No Faith in Science

kellym78's picture

I have faith (pun intended) that at some point in his studies, Paul Davies has held a dictionary in his hands, and possibly even opened it. These days, it’s even less cumbersome with the advent of online dictionaries and the added benefit of providing multiple sources from which one can gain a better understanding of a particular word. In order to correct the compilation of fallacies presented in this piece, we need to start at the beginning—definitions.

 

From the Compact Oxford English Dictionary, “faith” is defined as: complete trust or confidence, strong belief in a religion, or a system of religious beliefFrom Dictionary.com, it is defined as: confidence or trust in a person or thing; belief that is not based on proof; belief in God or in the doctrines or teachings of religion; belief in anything, as a code of ethics, standards of merit, etc.; a system of religious belief; the obligation of loyalty or fidelity to a person, promise, engagement, etc.; the observance of this obligation; fidelity to one's promise, oath, allegiance, etc.

Looking at these definitions, one can see that every definition is antithetical to the foundational principles of science. A scientist who tests a hypothesis with “complete trust and confidence” in the outcome is doing a disservice to all of those who adhere to the principles of logical and rational inquiry, and who expect the scientific community to do so as well. Does Mr. Davies really believe that science is “belief not based on proof?” If so, perhaps a refresher course in the scientific method is the solution to that problem. Even the least innocuous definitions include words like “obligation”, “allegiance”, and “fidelity.” An honest rationalist would be made a hypocrite by maintaining any of the above qualities in their quest to discover the nature of reality.

Davies’ assertion that science assumes that nature is “ordered in a rational and intelligible way” is simply not accurate. Most scientists understand that while we can use inductive logic to predict with reasonable certainty that what has occurred with regularity in the past will continue to do so, such as the earth continuing to orbit the sun in 365 twenty-four hour days. Any scientist worth his salt would admit, though, that there is no absolute certainty—just reasonable expectations based on past observations. The fact that we have not seen any major variations in this supposed order is solely because our life spans are just not long enough. All of our anthropological history is not long enough to observe these kinds of massive changes. Davies’ statement that the scientists’ “faith has been justified” betrays his ignorance of the nature of this argument. “Justified faith” isn’t faith. It’s reason. Replace the word “faith” with “hypothesis.” Now we’re talking science.

Davies’ insistence that there must be a “why” for this is a reasonable question with no easy answers. From where do these laws come? What Davies is doing here is using the concept of “law” as a human invention imposed upon society and conflating that to mean something similar to what the “laws” of nature are. There is no intergalactic judicial system that hands these “laws” down and forces our planet to obey them. These laws are merely discovered by humans and arranged into a coherent explanation given the evidence available—not created.

His allusion to the dogmatic training he endured during college may very well be true, but more than likely he just resents the fact that in scientific studies, one makes the assumption that those theories that have been supported by numerous experiments and other evidences are true until proven otherwise. The alternative would be a type of mental paralysis. We must work with the information that is available to us, and even Descartes agrees with me there.

Davies further caricatures the standpoint of the scientific community with an allusion that these laws exist “reasonlessly”, and in a sense that is true because there is no external reason that governs them, but his intent with that statement was much more insidious. There are “reasons” for the laws of physics and their manifestation in the universe. Gravity exists because the motion of the earth keeps us firmly rooted to the ground, or at least fighting against that force if we momentarily leave it. In one of his next statements, he tunes into the reason for the apparent logical order of these phenomena—perception.

We are a species heavily inclined, possibly even driven, to fit these things into a coherent framework. Before scientific inquiry of the type we have today was possible, people made up stories to attempt to explain that which could not be understood. These days, we no longer need the sun god Ra to drive his chariot of fire across the sky because we understand the reason why the sun appears to rise and set. Davies’ issue with this is that he wants to believe that this reason comes from something more than just the natural functions of the universe. The fact that he wishes that was the case does not make it so.

Life exists on this planet, and possibly more that we are incapable of reaching in this vast universe, not because of “laws” handed down by a supernatural being, but because of the mechanics and function of the universe. We are a product of that process, and any scientific laws are mere discoveries about the way the universe operates that we have observed, recorded, and tested over millennia. Nevertheless, the millennia in which our race has existed is but a speck on the timeline of the universe, and to suggest that any of these occurrences are immutable is extremely ignorant. He claims we selected this, but nothing could be further from the truth. We are here because earth happened to develop the right conditions to support carbon-based life forms.

I couldn’t imagine any reasonable scientist claiming that the physical laws of the universe come from some outside source as Davies claims they believe. This is a blatant attempt to disparage the work of credible researchers who realize that the laws of the universe are a result of an infinite number of unknown occurrences, not a cause. The laws exist only because we have labeled them so, much like the phylogenetic tree that labels and categorizes all living creatures. The fact that an accurate account detailing the reasons for this existence cannot be made is because we either can’t know how the universe operated before we were here to observe it, or because we just don’t know yet.

The attempt to equate physical laws with theological doctrine demonstrates Davies’ desperation to make this connection between physical laws and some “outside force”, because he is clearly grasping at straws with this one. Everybody before Isaac Newton thought that there was some kind of order and rational explanation for the operation of the universe, what little they knew of it, and resorted to gods as a result of the absolute penury of other explanations. Mental illnesses were attributed to demon possession and that made perfect sense to them. People still attribute natural disasters to an angry god, much like Jonathan Edwards in his infamous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” That does not give his theory (and I mean idea here, not scientific theory) any more credibility, and as far as I can see, it actually reduces it. It’s time that we start holding people accountable for their underhanded attempts to discredit science by equating it with religion. Davies should be embarrassed to feel the need to resort to such inane excuses for his own inability to say, “I don’t know.”

 

 

Kelly O’Connor

Response to Paul Davies’ “Taking Science on Faith” :

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/24/opinion/24davies.html

NY Times Op-Ed

11/24/07

 

 

 

http://www.rationalresponders.com/no_faith_in_science

RationalSchema's picture

Well done!!

Well done Kelly! It is amazing to me of how little people know of the scientific method. I love when people say that science is always proven wrong when new information is found and they say this as a criticism. This is one of the great qualities of science. We change our thinking and ideas with new evidence. People always say "Science is always proven wrong you can't trust it." NO!! This is so ridiculous. So how did you know that it was wrong?? A: By using the scientific method. Nothing is wrong the the scientific method, it allows us to expand our knowledge and find better explanations for phenomenon.

"Those who think they know don't know. Those that know they don't know, know."

kellym78's picture

This is Massimo Pigliucci's

This is Massimo Pigliucci's response to the same article. His blog is http://rationallyspeaking.blogspot.com

 In a recent editorial Paul Davies has joined the small but vocal number of scientists who claims parity between science and religion because both are based “on faith.” Davies' extraordinary assertion arises from a series of philosophical and factual misunderstandings: first, scientists do not have “faith” in an orderly universe, they assume that there are explanations for natural phenomena and go about testing that assumption.

Second, the idea that there are “laws” in the universe is misleading, as it suggests some sort of law-maker; in reality, there are simply patterns of regular behavior that make predictions possible. Lastly, it is time that physicist – who are not trained in biology – stop pontificating about our universe being “just right for life.” It is not at all likely that the universe is teeming with life, since most star systems are utterly inhospitable to it. It requires a very large ego indeed to think that billions of lifeless worlds have come into existence so that we could speculate on who did it. Science is not at all like religion: the latter provides no explanation and is based on blind faith, the former is a highly successful human endeavor that keeps delivering the goods.

 

Zombie's picture

Another great article kelly.

Another great article kelly. Keep up the good work.

Cpt_pineapple's picture

I'm pretty sure Davies is an

I'm pretty sure Davies is an astro-biologist, so I think he does have biology training.

 

Oh, BTW, the universe does have laws. Unless you want to rename the Law of gravity to 'The regular pattern of gravity.' 

Wonderist's picture

Kelly, this is (IMHO) your

Kelly, this is (IMHO) your best article yet. Congratulations! I love how you directly confront his dishonesty and underhandedness. That's why the RRS rocks!

I just have one teeny weeny nitpick. I hope it doesn't bother you: 

kellym78 wrote:
There are “reasons” for the laws of physics and their manifestation in the universe. Gravity exists because the centrifugal motion of the earth keeps us firmly rooted to the ground, or at least fighting against that force if we momentarily leave it.

I believe you are trying to explain the 'reason' we know gravity exists. I think your statement is unclear and possibly wrong. It is not that the earth's 'centrifugal motion' keeps us on the ground, it is that this motions does *not* fling us into space. Another 'reason' is that orbits, such as the moon orbiting earth, are possible.

I only point out this nitpick because unfriendlies might also point it out as a way to claim falsely that you don't have the knowledge or authority to talk about science.

Otherwise, a fantastic article. Great job! 

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kellym78's picture

Isn't not being flung into

Isn't not being flung into space and being stuck to the ground essentially the same thing? *confused*

TheSciencePundit's picture

The nature of natural laws

"the universe does have laws."

I think the point that Kelly was trying to make is that natural laws are not the same as legal laws: a conflagration that theists often make. ie. "Every law must have a lawgiver."

This is not the case. Natural laws are man-made constructs that attempt to describe nature. Nature doesn't "follow" any laws, it only appears to do so because the laws have been fine tuned into a fairly accurate model of the behavior of nature.

Davies seems to have missed this distinction.

 

Cpt_pineapple's picture

TheSciencePundit

TheSciencePundit wrote:

"the universe does have laws."

I think the point that Kelly was trying to make is that natural laws are not the same as legal laws: a conflagration that theists often make. ie. "Every law must have a lawgiver."

This is not the case. Natural laws are man-made constructs that attempt to describe nature. Nature doesn't "follow" any laws, it only appears to do so because the laws have been fine tuned into a fairly accurate model of the behavior of nature.

Davies seems to have missed this distinction.

 

 

When I have something like E=mc^2, it's not a law per se, but it describes a law. 

 

What I was saying is the formulas etc do describe nature, and th nature follow laws, and the formulas are the best describtion of those laws.

 

So yeah, nature doesn't 'follow' E=mc^2 per se, the formula merely describes the law, it isn't the law itself.

 

But nature does follow a law that can be described by E=mc^2.

 

Cpt_pineapple's picture

Just to be clear, I am

Just to be clear, I am talking about scientific laws, not legal laws.

 

When I say the universe 'follows laws', I mean that if I do action 'X' it will result in 'Y'.

 

Hambydammit's picture

Quote: So yeah, nature

Quote:
So yeah, nature doesn't 'follow' E=mc^2 per se, the formula merely describes the law, it isn't the law itself.

If only I could get this across in the logic thread.  It's the same damn thing, and I have never understood why it's so hard for people to grasp.  People don't "follow the laws of logic."  The rules of logic describe how people think.  It's literally impossible to break the "rules of logic" in the same way it's impossible to break the law of gravity.

 

Atheism isn't a lot like religion at all. Unless by "religion" you mean "not religion". --Ciarin

http://hambydammit.wordpress.com/
Books about atheism

kellym78 wrote: Isn't not

kellym78 wrote:
Isn't not being flung into space and being stuck to the ground essentially the same thing? *confused*

Just to clarify, centrifugal motion would actually cause us to fly off the surface of the earth, not stick to it. Because we don't (and for other reasons) we can know that gravity exists. Laughing out loud

Physboy's picture

Gravity Example

kellym78 wrote:
Gravity exists because the centrifugal motion of the earth keeps us firmly rooted to the ground, or at least fighting against that force if we momentarily leave it.

The phenomena of gravitation as it is described in currently accepted modern physics, is based on the relative relationships between two or more bodies of mass and their respective effects on space-time curvature along with a few other variables e.g. distance between objects.  Centrifugal motion has nothing to do with this understanding of the phenomena or any other understanding of it, to the best of my knowledge.  Even if the Earth was not spinning at all, you would still be pulled to the center due to the mass gradient effect on space-time.  Without gravitation phenomena you would just float off into space if the Earth was still, and be flung off if it was spinning.  Your example is incorrect as it is stated.

 However, this error does not discredit the fact that Davies is using a bit of the old obfuscation with respect to religion and Science.  In science, we have to use our imagination to create concepts about how things may or may not work when we have no other evidence regarding a particular system, or when we suspect that the current evidence does not shed any light on a given topic.  E.g.  Newtonian Mechanics breaking down at or near speeds of light, General Relativity breaking down regarding Quantum Phenomena, etc...

 There are many times in science when we imagine things that exist while there is no proof of this existence.  This is the typical process of Theoretical Physics being made applicable through Experimental Physics.  This is what Einstein meant when he stated "Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world."  So, in that sense alone, there are brief moments where faith is incorporated during the formation of hypotheses.  The difference for me is that in science when something is shown conclusively not to work a given way, we leave that perspective in favor of perspectives that get desired results.  That difference marks the clear divergence from religion in that science does not make ANY claims about ultimate truth, which is commonly suggested as being known, and able to spread said knowledge, by religious proselytizers in lieu of contradicting evidence and inability to reliably show their concepts as working in a sense experiential manner (e.g. experimentally verifiable).

 From my understandings, neither science, nor religions can tell us anything about ultimate truth.  Science admits that, religion does not.

Challenge your perspectives with the truth.

Wonderist's picture

kellym78 wrote: Isn't not

kellym78 wrote:
Isn't not being flung into space and being stuck to the ground essentially the same thing? *confused*

The wording in the article makes it sound like 'centrifugal motion' keeps us on the ground. Such motion would normally cause us to be flung into space. Since it doesn't, there must be another force, i.e. gravity. 

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O.K.F.M.D.O.A.'s picture

natural wrote: The wording

natural wrote:

The wording in the article makes it sound like 'centrifugal motion' keeps us on the ground. Such motion would normally cause us to be flung into space. Since it doesn't, there must be another force, i.e. gravity.

Another issue is that the article makes it sounds like rotational motion has someting to do with the cause of gravity, rather than a piece of evidence in its favour. The simplest explanation of gravity is that objects with mass are attracted to one another. Physboy's explanation using general relativity is of course more accurate, but then it is still just another approximate model with which we can explain observations and make predictions (we know it is approximate because it breaks down at quantum scales).

One other thing I would like to point out about the Times article is that Davies seems to be assuming that there couldn't possibly an answer to the question of why there is something rather than nothing. Clearly it would require a much more advanced understanding of the universe, but we (as a species) have had the scientific method for not even a thousand years. If an outside party had observed biologically modern humans 40,000 years ago, what chance would the observer have given us for eventually understanding quantum theory and using it to revolutionize our world? (With the transistor, if you're wondering.)

Cpt_pineapple

Cpt_pineapple wrote:

 

When I have something like E=mc^2, it's not a law per se, but it describes a law.

 

What I was saying is the formulas etc do describe nature, and th nature follow laws, and the formulas are the best describtion of those laws.

 

So yeah, nature doesn't 'follow' E=mc^2 per se, the formula merely describes the law, it isn't the law itself.

 

But nature does follow a law that can be described by E=mc^2.

 

 

I am curious cpt what do you have to say about this that Victor Stenger says

victor stenger wrote:
However, in the past several decades we have gradually come to understand that what we call "laws of physics" are basically our own descriptions of certain symmetries observed in nature and how these symmetries, in some cases, happen to be broken.
 

http://www.stephenjaygould.org/ctrl/stenger_intel.html from here 

Cpt_pineapple's picture

zntneo

zntneo wrote:
Cpt_pineapple wrote:

 

When I have something like E=mc^2, it's not a law per se, but it describes a law.

 

What I was saying is the formulas etc do describe nature, and th nature follow laws, and the formulas are the best describtion of those laws.

 

So yeah, nature doesn't 'follow' E=mc^2 per se, the formula merely describes the law, it isn't the law itself.

 

But nature does follow a law that can be described by E=mc^2.

 

 

I am curious cpt what do you have to say about this that Victor Stenger says

victor stenger wrote:
However, in the past several decades we have gradually come to understand that what we call "laws of physics" are basically our own descriptions of certain symmetries observed in nature and how these symmetries, in some cases, happen to be broken.

http://www.stephenjaygould.org/ctrl/stenger_intel.html from here

 

 

This actually reinforces my point if anything.

 

it seems to me that you are

it seems to me that you are saying the universe follows specfic laws, and it seems to me that stenger isn't saying that the universe doesn't follow "laws" but that the laws describe semitries/semtery breaking and thus its not "following" anything but that laws are the way they are because of said semmetry. Now i could be misunderstanding all of this and if so please correct me but it seems that it doesn't "follow" any kind of laws that have the possiblity of being set down by a "law maker" but that these "laws" follow directy from anything that has these "symmetries"

evil religion's picture

NIce article    But I

NIce article  

 But I just want to add something on this point.

Quote:
Davies’ assertion that science assumes that nature is “ordered in a rational and intelligible way"

I think science does indeed assume this because it is obviosly true! Its not so much an assumption rather its stating the bleedin obvious. Based on our observations and our applications of science then it has been shown that there is an underlying order to the universe. If there was not then science simply would not work. If all the laws and rules derived from science where not actually grounded in reality then we would need to explain why they all seem to work so well?

So applying scientific laws to the universe like Newtons laws of motion seem to get us good results.  They work very well to a good aproximation. We now have a number of possabilities

1) The universe is ordered and newtons laws are an approcimation to that underlying order

2) The universe is un ordered and newtons laws are a complete fluke.

Which is most likely?

Which is most rational to believe?

Now combine that with every other law of science that gets good results and the chance of it all being one huge massive fluke is just plain crazy talk. 

Its fairly bloody obvious which competing hypothesis best explains the observered phenomona. The universe must have an underlying order because sceince works so well. IF it didn't then science simply would not work. 

 

Cpt_pineapple's picture

zntneo wrote: it seems to

zntneo wrote:
it seems to me that you are saying the universe follows specfic laws, and it seems to me that stenger isn't saying that the universe doesn't follow "laws" but that the laws describe semitries/semtery breaking and thus its not "following" anything but that laws are the way they are because of said semmetry. Now i could be misunderstanding all of this and if so please correct me but it seems that it doesn't "follow" any kind of laws that have the possiblity of being set down by a "law maker" but that these "laws" follow directy from anything that has these "symmetries"

 

I'm talking laws in the sense that 'X action will yield Y result.'

 

So it does have laws, and we are doing our best to find them (Theory of Everything) 

Dear kelly

Kelly, Kelly you are very handsome, you are very intelligent but you did bad this time.

First: You guys can´t just can go arround saying that Religious people have lack of information, and then Brian goes public calling third to the first law of o thermodynamics, than you say a completly incorrect definition of gravity.. you guys most keep more informed than that.

The laws of the Universe need indeed an outside source, since is accepted by most scientists that OUR Universe had a beginning.. And since matter cannot create itself in our Universe because would violate

it´s law, it is needed an outside source. Of course this Source doesn´t need to be God.

 About our Universe being fined tuned for life, sorry Kelly, you just can´t argue about that. If the strong nuclear force was a little different life wouldn´t be possible. There are a lot of parameters that need to be fine tuned for life to exist. The most evident is the Cosmological Constant.  Attention now, if you modify 1 part in 10^120, there would be no life. This is a modification in the decimal number 120, there are 120 zeros.  0,0000000...........1 . Are you grasping this? any change in the 1  and we wouldn´t exist.  something like 0,0000000.........2 and "au revoir " life . Amazing isn´t it?

The only hope of scientists is that there is a Multiverse. An infinitude  of Universes, that overcomes this ridicously small probability.  Otherwise it wouldn´t be reasonable to call it luck.

At my knowledge there is not any proof  of  the multiverse, so there is a faith yes, on the scientists... that there are other Universes out there.

I do not blame Paul Davies, for thinking there is a higher plan, regarding this facts. Even Richard Dawkins, considers the arguments for fine tunning as the best for justifying some believe in a higher power.


A big kiss from an agnostic fan. Eye-wink

 

 

 

 

 

kellym78's picture

I'm glad that you

I'm glad that you appreciate my physical appearance, but while we're nitpicking, you should have said, "You did badly this time."

 Seriously, everybody, Hawking and Dawkins even, makes mistakes on occasion. Brian's snafu on nightline had much more to do with nervousness than ignorance as we have discussed ad nauseum. I admittedly used the wrong word to describe the rotation of the earth, but I never claimed to be an expert in astrophysics and now I know the difference.

There is no evidence that an outside source for the "laws" of the universe, much less that one is needed. The anthropic principle argument fails on many levels.

What the universe was like pre-Big Bang, nobody knows, but that doesn't mean that some extra-universal being/force was there, either. If such evidence presents itself, I will change my position. Otherwise, it just is the way that it is, and we are the result, not the reason.

 

deludedgod's picture

Quote: There is no

Quote:

There is no evidence that an outside source for the "laws" of the universe, much less that one is needed

It's a philosophically worthless proposition. Its useless to say that "laws of nature" are little entities unto themselves running around in some extant mind, like God, keeping a finger on gravity, and making sure that it really that the Inverse Square holds, or that the c constant remains constant. As todangst said by coining "contigent trust" versus "non-contigent" faith, treating inductive reasoning as valid is the former, and simply cannot be compared to religious faith. To do so is ridiculous and insulting, even if we couldn't offer solutions to P.O.E (he has). It's a reductio ad absurdum, that just because science doesn't offer us absolute knowledge, it cannot offer us any knowledge. Propositionally, the "God keeps nature uniform" is primitive and ridiculous. It's perfectly valid to state "nature appears to be uniform, albeit I'll change that belief with reason", why? Because it is bloody obvious, and we wouldn't be able to exist without nature being uniform! It's a non sequitur to state that there has to be a teleological reason why nature is uniform (this is question begging). That is why it is called contigent trust, based on countless billions of observations, even Hume, who cheerfully tore induction apart as a way of knowing, concluded that anecdotes of miraculous occurance cannot be taken seriously because it is a single observation which goes against billions of contradictory observations which indicate the contrary, and therefore, Occam's Razor says it is vastly more likely that the occurance in question was not, in fact, miraculous.

Davies has been warped by the postmodern movement, which I tore apart here:

On Postmodernism

Either that or he simply wants to win the Templeton Prize again. I hear they are giving a lot of money for it now (maybe they are finding fewer and fewer scientists wanting to say something nice about religion. 

"Physical reality” isn’t some arbitrary demarcation. It is defined in terms of what we can systematically investigate, directly or not, by means of our senses. It is preposterous to assert that the process of systematic scientific reasoning arbitrarily excludes “non-physical explanations” because the very notion of “non-physical explanation” is contradictory.

-Me

Books about atheism

sorry

"I'm glad that you appreciate my physical appearance, but while we're nitpicking, you should have said, "You did badly this time.""

 And your brains too Smiling lucky Sapient.


Sorry that mistake, but English is not my native language . Thanks for correcting anyway.
 

Brian37's picture

Kelly, I am continously

Kelly, I am continously astonished at your lack of regard to hocus pocus. If someone wants to believe that a magical puppiteer wearing a red leotard pulls a jilted lover off a skyscraper to become roadside marinara sauce, who are you to judge? It is all part of god's plan.

"We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus -- and nonbelievers."Obama
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'You couldn’t be a

'You couldn’t be a scientist if you thought the universe was a meaningless jumble of odds and ends haphazardly juxtaposed.''

I think Paul Davies' fundamental error is conflating orderliness with design. The principle of parsimony- Occam's Razor- states that the simplest explanation for a given phenomenon that fits with what facts we have observed is most likely to be true. These facts are not, in fact, required to fit into a neat package to be science- part of the reason science, unlike religion, doesn't have a final answer on anything- but is always subject to new evidence, always probing and refining its models- (not to mention its philosophy: the word 'law' might have been inspired by theological underpinnings in Newton's time, but today it means a rule that has been widely experimentally verified- many philosophers of science (the positivists, for example) in fact, equate the meaningfulness of a given statement with its falsifiability- that if it doesn't /matter/ whether its true, it isn't scientific, in other words) -part of the reason science is always refining itself is because it doesn't assume the universe to be an orderly system of laws and work from there, but attempts to refine rules of thumb that simplify and explain what parts of what we've observed so far are simplifiable and explainable- and catalogue what we can't for future generations to make sense out of.

In any case, if you assume in advance that all systems are designed, (take the deist hypothesis) you can't actually compare designed and undesigned systems and say these are the characteristics of a designed system and these are not- you have no examples to work from. Whereas the agnostic or atheist sees some examples of designed things (aircraft, jetliners, and so on) and some undesigned things (trees, plants, human beings) and sees a wide number of phenomena- not just life, but crystals, snowflakes, the gaussian curve of sand dunes, the fractal geometry of coastlines- that are highly ordered, but emerge naturally from very simple, unintelligent behavior. Termites exhibit very simple rule-following behavior, and because of the evolutionary constraints on their form due to energy consumption and so on, they can't carry around a map of the ideal termite mound in their head- but the rules they follow, when interacting with the system of the other termites following the same sets of rules- can put together a very impressive termite hut. Not the best possible termite hut; but a very elegant one. This highly ordered structure is the result of the application of simple rules on a large number of similar organisms acting in concert. The same kind of collective behavior comes from water molecules freezing into a snowflake, but here the process is entirely unintelligent- no water molecule carries a map of a snowflake in some water-brain whereby it intends to design a snowflake, but random droplets of water freezing together under the right conditions follow similar rules, tend to bond together in these spiky, hexaform shapes, each different but elegant in its own way and highly ordered, emergent, and undesigned.

Sapient's picture

New Scientist responded to

New Scientist responded to the Paul Davies article as well.

Quote:
8 December 2007

From New Scientist Print Edition. Subscribe and get 4 free issues.

A. C. Grayling

IN A recent opinion piece in The New York Times, physicist Paul Davies asserts that it is a mistake to distinguish science from religion by describing the former as based on testable hypotheses while the latter is based on faith. "The problem with this neat separation," he says, "is that science has its own faith-based belief system."

Davies does not seem especially clear about what he means by this. He begins by describing scientific faith as "the assumption that nature is ordered in a rational and intelligible way", but soon shifts to describing it as "belief in the existence of something outside the universe, like... an unexplained set of physical laws". Either way, the failure or refusal to explain the source of physical laws is, he says, to regard nature as "rooted in reasonless absurdity".

The brevity of the piece does not allow Davies - who won the Templeton prize for progress towards spiritual discoveries - to offer his now familiar suggestion that the universe is "self-conscious" or contains a "life principle" which obliges the laws of physics to take a form necessary for the existence of intelligent life. There are half a dozen competing suggestions, most of them better than this one, as to why the universe's (or this universe's) parameters are as they are. Even the one that says "it is just a bald fact that they are so" does not deserve Davies's tendentious description of them as a commitment to "reasonless absurdity". It is a perfectly consistent possible truth that seems unsatisfactory only to the pattern-seeking, reason-requiring impulse with which evolution has endowed the human mind.

Davies could also not be more wrong in describing science's assumption that the universe is orderly and intelligible as an "act of faith". Patterns and regularities are a salient feature of nature, even to casual observation, and well motivate the assumption that they hold generally, or that when they fail to hold they do so for likewise orderly reasons. Once thus made, the assumption is then powerfully justified by the success of making testable predictions that are based on it.

Making well-motivated, evidence-based assumptions that are in turn supported by their efficacy in testing predictions is the very opposite of faith. Faith is commitment to belief in something either in the absence of evidence or in the face of countervailing evidence. It is seen as a theological virtue precisely for this reason, as the story of Doubting Thomas is designed to illustrate. In everyday speech we use the phrase "he took it on faith" to mean "without question, without examining the grounds"; this captures its essence.

If the assumption of nature's orderliness frequently or haphazardly failed to be borne out we would register the fact, supposing we survived the mistake in the first place. True, this amounts to offering inductive support for induction; but this does not mean that the circle cannot be explanatory, as shown by the fact that it is a mark of irrationality not to rely on the success of past inductions in a present one. To see why, imagine saying: "Every time I have been out in the rain without an umbrella in the past I have got wet; but inductive reasoning is fallible, so perhaps this time I will stay dry."

If the assumption of nature's orderliness were not borne out, we would register it

The public and repeatable testing of hypotheses distinguishes science as the most successful form of inquiry ever. Among other things it shows that it is officially not in the business of accepting anything "without question, without examining the grounds". Davies and others who describe science as "ultimately resting on faith" are thus not only wrong but do much irresponsible harm to it thereby.

From issue 2633 of New Scientist magazine, 08 December 2007, page 55

 

- Brian Sapient


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Archeopteryx's picture

Cpt_pineapple

Cpt_pineapple wrote:
TheSciencePundit wrote:

"the universe does have laws."

I think the point that Kelly was trying to make is that natural laws are not the same as legal laws: a conflagration that theists often make. ie. "Every law must have a lawgiver."

This is not the case. Natural laws are man-made constructs that attempt to describe nature. Nature doesn't "follow" any laws, it only appears to do so because the laws have been fine tuned into a fairly accurate model of the behavior of nature.

Davies seems to have missed this distinction.

 

 

When I have something like E=mc^2, it's not a law per se, but it describes a law.

 

What I was saying is the formulas etc do describe nature, and th nature follow laws, and the formulas are the best describtion of those laws.

 

So yeah, nature doesn't 'follow' E=mc^2 per se, the formula merely describes the law, it isn't the law itself.

 

But nature does follow a law that can be described by E=mc^2.

 

 

It's good that you're not trying to say that the universe follows laws decreed by some great law-giver, but your persisting in this "the universe obeys laws" claim seems like a bit of bending over backwards to get a desired interpretation.

 

 What you're claiming sounds something like saying "The universe does what the universe does, and it can't do anything else. Why? Because it's the universe. If it started doing something the universe doesn't do, it wouldn't be the universe anymore."

 

Well, that's just common sense. A watermelon can't do anything other than what a watermelon does, otherwise it would stop being a watermelon. But that doesn't mean that there are unwritten watermelon "rules".

 

What if you take the rules of particles and the rules of waves and look at something like light that can follow both? I suppose at that point you would say that light is just following the laws that govern light?

 

With the explanation as you've given it, no matter what the universe does, you could still say that it was just doing what the universe does, following the ungiven laws.

 

Sounds like typical theist tricks to me: 1) Convoluted rethinking of something simple, 2) Unfalsifiability.

A place common to all will be maintained by none. A religion common to all is perhaps not much different.

Cpt_pineapple's picture

Archeopteryx wrote: It's

Archeopteryx wrote:

It's good that you're not trying to say that the universe follows laws decreed by some great law-giver, but your persisting in this "the universe obeys laws" claim seems like a bit of bending over backwards to get a desired interpretation.

 

 What you're claiming sounds something like saying "The universe does what the universe does, and it can't do anything else. Why? Because it's the universe. If it started doing something the universe doesn't do, it wouldn't be the universe anymore."

 

Well, that's just common sense. A watermelon can't do anything other than what a watermelon does, otherwise it would stop being a watermelon. But that doesn't mean that there are unwritten watermelon "rules".

 

What if you take the rules of particles and the rules of waves and look at something like light that can follow both? I suppose at that point you would say that light is just following the laws that govern light?

 

With the explanation as you've given it, no matter what the universe does, you could still say that it was just doing what the universe does, following the ungiven laws.

 

Sounds like typical theist tricks to me: 1) Convoluted rethinking of something simple, 2) Unfalsifiability.

 

 

What? 

 

 

Archeopteryx's picture

Cpt_pineapple

Cpt_pineapple wrote:

 

What?

 

 

Good answer.

 

In a nutshell, I was saying (poorly) that it sounds as if you're trying to put an unnecessary spin on the behavior of nature. It might be that I was reading too much into your posts, but that is kind of how it sounded to me.

A place common to all will be maintained by none. A religion common to all is perhaps not much different.

Evolved Morality's picture

really enjoying your blogs catching up on some reading

i am really enjoying reading your blogs   probly enjoy the next one just as much  i remember my science teacher and a christian tarded kid in school haveing similar talks

Evolved Morality