accuse Norman of something close to plagiarism, and then decry the part of his post that doesn’t match the source you presume he’s “lifted” from as “tampering.” Can you really have it both ways?)

    See my comments regarding the way Norman massaged the second meaning of ‘faith.’ If that isn’t a clear example of “inventing religious connotations,” I don’t know what would be.

    Let’s go back to the genesis (you should pardon the expression) of this thread: Paul Davies’ attempt to equate scientists’ “faith” in natural law with religious faith. Religious faith is the basic context of this discussion, not some manufactured diversion as heddle would suggest; Norman’s version of meaning No. 2 reflects that context, it doesn’t invent it.

    ******

    Howdy, folks, BTW. Since mine is no doubt an unfamiliar name to some of you, I’ll just briefly say that I’m a regular reader (but only occasional commenter) at Pharyngula; blame PZ for my presence in this thread. I’m no sort of scientist, and I’m certainly not a philosopher… just a guy with (hopefully) half a brain. I won’t be a regular here — I already read more blogs than I should — but who knows when a Pharyngulink will once again inflict me on you.

  50. #50 Norman Doering
    November 26, 2007

    Oh, yes, some Bible quotes that support my alteration:

    Rom 12:3 : ” … God has allotted to each a measure of faith.”

    Eph 2:8 : “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.”

  51. #51 Jaycubed
    November 26, 2007

    There are two very different meanings for the word faith.

    1) The scientific meaning of faith is based on statistical probability based on observation & testing.

    “I have faith that the sun will appear at a specific spot on the eastern horizon at a specific time” is a statement that I have nearly 100% faith in being true. (There are astronomical phenomena which could destroy the sun in a very short period, such as a collision with a neutron star or black hole. The chance of this happening is extremely low.)

    “I have faith that the sun will appear at a specific spot on the eastern horizon at a specific time and that the reason this phenomena occurs as it does is accurately described by the laws of physics discovered by Newton & Einstein” is a statement that I have better than 99% faith in being true. (As it is conceivable that future discoveries in physics may provide a more accurate understanding of the phenomena while still encompassing the previous discoveries noted.)

    “I have faith that the laws of physics described by Newton & Einstein completely describe all physical phenomena related to the appearance of ‘sunrise’ ” is a statement that I have (say) 10% faith in being true. (Despite the high accuracy of predictions made due to these physical laws; there are gaps in understanding, such as the gap between quantum physics & gravity, which probably are relevant to a complete understanding of the phenomena.)

    “I have faith that the sun stood still in the sky as described in Joshua 10:13 of the Jewish Bible” is a statement that have near 100% faith is not true due to the laws of physics described by Newton & Einstein.

    2)The non-scientific meaning of the word Faith is unquestioned belief in the alleged revelations of a magical creature or Fairy.

    “I have Faith that the sun stood still in the sky as described in Joshua 10:13 of the Jewish Bible” is a statement of revealed Truth to believers in the sects of the religion of Abrahamic Monotheism. This statement is believed in the absence of affirming evidence and in disregard of conflicting evidence.

    .

    (I find it useful to always differentiate between a reality based phenomena & a Fairy based phenomena by capitalizing the Fairy based word. A good example is the word luck.

    luck-the result of an event or a series of events.

    Luck-the Fairy which controls an event or series of events.

    Luck-the result of an event or series of events as it relates to the desires of an individual.

    .

  52. #52 JohnGim
    November 26, 2007

    I see this thread has been both heddled and O’briened. With those two present it pretty much should eliminate any possibility of any worthwhile discussion.

    That being said to equate the ‘faith’ of a scientist and what they do to the ‘faith’ of a religious person seems such a huge error of reasoning you wonder if a person understands either.

    A scientist may think their hypothesis leads a given direction based on the observed evidence at hand. They will not persist for long however in spite of diminishing returns no matter how strongly they felt at first.

    A religious person will keep going no matter how small the return and in fact may look at challenges as reasons to keep the faith despite reason and where it around as a positive.

    Likewise the laws of the universe being orderly seems to me like a dog chasing it’s tail. Like the old analogy of a puddle of water being that shape because it was designed that way. It seems likely that these ‘laws’ are simply inevitable byproducts of the system itself. Law is just the word we use to describe these actions.

  53. #53 Thony C.
    November 26, 2007

    The faith came in when Newton invested his time and energies into solving the problem mathematically. His faith was placed in the following: that there was a law governing the motions of the planets, that that law was expressible mathematically, that humans could understand the law, that humans could understand the mathematics, that humans could, if necessary, invent the necessary mathematics, that the mathematics would prove amenable to calculation, and the results of the calculation could be tested. In short, he had faith that he was not engaging in a fool’s errand. In his case, extreme faith since he was a trailblazer.

    As a historian of science I find it fascinating that despite the incredible amount of research that people like Richard Westfall, I.B. Cohen and literally hundreds of others involved in the “Newton Industry” have done and published, when members of the laity pontificate about Newton they invariably get almost everything wrong!

    Starting at the end and working backwards Newton was not a trailblazer but a collator who brought together sorted and ordered the results of more than 250 years of evolution in the mathematical sciences, results produced by a long list of well known and not so well known scholars from all over Europe.

    That the results of calculation can be tested is a trivial consequence of the principles of mathematical modelling and requires no faith on anybodies part.

    That mathematics should prove amenable to calculation is at best an oxymoron and at worst an incredibly stupid statement.

    All mathematics is a human invention and mathematicians had been successfully inventing the necessary mathematics for at least 3000years before Newton was born, a fact that Newton was well aware of, so again no faith was required.

    As mathematics is created by humans it follows logical that humans can understand it. (Another oxymoron or incredibly stupid statement!)

    The laws of planetary motion had been clearly stated mathematically by Johannes Kepler long before Newton was the proverbial twinkle in his mother’s eyes, the inverse square law of gravity came somewhat later from Ismael Boulliau. What Newton did was to show that a combination of the laws of motion ((1)Descartes, (2)Huygens and (3)van Helmont) and the laws of gravity would lead to the laws of planetary motion a difficult, but for a man of Newton’s mathematical talents, not insurmountable problem, at no point was faith necessary.

  54. #54 arensb
    November 26, 2007

    The mechanic says “Assuming that the laws of physics haven’t changed – the problem is with your distributor”.

    I remember hearing a developer tell how he once submitted a patch, which the QA person rejected, saying “But what if time runs backward?”

  55. #55 heddle
    November 26, 2007

    ThonyC,

    No, what is amazing is that a historian of science would not find Newton a trailblazer. It is true, about the standing on the giants’ shoulders, but before Newton nobody put it all together–a newly discovered force law applied to a general dynamical equation and solved using newly discovered mathematics to reproduce complicated data.

    That mathematics should prove amenable to calculation is at best an oxymoron and at worst an incredibly stupid statement.

    Are you really that ignorant? Are you not aware that one potential flaw with bleeding edge theories (String Theory, for example) is the very real possibility that, even if they are expressed mathematically, nobody can do the calculations? You seem to have no clue what you are talking about.

    As mathematics is created by humans it follows logical that humans can understand it. (Another oxymoron or incredibly stupid statement!)

    Again, there is a difference between understanding a mathematics and being able to use it. It is quite trivial to write down a Lagrangian that is perfectly understandable yet it is not amenable to calculation.

    That the results of calculation can be tested is a trivial consequence of the principles of mathematical modelling and requires no faith on anybodies part.

    Also wrong. Multiple universes result from straightforward mathematical calculations in various cosmologies. But they (at least some) cannot be tested–not even in principle, if General Relativity is correct. When it can’t be done, we can conclude that it is not trivial.

  56. #56 Scott Hatfield, OM
    November 26, 2007

    John: Thanks for the response.

    Helluva response on this thread, huh?

  57. #57 David Marjanovi?, OM
    November 26, 2007

    I gather I can find similar rebukes from Irving and David M?

    Certainly. There’s nothing wrong with criticizing something that isn’t one’s own discipline — as long as one can cough up evidence that one is right.

    It was once said that the nature of stars was forever unknowable. There was no faith involved there that we would be able to understand the composition of stars until spectrography was developed.

    Great example.

    Nullius in verba means “Take nobody’s word for it”

    Oh, so the verb is missing, and the whole thing means “[trust] in nobody’s words”. I see.

    If the universe were non-deterministic, for instance, it’s probabilistic (You get X result 78% of the time, Y result 21%, etc. etc.), you couldn’t ever find the laws of the universe

    No, then the laws of the universe would be that you get X precisely 78 % of the time and Y precisely 21 % of the time.

    And indeed, that’s what quantum physics says. Quantum physics is about nice calculable probability distributions. If you take a lump of uranium-238, you are completely unable to predict which nucleus will decay when, but you can predict that half of all nuclei will decay within the next 4.5 billion years, and half of the remainder in the following 4.5 billion years, and so on. Each nucleus has a probability of precisely 50 % of decaying in the next 4.5 billion years.

    Quantum physics is still math.

    Now, if nature were truly random — if you got 78 vs 21 today, but not tomorrow, with no way of predicting when the change would happen and what it would lead to –, then the hypothesis upon which science rests would be falsified. Science as a whole is falsifiable. It still hasn’t been falsified, so we continue.

    Thirdly, methodological naturalism does not require “hope” that the natural world is explicable, only an initial assumption of explicability. Until either physics or biology starts throwing up results that not only contradict our theories but each other, I see no reason to discard this assumption.

    That’s a good way to put it.

    Thus Newton was not making an act of faith in expecting that he could describe the motion of physical bodies; he was simply testing (yet again) the hypothesis that physical phenomena and their causes are describable. In fact, you could see the entire history of science as an experimental program dedicated to testing that hypothesis… and to my knowledge, it has not yet been falsified.

    That’s an even better way to put it (emphasis mine).

    That mathematics should prove amenable to calculation is at best an oxymoron and at worst an incredibly stupid statement.

    Aren’t there uncalculable numbers? The halting probability of a Turing machine, the Busy Beaver stuff…?

  58. #58 Brian Macker
    November 26, 2007

    “I remember hearing a developer tell how he once submitted a patch, which the QA person rejected, saying ‘But what if time runs backward?’”

    I’m a computer scientist with 26 years of experience in the industry. This happens. Time does run backwards. Two specific examples would be a clock running too fast and being reset by the user to an earlier time and daylight savings time adjustments.

    I just witnessed a problem on SUSE Linux operating system running on a VMWare system overcompensating for missed clock ticks causing the clock to run too fast. The customer installed an NTP client that reset the clock based on a remote atomic clock every so often. Every time it did for a short period it looked as if time went backwards.

    If you use unsigned arithimetic to calculate durations under these conditions you can get negative overflow. Which means your code will think a very very long time passed during a clock setback. If you clock is set back by a few milliseconds then the small negative number can be interpreted as a large positive number instead. How large? In the billions of milliseconds depending on your word size.

    Assuming time moves forward when dealing with system clocks is actually a bad assumption.

  59. #59 Brian Macker
    November 26, 2007

    Seems to me that Davies mistake is a simple equivocation on the word faith. Scientists don’t use faith2 in the sense of continually believing something without or despite evidence to the contrary.

    Personally, none of my beliefs are based on faith in that sense. I’m sure I believe in things that are wrong but it’s due to error not faith2.

  60. #60 CapitalistImperialistPig
    November 26, 2007

    Brendan S.,

    I got testy with the poster because he dissed physicists. I had no such excuse with you. I apologise. I stand by the substance of my comment though.

  61. #61 Bryson Brown
    November 26, 2007

    ‘Faith’ is a slippery rhetorical device in this debate– there’s a public standard of evidence that science has met, which justifies going forward for now with some specific commitments (without any assumption that going forward will be successful). Can anyone provide an epistemic measure by which one religion is successful while others are not? If not, then the specific doctrinal content of the various religions has no comparable justification. Belief despite that lack of evidence is what I would call ‘faith’, but whatever you call faith, this is a basic epistemic difference between the science and religion that should not be ignored or glossed over with rhetoric.

  62. #62 DSK Samways
    November 26, 2007

    David Marjanovic said,
    “Now, if nature were truly random — if you got 78 vs 21 today, but not tomorrow, with no way of predicting when the change would happen and what it would lead to –, then the hypothesis upon which science rests would be falsified.”

    Followed by,
    “In fact, you could see the entire history of science as an experimental program dedicated to testing that hypothesis… and to my knowledge, it has not yet been falsified”

    Bingo. It’s not faith, but another hypothesis (The Hypothesis?); the veracity of which is constantly being tested. It’s holding up well, so we all carry on running with it. We don’t, if we’re trying to be objective, hope that the hypothesis is true, and that the universe will continue to make sense. That’s introducing emotional bias, which although all scientists are inevitably afflicted by it, is nevertheless not supposed to be part of the scientific process.

    If tomorrow brings irrefutable evidence that there are no laws whatsoever, or that they change depending on what day it is, or what colour underwear the investigator is wearing, and that any semblance of order thus far observed is attributed to some spectacular cosmic coincidence, then no ‘faith’ will have been undermined. Science will still have won out – i.e. successfully determined that The Hypothesis that everything would eventually make sense was false. Next question &c.

    Maybe I should have steered clear of Douglas Adams, but I would gladly sacrifice both of my testicles to The Great Tentacled One if I was guaranteed to be first author on that particular paper.

  63. #63 CapitalistImperialistPig
    November 26, 2007

    James S. Wilkins,

    I’m not sure what the standard is in philosophy, but in science it’s considered desirable to be able to make a coherent argument. I have read your piece several times now and find no justification for your claim that Davies confused the name of something (presumably, “The Laws of Physics.”) with the things (the laws of physics) themselves.

    You seem to be beating him up for discussing something that is not concrete (again, I suppose, the laws of physics). I can only say that your discourse will be poor indeed if you restrict your discussion to purely concrete objects.

    I don’t think Davies makes the error you suggest, and I’m sure that you don’t make any case for it.

  64. #64 MTran
    November 26, 2007

    Davies is just the latest of apparently millions of people who refuse to recognize the equivocal nature of common terms and phrases. Especially when they are peddling some sort of woo.

    They rely on of deficits in people’s word usage to deceive the ignorant into conflating religious “faith” with reasonable “confidence” or “reliance” on data, evidence, and predictably / probablistically recurring phenomena.

    Seem as if they’ve all taken lessons in Newspeak.

  65. #65 Caledonian
    November 26, 2007

    The faith came in when Newton invested his time and energies into solving the problem mathematically. His faith was placed in the following: that there was a law governing the motions of the planets, that that law was expressible mathematically, that humans could understand the law, that humans could understand the mathematics, that humans could, if necessary, invent the necessary mathematics, that the mathematics would prove amenable to calculation, and the results of the calculation could be tested.

    Wrong, heddle. What Newton had is a willingness to explore the possibility that all those things were true.

    I’m not actually certain what an orbit that couldn’t be described in mathematics would look like – except a pure random walk – but it doesn’t take much of a leap of faith to take a reasonable guess that something can be described.

  66. #66 John S. Wilkins
    November 26, 2007

    Holy hell. One link from Pharyngula and I triple my comments…

    I can’t respond to them all but Normal Doering’s point is right. Even the Catholic theological tradition makes at least three of these distinctions about “faith”: fiducia (trust or confidence), fides (submission to God) and assensus (acceptance of doctrine).That there are other connotations is unremarkable: English has all kinds of connotative subtleties.

    What Davies is replying on here is that “faith is a homonym for many meanings. One of them is “taking for granted”, which is definitely not what religion does with “faith”. You don’t take it for granted that God exists or is active, you use one of the other meanings. Science takes certain things for granted: that we can investigate the structure of things. Of course that is an assumption of science; there’d be little reason to do it otherwise. But that’s not on a par with an act of faith in God. It a fallacy of amphiboly or ambiguity to argue that way.

    David M: thanks for the Latin lesson. I will write it 100 times before dawn.

  67. #67 frog
    November 26, 2007

    Heddle: “Davies may not have worded it cleverly, but in the big picture he is correct. He is not confused; you are.

    Most of us who are scientists have faith that our activities are not a fool’s errand.”

    Ah, the nausea of Heddle. Can you spot the confusion of two separate ideas that happen to have a common name – I’m sure there’s a Greek term for it, since the theologists must have stolen that from the Greeks as well. Heddle might as well argue that continuing to breath is an act of faith, in some Christian sense.

    Oh Lord above, have I come to despise the theological idiocies that are this character Heddle! It’s lie after lie, hidden in the form sophistication. Heddle is an examplar of the amoral and cretinous theological arguments that have enslaved mankind for millenia. We should collect just Heddle’s nonsense to save for the centuries – even Aquinas’s worst nonsense holds not a candle to this amalgamation of philosophical malfeasance – and Aquina’s had the excuse of cultural blindness.

  68. #68 John S. Wilkins
    November 26, 2007

    Those of you who are dropping by from Pharyngula, please don’t continue name-calling that may have a context there but just looks like bad form here.

    The term you are looking for is amphiboly: “thrown two ways”.

  69. #69 poke
    November 26, 2007

    I think there’s an error being committed here. Davies’ mistake is more basic than confusing faith and assumptions. Science does not require even the assumption that the physical world can be explained; it only requires that you perform the experiment. Galileo could have viewed himself as turning the motion of cannon balls and other physical objects into abstract art pieces and it wouldn’t have made an ounce of difference to his work. Assuming that the physical world can be explained is merely a motivation for doing science.

    Some scientists don’t even make the assumption. Instrumentalists don’t view themselves as explaining the physical world; they view themselves as creating useful formulas that can be applied to predictive ends. Popperians don’t view themselves as explaining the physical world; they view themselves as boldly constructing inexplicably useful bodies of knowledge while they wait for them to be falsified. Some Logical Positivists didn’t even think there was a physical world. Yet all of these philosophies have been popular among practicing scientists over the decades.

  70. #70 Iorwerth Thomas
    November 27, 2007

    “Some scientists don’t even make the assumption. Instrumentalists don’t view themselves as explaining the physical world; they view themselves as creating useful formulas that can be applied to predictive ends. Popperians don’t view themselves as explaining the physical world; they view themselves as boldly constructing inexplicably useful bodies of knowledge while they wait for them to be falsified. Some Logical Positivists didn’t even think there was a physical world. Yet all of these philosophies have been popular among practicing scientists over the decades.”

    I wonder if anyone ever did tests along the lines of the ‘theological incorrectness’ studies used in cognitive anthropology of religion to check whether they’d actually internalised the belief, or that it was just something they held intellectually and merely *thought* that they’d internalised.

    John — a good post (and not just because it referenced Whitehead). I wonder how many of Davies’ misapprehensions here have something to do with the rhetoric of popular science, though, where (particularly in physics [1]) you often get this sort of reification of ‘law’ and a kind of Platonic realism regarding mathematics that’s probably well beyond what’s needed to practise science effectively. It might be quite easy, then, to make the mistake that since that is what your colleagues appear to believe about the scientific method, then those apparent beliefs may be necessary for the scientific method to function.

    [1] Or at least one often did when I still read of lot of popular physics. I gave up after starting to work in the field, as it began to resemble looking at it through a funhouse mirror…

  71. #71 huxley
    November 27, 2007

    David M: thanks for the Latin lesson. I will write it 100 times before dawn.

    Centurion: If it’s not done by sunrise, I’ll cut your balls off.

  72. #72 R. Crossin
    November 27, 2007

    The book on which Davies’ notoriety rests claims a thunderbolt of an insight – that unless conditions here on earth were “just so”, life would never have appeared. Ergo, life is “inevitable”. (Designed?)
    Now, I’ve raised a number of children since I took my philosophy degree so I may no longer be the sharpest or sanest knife in the drawer but… Has it occurred to anyone else that his reasoning on this point is mere sophistry? (Cue the Pythons!) If conditions on earth were NOT perfect for life as we know it, it seems a fair bet that life as we know it would not have evolved. (and we would probably not be around to debate it). Since favorable conditions for life as we know it did develop, life had a chance to flourish on this turn of the wheel. That’s not a thunderbolt of an insight, it’s hanging a neon sign over the obvious. Change an amino acid or two and you never know.
    What bugs me is Davies is still able to peddle old wine in old bottles and even the NYT gives him space to shill. Arise and be heard, Philosophers!

  73. #73 Thony C.
    November 27, 2007
    That mathematics should prove amenable to calculation is at best an oxymoron and at worst an incredibly stupid statement.

    Aren’t there uncalculable numbers? The halting probability of a Turing machine, the Busy Beaver stuff…?

    The combination of your and my sentences is exactly why the limitative results of metamathematics caused such a storm amongst mathematicians in the first half of the twentieth century! In Newton’s time nobody ever even dreamed of any such thing.

  74. #74 Stephen (aka Q)
    November 27, 2007

    I’m glad you got that off your chest. Clearly, you needed to vent.

    On the other hand, you completely sidestepped Davies’ argument:

    “The favorite reply is, “There is no reason they are what they are they just are.” … [But] the very essence of a scientific explanation of some phenomenon is that the world is ordered logically and that there are reasons things are as they are. If one traces these reasons all the way down to the bedrock of reality the laws of physics only to find that reason then deserts us, it makes a mockery of science.”

  75. #75 Thony C.
    November 27, 2007

    the very essence of a scientific explanation of some phenomenon is that the world is ordered logically and that there are reasons things are as they are.

    It of course all depends on what exactly you mean by reason but if you are using it, as you appear to be, to imply that science should supply the reason or purpose for things being as they are then I must sadly inform you that teleology ceased to be a part of science some time ago.

  76. #76 CJColucci
    November 27, 2007

    The laws of physics are not “the bedrock of reality,” they’re our handy tools for dealing with reality. The universe does what it does and the “laws” we come up with are the best shorthand descriptions we can manage of what it does, some of which are even useful in predicting what it will do. So far. Why does the universe do what it does? If it’s there, it has to do something, even if “something” is just sitting there. Whatever it happens to be doing, we have had success in formulating laws that describe and predict it. So far. What else is there? What else does there need to be?

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