Posted by: Dan | November 26, 2007

Science is Definitely NOT Faith-Based

Science most definitely is not based on Faith (i.e. belief in something without evidence). But that’s just what Paul Davies is suggesting. I have just two words for that patently absurd suggestion: epistemology and empiricism. Alex gives a succinct reaction to Davies along those lines.

How on Earth does Davies get off calling himself a scientist?!? What an annoying little essay that was of his. And why did the NY Times publish such rubbish?

The only item that Davies brings up that’s worth discussing is the section on where the concept of natural law came from. Davies of course is arguing that science was originally a Christian idea. Since it’s always interesting to examine where profound ideas came from, and especially where science came from, I thought that worth discussing a bit more… Davies says:

This shared failing is no surprise, because the very notion of physical law is a theological one in the first place, a fact that makes many scientists squirm. Isaac Newton first got the idea of absolute, universal, perfect, immutable laws from the Christian doctrine that God created the world and ordered it in a rational way. Christians envisage God as upholding the natural order from beyond the universe, while physicists think of their laws as inhabiting an abstract transcendent realm of perfect mathematical relationships.

John Wilkins corrects Davies, pointing out that no, in fact, it was the Ancient Greeks who conceived of the idea of natural order:

But the really important innovation, the one that all science since has been based upon, is the ideas of the Milesians, beginning with Thales in the sixth century BCE. He proposed that there was a material principle that explained all things. Hitherto, throughout the ancient near east and Mediterranean, things were what they were at the whim of a god or gods, and had a sympathetic relationship between each other based on resemblances and words. You cannot study what things will do if they can, at any time, become a swan or a tree or a spirit.

Put another way, scientific research is only possible in the secular/non-theistic setting, where god(s) have been forgotten.

And, moving away from the realm of science, democratic politics and human rights can only work in the secular/non-theistic setting. How did these concepts arise however? From theological thinking, as some like Davies might suggest? More probably, by trying to move beyond a world at the whim of god(s), into a world that is more explainable and more just.

We’re simply more able to make sense out of the world after we’ve let go of god(s).

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Responses

  1. Thanks for the thoughtful post.

    I agree with Davies, however. Science (and all human endeavors) begin and end with faith, at least in the general sense. As you begin, you must have faith that what you observe is worth observing. As you end, you must have faith that what you have observed is (at least relatively) true. I also agree with Davies that scientists have rely (have faith in) an ordered universe, else their observations are mere random musings. The origin/source/identity of this order is where science ends and religion/philosophy begins.

  2. It takes faith to believe that reality is real, huh? Oh I completely agree that it takes faith to believe in something that in all likelihood doesn’t exist. But faith in things that are observable?!? What a naive thing to suggest.

    Thanks for the delusional comment.

  3. Edge: The Reality Club has a collection of responses to Davies’ article, from such popular science figures as Jerry Coyne, Nathan Myhrvold, Lawrence Krauss, Scott Atran, Sean Carroll, Jeremy Bernstein, PZ Myers, and Lee Smolin.

  4. I would also agree with Davies…The point is not that “It takes faith to believe that reality is real” – as if we cannot be completely sure that the table I’m currently sitting at is really there. But rather, at an extremely basic and foundational level, faith is required for any sort of scientific inquiry. That faith does not necessarily have to be Christian faith or any other kind of religious faith – that’s where the discussion has gone awry – but faith that one is capable of learning and understanding in a logical manner what is being observed. Without faith of some sort, there would be no motivation to pursue investigation.

    Anyone who would deny that reality is “delusional.”

    Many an atheistic and accomplished scientist would admit that science cannot answer every question we can dream up. I distinctly remember sitting in a science class at the University of Oregon (hardly the hotbed for religious adherence) and listening to the instructor say that some questions seemingly scientific in nature must be relegated to the philosophy and religion department for answers.

    The bleeding scientists among us seldom admit that there are in fact limits to their particular discipline. Sometimes, there is no other option but to philosophize and dogmatize…

  5. Dan,
    You need to be really careful with the words “epistemology” and “empiricism.” Those are largely philosophical terms and are therefore subject to an incredibly wide array of definitions and origins – all dependent upon the person speaking. FWIW

  6. Jason,
    If you think a reasonable assumption based on observation is “faith,” then you really don’t get it.

    1. Faith is the belief in something based on something that you can’t observe.

    2. Science is a process for studying things that you can observe.

    Why is this so difficult for you to understand?

  7. And if you really understood how empiricism and epistemology applied to the scientific method, you’d realize how much of a moron Davies is. You said “Those are largely philosophical terms and are therefore subject to an incredibly wide array of definitions and origins – all dependent upon the person speaking.” No, they actually have very precise definitions within the philosophy and practice of science.

    If a career in scientific research has taught me anything, it’s that nothing is taken on “faith.” My results aren’t trusted in for any reason other than the harshest scrutiny. If anything, it’s the complete antithesis of faith. It’s skepticism of the highest form. The same goes for every single scientist out there.

    To relate it to everyday experience – have you ever worked on your car, to try and fix something? Tried to understand how it works? Maybe you’ve picked around in there, trying various ways to fix it. Different parts, different ways of solving the problem. You gain understanding from tinkering around under the hood, right? Are the conclusions in that situation Faith-based? Could someone from another faith come along and say “No, it’s not the catalytic converter, it’s that the oil needs changing,” because that’s what he believes in? No – one is right and the other is wrong. That doesn’t take faith, does it?

    So for science – you see those journal articles that I’ve linked to on here under the science categories, or on Bitesize Bio? You don’t have to take my word for any of it. You don’t have to believe me or have faith in me at all. You can look at the data for yourself and see if I’m correct or not. If you think the experiments were done badly and the results in error, you can repeat the experiments yourself, collect your own data, etc. Don’t have faith? Then prove it wrong (or not) with empirical data.

    No, there is no faith needed for science. Only curiosity and skepticism.

  8. Note to all,
    Trying to give naive individuals who mistakingly think Davies might be on to something the benefit of the doubt though, I think that it might also be helpful to distinguish between “faith” and “assumptions.” For instance, we assume various things to be true, merely on the basis that such assumption has been verified many times and never falsified. We assume the value of Pi to be approximately 3.14.

    This is an assumption based upon evidence, not one accepted by faith, blindly, or without evidence.

    Please understand the friggin’ difference.

  9. There’s a profound irony in the line:


    Christians envisage God as upholding the natural order from beyond the universe

    Since, as you know, a good fraction of Christians depend for their worldview, if not their sanity, on a created, immutable natural order. Including such worthies as Carl von Linné and Karl von Frisch, who professed that the purpose of their work was to describe/catalogue it.

    Until the time comes for them to ask for that natural order to “be annulled on behalf of a single petitioner confessedly unworthy” (Ambrose Bierce).

    Usually, I find, this important contradiction goes conspicuously, and conveniently, unnoticed.

    Also important is the difference between “faith” and “assumption”. But I think even scientists can run into trouble here. Because, I think, an assumption that is no longer tested (as they can and must be) is indistinguishable from faith. The sheer volume of assumptions underlying any given line of scientific inquiry is enough to make this a practical challenge for the individual.

    To magnify this practical, personal issue into a refutation of the scientific method is at least ill-considered, and potentially dangerous. And profitable, for those who gain commercially by pushing or refereeing the debate. Which is why the NYTimes et al. publish such rubbish.

  10. […] Science is an endlessly fascinating, challenging, and intellectually-satisfying endeavor. So it saddens me any time that I see someone mistakingly make claims about taking science on faith. This isn’t the forum for taking on religion – if you want that, more of my thoughts on that can be found at Migrations. […]

  11. “1. Faith is the belief in something based on something that you can’t observe. ”

    No. This is only the definition of “blind” faith; the lowest form of faith and could sometimes be considered “unreasonable faith.”

    Faith, as understood for millenia by philosophers, theologists, and scientists alike is the acceptance of an idea, an existence (as in God or a quark), or a position, etc. when the evidence is minimal, sketchy, partially or even purposefully hidden or may even seem to contradict the idea, existence, or position. Faith is not “blind;” it merely makes particular and sometimes peculiar choices about the results of what it sees.

    “2. Science is a process for studying things that you can observe.”

    Your definition is incomplete.
    Science is a process for studying things that you can observe…either directly or indirectly and relies on the belief (yes, I said belief, you may substitute faith, if you like) that the human constructs of “logic” and “reason” together with human interpretations of physical sensations or manifestations make up the totality of reality and are all that is needed to make sense of the universe.

  12. Janomac,
    You’re distinguishing between the “absence of evidence” and “…when the evidence is minimal, sketchy, partially or even purposefully hidden or may even seem to contradict the idea, existence, or position.”

    Sounds like a trivial distinction.

    On science, you state that it “relies on the belief that the human constructs of “logic” and “reason” together with human interpretations of physical sensations or manifestations make up the totality of reality and are all that is needed to make sense of the universe.”

    That’s not quite correct on science. Science does assume that an objective reality exists (a truism supported by experience, but open to inquiry), but it does not posit that we can completely explain all of the Universe. Science is a process by which we gain an approximation of what reality is. It just so happens though that this approximation is very very precise, especially in the realm of physics. Does this help us to “make sense of the Universe?” No. We do that on our own, taking the observational and experiential information of science into account. But that’s still a judgment call that is not itself scientific.

    So, you’re still trivially missing the point. Faith deals with things that we don’t know, and jumps to intuitive conclusions based on zero (or scant) evidence. Science deals with things that we don’t know, finds evidence, questions the evidence, and finds more evidence (see scientific method).

    The mere fact that science addresses evidence at all makes it the antithesis of faith.

  13. Faith is not the antithesis of knowledge but its foundation. I make this statement based on the understanding that faith is knowledge in the form of direct perception as opposed to knowledge acquired through ratiocination. All evidence used in constructing a scientific model of reality at bottom is derived from the perceptions that we acquire through the senses and which confer upon our minds conscious knowledge of a world outside ourselves. Perceiving light, heat, mass etc. through the instrumentality of the senses we are confident of the reality of these phenomena, i.e. we have faith that they exist without needing to go through any reasoning process in order to acquire this knowledge. From this starting point we begin our scientific investigations. Through the aid of reason we surmise various underlying connections between the objects that we directly perceive and then by experimentation we find confirmation or denial of our speculations through sensory feedback and come to know something more of the world on a new level. Emotionally this more abstract level of knowledge if gained through intensive study/observation provides the a similar quality of confidence in what we know as the confidence that we have in the initial evidence of our senses. Indeed the whole process of mental development that produces our picture of the world proceeds in this fashion from earliest infancy or even within the womb. What we “see” is made up of a combination of sensory data and ordering notions that form this data into a coherent pattern.

    Faith = conscious knowledge. In this light Paul Davies is right to assert that science is based on faith. Fundamentally all evidence arises from mental perceptions. Mental perceptions are the raw materials of science. If we did not see light we would have no reason to believe in its existence and consequently no reason to theorize on what it is. Theories about light require proof, but the existence of light requires no proof because we perceive it directly. Direct perceptions (as a whole) require no proof and indeed are unprovable. (Exceptions such as mirages prove the rule.) What is meant by faith then is knowledge in its rock-bottom form.

    Religious believers in saying that they have faith are not claiming to have knowledge without evidence, but are claiming to have confidence in their beliefs of a character that is comparable to knowledge acquired through the perception of the senses and rational enquiry. Believers believe because their beliefs make sense of the outer world and inner experience. The process is essentially no different from the scientific process. Theologies are theories that explain the data that human beings acquire through their spiritual perceptions. And regarding “spiritual perceptions” there is no reason in principle to assume that the perceiving power of the mind is limited to the acquisition of knowledge through the five physical senses alone. The sightlessness of the blind does not disprove the existence of light.

  14. John,
    You’re doing it too – confusing faith with other issues. In this case, you’re mistaking faith with perception, or the assumption that what we perceive to be real is in fact real. I’m astounded to find so many people that cannot or will not grasp this simple difference.

    Case in point, you say:

    Perceiving light, heat, mass etc. through the instrumentality of the senses we are confident of the reality of these phenomena, i.e. we have faith that they exist without needing to go through any reasoning process in order to acquire this knowledge.

    Yes, it is true that ‘faith’ is often used synonymously with words like ‘assumption,’ but there is a vital distinction here.

    But if that’s the sense that we’re going to use the word, then I might as well say that I have great faith in gravity. I believe with all my heart that it’ll never let me down (pardon the pun). What an enourmous leap of faith that is!

    Now compare that to faith in things without evidence – things that one may believe in whether or not they reflect reality. It’s a wholly different entity. I’m shocked, John, that you fail to grasp this difference – it’s not just a different degree of ‘faith,’ but a different kind of thing altogether.

    To return to your quote – you have no reasoning with which you process sensory information? What happens when you burn your hand? You feel it burning, don’t you? Would you ever consider the fact that your perceptions are deceiving you? Maybe you would – and so you keep your hand in close proximity to the heat source involved. Soon you smell your hand burning, see it blister, smoke, and char. Do you still question whether it is real? Do you need faith to conclude that your hand is burning? Or does it just burn?

    Again, as always, faith is not involved. Your hand just burns, regardless of what you believe. Look at the situation from any perspective whatsoever, and your hand is still burnt.

    Or put yet another way – science is about the question, not the answer. Faith is the opposite in this sense, it is about the answer, not the question. Science reaches tentative answers, but never an absolute answer. Instead, each answer leads to at least one new question, if not many (see scientific method again).

    John, again you say:

    Religious believers in saying that they have faith are not claiming to have knowledge without evidence, but are claiming to have confidence in their beliefs of a character that is comparable to knowledge acquired through the perception of the senses and rational enquiry.

    Christianity is based on faith in the Bible without one instance of evidence. Read through the Old Testament, John, there is a LOT in there that is far from rational (See my humorous “Makes Perfect Sense” post from a while back).

    Theologies are theories that explain the data that human beings acquire through their spiritual perceptions.

    No – spiritual perceptions are anecdotes of psychological perceptions. If they’re theories, they’re theories in the colloquial sense, not in any empirical or scientific sense, and are highly subjective. I for instance have a profound sense of spiritual faith in the wonderful richness of nature, as I walk through the woods. Another person might walk into the woods and be absolutely grossed out by the icky-ness of nature. It’s not like the hand-burning experiment at all.

  15. Sorry for the digressions, and what probably looks like a rambling comment – there are a lot of ways that science and faith are distinguishable and non-synonymous however. Objective vs. subjective; epistemological vs. ontological; empirical vs. spiritual; questions vs. answers; evidence vs. belief; known vs. unknown.

  16. Also, please pay particular attention to my burning hand analogy. It is an EXCELLENT example of an everyday empirical observation, IMHO.

  17. Last comment on this venting-spree: let me repeat a thought I expressed on a post today on Bitesize Bio (pingback above):

    Please, don’t take anything I say about science on faith!!! Look at the evidence yourself, question the findings, check my references, and dispute my conclusions. Be curious and skeptical. Consider looking for new evidence to confirm or deny your own conclusions. And don’t even stop questioning your own conclusions.

    Don’t ever take science on faith. Instead, show some analytical thinking skills.

  18. Dan, Let’s list all the problems in what you have said above:

    (1) You decide on the definitions of faith and science in a way that makes it easy for you to show they are mutually exclusive. A quick check of other sources (e.g., dictionaries) show that it’s not that simple.

    (2) You make the outrageous and laughable claim that scientific research, democratic politics, and human rights can’t exist except in a secular/non-theistic setting where god(s) have been forgotten. Find any place on earth at any time in human history where there has been such a setting. You can’t. Such a place has never existed and probably never will. However, science, democracy, and human rights have existed (not necessarily in perfect form, of course).

    (3) Atheists take on faith that nothing can exist that they cannot observe. They can’t prove that. Go back in history and find the best scientist of the day, and you can usually find something real (known in the future) they would not believe to exist–simply because of their ignorance and lack of experience. At best, one can say, “I don’t know if that thing exists or not.”

  19. Kelly,
    1. Then offer up alternative definitions. We can then discuss the merits of each. Or offer up some explanations as to how my definitions are lacking. Merely saying “it’s not that simple” does not suffice unless your objective is to say “Nyah nyah.” I assume that you think you have something better to say. Say it.

    2. Why are my suggestions laughable? In science, the moment you interject theism, you clearly have left the realm of science. In politics, the moment you violate the separation of church and state, you head down the path of theocracy (as opposed to a true democracy).

    The only one that is remotely uncertain, in my mind, is human rights. Throughout history, there have been a number of human rights legends that have been devoutly religious people. But have those legends stood up for human rights because of their religious doctrines, or because of their inborn sense of right and wrong, which has nothing to do with whether one is a Christian or a Muslim? I submit that it is the former.

    You can contest that argument, and you may make a valid point along the way, but that doesn’t make my contention “laughable” by any stretch of the imagination.

    3. That’s great. While yes, I’m an atheist, we’re not talking about atheism at the moment, and that’s an irrelevant point. We’re talking about science and faith vis-a-vis. Please stay on topic.

    Lastly, you conclude with:

    At best, one can say, “I don’t know if that thing exists or not.”

    As I’m fond of saying, the same is true of fairies and unicorns. Think about it.

  20. Dan,

    Concerning the following statements:

    “Faith is the belief in something based on something that you can’t observe.”

    And:

    “Compare… [“faith” in gravity] to faith in things without evidence – things that one may believe in whether or not they reflect reality. Its a wholly different entity.”

    (With acknowledgement to Kelly for highlighting the issue of definition.)

    Hoping not to shock you further, probably in vain, my definition of faith is pretty much the polar opposite of yours.

    Faith in common usage means belief held with confidence.

    Example: “I have faith my debtor will repay me.”

    If you challenge a person’s beliefs they will reflexively defend these beliefs by adducing evidence in order to maintain faith in their beliefs. “The debtor has a good credit history.” “The authors of the Gospels were truthful men.” One may or may not be mistaken in such assertions, but one knows that claiming to have faith in the absence of evidence is an empty claim. Frequently a cover-up job is done with rhetoric to make up for deficiencies in evidence, which is not an expression of faith but an exercise in disguising doubt.

    This shows that defining faith as belief without evidence is incorrect. The essential characteristic of faith is not lack of evidence but the presence of an emotional state of confidence in the belief. So the common-usage meaning of faith mentioned above is consistent with the religious meaning of the word faith which denotes confident belief in spiritual realities. Whether or not these realities are actually real does at this point not impinge on the definition. I have faith in them if I’m confident they are real. In the absence of such confidence I lose my faith. The essential properties of faith are (a) belief and (b) confidence in that belief.

    It is impossible to sustain faith (confidence) in a belief when one has discovered (to one’s personal satisfaction) that this belief is contrary to the evidence. Moreover even if no contrary evidence is found, the mere absence of evidence in favour of a belief renders it meaningless and it is impossible to have faith (confidence) in a meaningless belief.

    Blind belief and fantasy by definition then are not faith. But belief in well-substantiated scientific theories is a form of faith inasmuch as one has confidence in them. So it may be ridiculously obvious that I have faith in the power of gravity but it is a true statement nonetheless; not a contradiction in terms.

    Although faith as defined so far can be mistaken, faith based on invalid evidence may be said to be not genuine as it is not sustained by reality; it is mere boasting with no money in the bank; confidence without content.

    True faith, meaning justified, confident belief is not the antithesis of science but is the stuff of science itself.

    ***

    Beliefs are thoughts. They reside in the mind. They are based on impressions produced in the mind by sensations received from the outer world. Ultimately confidence in evidence amounts to confidence in the reality of the information delivered by these sensation-produced impressions. It is in being conscious of these impressions that we have knowledge. Knowledge is indeed awareness of the contents of our own minds. If we have confidence in what we know, we have faith in it. Faith is conscious knowledge, i.e. sure knowledge existing by virtue of the power of consciousness. And it is the outcome of evidence gained by observation performed by the mind.

    Sensations are received by the mind from the physical senses but it is the comprehending power of the mind that converts the data of the senses into knowledge. The mind is the master and the senses are servants. Now if the mind is served by senses other than the physical senses, i.e. if it clearly receives sensations from “spiritual senses”, there is no reason deny the reality of the impressions produced by these spiritual senses. Our very confidence in the reality of that which is known to the physical senses is dependent on the existence and powers of the mind, so if we disallow in principle the priority of the powers of mind with regard to impressions that may arise from non-physical senses we are thereby undercutting the foundation of all evidence from beneath our feet. The mind is entirely free to perceive whatever it is capable of perceiving.

    ***

    Consider these statements:

    “In the presence of fire I feel its heat.”

    “In the presence of my beloved I feel her warmth.”

    “Listening to a symphony I feel its beauty.”

    “At prayer I am awed by the grandeur of God.”

    All the experiences so described appear to be real to the subject. And millions of subjects report similar experiences of all these types. I submit that if I feel awe at the grandeur of God, and I am far from alone in this, I am warranted to have faith in such a spiritual sensation as much as I have faith in the physical sensation I feel in the presence of fire.

    ***

    All perception is developed through education. If spiritual perception seems lacking these days, this can be attributed to lack of spiritual education.

  21. John,
    Admittedly, the word ‘faith’ has many meanings, all of which need to be taken into consideration.

    Compare and contrast “Faith in common usage means belief held with confidence.” and “Faith is the belief in something based on something that you can’t observe.” (your definition and mine)

    We’re getting closer.

    I don’t think that we’re talking polar opposites now at all – That faith is belief held with confidence goes without saying. But what else is it? Faith is still belief in things that may or may not be true. You don’t know. If you know, you don’t have to believe it, it just is.

    You’re example: Example: “I have faith my debtor will repay me.” In a sense. But you have some estimation of the likelihood of whether or not this may be true, from prior experience. That’s a calculated risk.

    The word ‘faith’ can be used in such circumstances in a grammatically correct fashion. But it’s a loaded word that implies an intuitive leap of logic.

    The American Heritage Dictionary defines ‘faith‘ as such (leaving out those parts pertaining specifically to religion):

    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.

    Definitions 3 through 5 aren’t relevant here, so we can ignore that. 6 is vague. But the first speaks to your definition of confidence, and the second speaks to my definition of lack of evidence. These are both simultaneously the case, I maintain. Another way of explaining ‘faith’ is further down on the linked page (just another way of saying it):

    Faith has three general implications which can be implied either exclusively or mutually
    A. To Trust:Believing a certain variable will act or has the potential to act a specific way despite the potential influence and probability of known or unknown change.
    + To have faith in ones spouse that he/she will keep a promise of commitment
    + To have faith that the world will someday be peaceful
    + To have faith in a person to pay you back
    B. To believe without reason:
    + Believing impulsively, or believing based upon personal ‘hopes’
    C. To believe with reason:
    + Believing in some evidence that points to a greater fact

    In either case, Faith is based upon the interpretation of the intangible (feelings, emotions) instead of the scientific tangible.

    And that’s just one more example of how faith is distinguishable from science – the intangible vs. the tangible. But back to the confidence vs. evidence items:

    If you challenge a person’s beliefs they will reflexively defend these beliefs by adducing evidence in order to maintain faith in their beliefs.

    As I’ve repeatedly observed from commenters here on my blog, this is not quite the case. Here, it seems that when I challenge a person’s beliefs, individuals by-and-large will reflexively defend their beliefs by with increasingly counterintuitive rationalizations that stem not from observing but from ‘feeling’. The lengths that some will go to rationalize their deep-seated beliefs (faith) is a very fine example of the steadfast confidence that true faith entails, often strengthening in the face of contradictory evidence (see the concept of Cognitive dissonance).

    You add:

    The essential properties of faith are (a) belief and (b) confidence in that belief.

    Note that, again, evidence is not part of the picture. Think of the differences between ‘belief’ and ‘conclusion.’

    It is impossible to sustain faith (confidence) in a belief when one has discovered (to one’s personal satisfaction) that this belief is contrary to the evidence.

    Young. Earth. Creationism. It takes real faith to sustain belief in that, yet millions of people do. Science simply does not work in that fashion, as I’ve been repeating.

    Blind belief and fantasy by definition then are not faith.

    There are many people who blindly believe that the Bible is the word of god, simply because they were told so for as long as they can remember, and have been so thoroughly convinced of the fact that their confidence in it knows no bounds. Further, they claim that their own prophets lay sole claim to divine insight, while the scholars of other religions are not. If that’s not faith, then I don’t know what is.

    “Beliefs are thoughts.” No, they’re a subset of the thoughts we possess, not an interchangeable term. (all beliefs are thoughts, but not all thoughts are beliefs)

    Considering the statements:

    “In the presence of fire I feel its heat.” – Does faith play a role in processing the sensation? Does not believing make it go away? No – feeling heat is an empirical fact.

    “In the presence of my beloved I feel her warmth.” Same questions: Does faith play a role in processing the sensation? Does not believing make it go away? This time, yes – feeling love is an emotional fact. Similarly with a symphony and god. (well, almost – with a symphony the vibrations that we hear are an empirical fact, but it is our emotions that help us distinguish between music and noise)

    You’re failing to distinguish between the physical and emotional realities that we experience, John. There are objective observations, and subjective observations. (or call it any of the dichotomies that I mentioned previously)

  22. Hi Dan,

    Looks like you have quite a few people who are confused about the scientific endeavour. Science is built on predictive models. Scientists make observations, invent hypotheses, test their theories against further observations. These new observations allow them to either keep or modify their models. After countless iterations of hypothesis and testing, science produces models with highly predictive power. This is the scientific endeavour.

    This is very different from the “faith” as described by Davies – his essay basically equates the erroneous “scientific truths” to religious dogmatic faith. The idea that scientists believe in “truths” is wrong. Science produces predictive models. These models are always subject to revision. Although a scientist does not believe that the current crop of models is “the truth”, he/she would only throw the model away if they could conceive a superior model. We scientists argue constantly with each other “that model is no good because of this and this and this”

    Please understand the difference.

    In the end Davies knocks down this straw man (as in science has been mislead) and declares that he will save us from “multiverse theory”, something that the scientific establishment has been tricked into believing due to our “faith” in logic. There are so many problems with this statement that it is shameful.

    1- multiverse theory is not a [predictive theory and thus is not even a scientific theory
    2- multiverse theory is not a highly regarded MODEL (and would never be considered “truth” – remember science doesn’t deal with “truth”)
    3- just as our models are useful tools that have much predictive power, logic too has been a useful tool – bat all these are tools, not “the truth”

    Davies attempts to save science from “faith” and the multiverse theory by proposing a better model of the universe. But he doesn’t even propose a theory, just the outlines of a model. That is so idiotic! The guy is just trying to come up with a better theory – i.e. following the same pattern that all scientists have taken over the past 500 years! Worse, he doesn’t even have a theory to test! Such crap should never be published.

  23. Hi Alex,
    “Looks like you have quite a few people who are confused about the scientific endeavour.”

    It would seem so. Funny enough – looking around the blogosphere, every science blogger who’s commented on Davies’ article expressed similar reactions, ranging from “Davies is misguided” at best to “Why did the NY Times publish that rubbish?”

    Non-scientists however appear mixed in reaction. I wonder if it’s the fault of how science is taught at the high school and undergraduate levels, giving the impression that science is a series of facts to be ontologically memorized (as opposed to learning about the empirical and epistemological bases of such knowledge).

  24. Looking up additional definitions (besides the American Heritage and Oxford Dictionaries), I found Merriam-Webster’s. Their definition relied on the word ‘belief,’ which is defined as:

    1: a state or habit of mind in which trust or confidence is placed in some person or thing
    2: something believed; especially : a tenet or body of tenets held by a group
    3: conviction of the truth of some statement or the reality of some being or phenomenon especially when based on examination of evidence

    synonyms: belief, faith, credence, credit mean assent to the truth of something offered for acceptance. belief may or may not imply certitude in the believer. faith almost always implies certitude even where there is no evidence or proof. credence suggests intellectual assent without implying anything about grounds for assent. credit may imply assent on grounds other than direct proof.

    See in addition opinion

    I’m still kinda curious why my definitions of faith, which match the dictionaries’ definitions, are ‘laughable.’ Anyone care to offer an explanation? John? Kelly? Anyone?

  25. Hi Dan,

    I don’t think anyone said your definitions of faith are laughable. Kelly used the word laughable in respect of your “claim that scientific research, democratic politics, and human rights can’t exist except in a secular/non-theistic setting”. I certainly did not use the word laughable nor even suggest that your definition of faith is unacceptable linguistically.

    I acknowledge that your comments on the definition of faith helpfully opened up the subject further. Meanwhile I’ve been reading up more fully on the background, i.e. re-reading Paul Davies’ article and commentary on it via the links you provided, as well as related material, e.g. Wikipedia article on Philosophy of Mind. The subject is fascinating but at this point I’m not ready to add anything further as I’m mentally sorting through all the inter-related issues that arise in order to get a more comprehensive perspective. I hope to say more later if other occupations don’t divert me.

  26. John,
    Thanks for the correction, and for reading up on the issues that I think you’re misunderstanding. In addition to the items that you mention, I would encourage you to read up on the differences between ontology and epistemology, as well as different kinds of evidence (i.e. anecdotal versus empirical, etc.).

    In all of the definitions, faith and belief are opinions, biased perceptions, convictions, etc., that are not dependent upon evidence. Okay, I admit that evidence may be involved, but evidence of no kind is required for faith. I.e. faith and evidence may be coincidental, but they are not correlated.

    Science, however, would fail utterly if it were dependent upon opinon, conviction, etc. So for you to have said that faith is at the core of what science is as an endeavor is wholly misguided.

  27. Dan,

    The key to the riddle is my alternate (unconventional) conception of the word faith.

    Your definition at the outset: “…belief in something without evidence.” Extrapolating further, and rephrased:

    “Belief that may be false held with unjustified confidence.”

    My understanding:

    “Belief that is probably true held with justified confidence.”

    Thus, after appropriate examination of evidence I can validly state: “I have faith that the theory of evolution is true.” In this sentence “have faith” synonymous with “know”. It means, “I know the theory of evolution is true.”

    I will defend my unconventional use of the word faith below. But first, notice that it is the business of science to arrive at “beliefs that are probably true and can be held with justified confidence”. The necessary exercise of skepticism in science is aimed at winnowing out the chaff of beliefs that are untrue in order to retain beliefs that are useful/true. (Ok, provisionally true until a better theory comes along.) In this framework science is a methodology aimed at developing beliefs that one has faith in. The reason for being of science is to be able to distinguish truth from falsehood. The fruit of science is its discoveries. These discoveries are ideas that we can have faith in.

    The concept of faith I’m putting forward is not an attack on science but an affirmation of it. I am indicating that if we want to arrive at knowledge of which we can be confident, then science shows the way to go. I’m denying the validity of religious ideas based on blind belief. If we want to have genuine faith, we need evidence for it. If there is clear evidence against a religious belief, we should not believe in it. Belief in groundless ideas is not faith but fantasy.

    The word faith is primarily used in a religious context and when a debate breaks out about faith and science we can be sure it is essentially about religion and science.

    When a religionist uses the word faith it denotes acceptance by the speaker of beliefs that are already presumed to be true: “The theological virtue defined as secure belief in God and a trusting acceptance of God’s will.” It is implicit in this definition that faith is “virtuous” because belief in God is true. (It is not necessary to actually believe in God to see the point being made here.) So the traditional religious definition of faith is consistent with: “Belief that is probably true held with justified confidence.” In the mind of the believer, belief in God is a true belief held with justified confidence. Even everyday usage the word faith is weighted towards the assumption that faith in one’s friend, one’s wife, etc., being justified.

    If believers wish to retain a positive value for the word faith, they should not go about promoting ideas that are manifestly false.

    But I’m not completely endorsing materialist science either.

    One of your quoted definitions of faith is: “Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.” (My emphasis added.) Dogmatic materialism admits too narrow a range of experiences into the field of acceptable “evidence”, and has too limited a conception of the human subject that performs the observations of which evidence consists. The possibility that non-material evidence, perceived by the same human subject as perceives physical evidence, could be just as compelling as material evidence, is prematurely ruled out.

    The word faith fully comes into its own as distinct from knowledge when it denotes knowledge that is arrived at through keen insight and before all the facts are finally in. As you rightly said in this sense it implies an intuitive leap. Such insight certainly plays an important role in religion, but it is not the antithesis of scientific rationality; rather, on a continuum with it.

  28. In this framework science is a methodology aimed at developing beliefs that one has faith in. The reason for being of science is to be able to distinguish truth from falsehood. The fruit of science is its discoveries. These discoveries are ideas that we can have faith in.

    Yet they are not dependent upon any conviction whatsoever. Faith is not a requisite, as I’ve been repeating. What is confusing about this point?

    You say that you have faith in theories of science. That’s all well and good, as you’re not actually involved in the practice of science, nor are you a scientist. You indeed do have faith that what a scientist says about science has some veracity to it. But merely repeating the conclusions of science, that things like the laws of physics exist, is not the process by which science conducts itself. (This is the ontological vs. epistemological dichotomy)

    You mention the necessary skepticism involved in the practice of science. Again, precisely the opposite of faith, science operates by questioning our assumptions, not by reaffirming one’s convictions, beliefs or faith.

    The concept of faith I’m putting forward is not an attack on science but an affirmation of it.

    Perhaps you would be better off using a word that is less loaded with reflexive meaning. “Trust” would be such a neutral term, particularly for a non-scientist talking about science. (Davies is a scientist however, and should know better)

    I’m denying the validity of religious ideas based on blind belief. If we want to have genuine faith, we need evidence for it.

    I agree wholeheartedly that that is how faith should work, and this view fuels my atheistic beliefs. Yet, many religious ideas are held by many millions of people, in the face of contradictory evidence. That is their faith, and I think you need to recognize that faith also encompasses such irrationalities. (this isn’t just about you and your faith, this is about faith in general)

    Regardless, again, no scientist needs to genuinely believe in their theories to reach them. Take Johann Kepler, for instance. He was a devoutly religious man of the Renaissance, and had a strong faith in a structure to the solar system which did not conform to his faith. Try as he might, his theory could not support his faith, and his faith was irrelevant to his science.

    Or, again, the burning hand analogy. No matter how you perceive the situation, you cannot get away from the objective conclusion that the hand is in fact burning. No amount of conviction, belief or faith is required for the situation.

    Or the symphony analogy, which better shows the dichotomy. No amount of conviction is required to see that the symphony produces vibrations. We DO need faith to perceive the symphony as music however – that is a subjective opinion, dictated by the listener. What you believe to be music, may sound to me like running your fingernails over a chalkboard. It’s a matter of conviction. (this is the subjective vs. objective dichotomy)

    One of your quoted definitions of faith is: “Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.” (My emphasis added.) Dogmatic materialism admits too narrow a range of experiences into the field of acceptable “evidence”, and has too limited a conception of the human subject that performs the observations of which evidence consists. The possibility that non-material evidence, perceived by the same human subject as perceives physical evidence, could be just as compelling as material evidence, is prematurely ruled out.

    Science DOES deal with material, tangible, empirical data. There is simply no other data that is admissible in science, that can be found reliable. Am I saying that science is the only valid form of information that is useful? Goodness no!!! What I am saying is that science IS limited to physical evidence, and nonphysical evidence, from which beliefs are formulated, are outside the purview of science. (this is the spiritual vs. empirical dichotomy)

  29. Dan,

    “Yet they are not dependent upon any conviction whatsoever. Faith is not a requisite, as I’ve been repeating. What is confusing about this point?”

    In any instance of awareness of undeniably an obvious fact conviction, i.e. the emotional condition of certainty, is transparent, i.e. you don’t have to think about whether you are sure, certainty is a given. This state of certainty is in itself what I’m regarding as pure faith. Faith is not an add-on, it is the very state of knowledge itself.

    “You say that you have faith in theories of science. That’s all well and good, as you’re not actually involved in the practice of science, nor are you a scientist. You indeed do have faith that what a scientist says about science has some veracity to it. But merely repeating the conclusions of science, that things like the laws of physics exist, is not the process by which science conducts itself.”

    I am well aware of it, which is why I was careful to include “after appropriate examination of evidence”. I should have been more explicit and said “if I am a scientist who has studied the evidence”. That is what I meant.

    “You mention the necessary skepticism involved in the practice of science. Again, precisely the opposite of faith, science operates by questioning our assumptions, not by reaffirming one’s convictions, beliefs or faith.”

    Skepticism is only one side of the coin. Science would have no utility if it were to endlessly engage in asking questions and never come up with any answers. Religious people should also interrogate their own beliefs (and many do). It is impossible to progress in any field of knowledge including religion without asking questions that test one’s present understanding. (The present discussion is an exercise in allowing my beliefs to be questioned, and by an astute questioner, to boot.)

    “Regardless, again, no scientist needs to genuinely believe in their theories to reach them. Take Johann Kepler, for instance. He was a devoutly religious man of the Renaissance, and had a strong faith in a structure to the solar system which did not conform to his faith. Try as he might, his theory could not support his faith, and his faith was irrelevant to his science.”

    Sorry, I’m confused. Please clarify. Did Kepler, in the end, believe in his theory or not?

    “Perhaps you would be better off using a word that is less loaded with reflexive meaning.”

    I acknowledge this problem, but the present discussion at the outset was framed by use of the word faith and I have been trying to stick consistently to this word in order to examine its implications in the context of faith vs. science. The focus of my interest is, what is knowledge and how can we acquire reliable knowledge? What are the similarities and differences between different levels of knowing? Are science and religion separate magisteria? (I do not think that they are completely separate, nor completely identical.)

    “I agree wholeheartedly that that is how faith should work, and this view fuels my atheistic beliefs. Yet, many religious ideas are held by many millions of people, in the face of contradictory evidence.”

    Religion is meant to be a guide to life and to do its job properly it needs to actually address reality. If it purveys salvation that is contrary to evidence it is providing no salvation at all. Superstition in the name of religion does incalculable harm. If it can be shown that in principle faith requires evidence, this may be helpful in drawing people away from superstition and towards an appreciation of reality. It may also be helpful for improving the reputation of religion in the eyes of its detractors.

    “That is their faith, and I think you need to recognize that faith also encompasses such irrationalities. (this isn’t just about you and your faith, this is about faith in general)”

    Faith (meaning religious belief) does indeed encompass irrationalities, but that is beside the point. The point is about distinguishing between beliefs that are worthy of faith and beliefs that are not. Amongst beliefs that are worthy of faith some may be irrational, or to be more accurate, trans-rational, as they arise from non-rational intuitions, etc. Others are outright irrational, i.e. contradict reason, and these should be abandoned.

    “No amount of conviction is required to see that the symphony produces vibrations. We DO need faith to perceive the symphony as music however – that is a subjective opinion, dictated by the listener.”

    In fact it is possible to make some objective distinctions between music and noise, in terms of the orderly arrangement of sound, types of sound that are pleasant to the human ear, etc. But the experience of the beauty of the music is not a matter for analysis. It is definite to the hearer. It is either beautiful or ugly to the hearer, immediately and unarguably. In your terms, it requires no conviction to believe it is beautiful, just as there is no doubting the pain that comes from touching a hot stove. However, there is a difference inasmuch as, for example, only some people like classical music, whereas 99.9% of the population feel pain when burned, the exception being those who suffer from a neurological condition that inhibits their sense of touch. But there are objective explanations for variations in response to classical music, such as the degree of exposure the person had to classical music in childhood, how good their aural perception is, etc. And repeated exposure can develop receptivity to it. There is a consensus that classical music is beautiful, not as universal as the consensus that burning produces pain, but sufficiently widespread to show that there are objective factors driving the opinion about classical music. Those who do not like it apparently have an inability to perceive that which its afficionados find beautiful. This is a deficiency in perception, just as a deficiency in the ability to feel pain may occur because of a neurological illness.

    There is a similarity then between different levels of knowing represented by the examples of response to music and response to the heat of a hot stove. There is an aspect to both that is objective and and aspect to both that is subjective. With regard to burning, the correlate of music as vibrations on the air is heat as the expansion of molecules (objective, observable, analyzable data). The correlate of the beauty of music is the pain of being burned (subjective, undeniable, not available to analysis). In the music example you called subjective experience faith requiring conviction and you said that the objective analyzable facts (vibrations in the air) required no conviction in order to believe them — which was a switch from the stove example where you called subjective experience undeniable and requiring no conviction.

    The process of scientific analysis slowly works towards a stage of conviction and certainty whereas immediate experience requires no process of proof in order to achieve such a state. Knowledge arising from raw experience then may be called faith because it does not rely on logic or collated material evidence but only on the subjective evidence of the mind’s response. On the other hand what we call material evidence relies on the systematic accumulation of information that is acquired from raw experience, and is tested by experiments that feed back confirmatory raw experience.

    But neither raw experience nor rational analysis are foolproof. The physical senses can deceive. Rational analysis can fail due to logical errors. Absolute certainty is a human impossibility. We can feel certain and be mistaken. A feeling of conviction is not a guarantee of truth. Investigating truth is a challenging activity, for sure.

  30. John,
    Your conclusion in this last comment is spot-on.

    But neither raw experience nor rational analysis are foolproof. The physical senses can deceive. Rational analysis can fail due to logical errors. Absolute certainty is a human impossibility. We can feel certain and be mistaken. A feeling of conviction is not a guarantee of truth. Investigating truth is a challenging activity, for sure.

    Exactly. That is what science is about. It’s not perfect, and deserves a mix of skepticism and curiosity.

    Do you see anything there that resembles any definition of faith?

  31. Dan,

    “Do you see anything there that resembles any definition of faith?”

    If faith means blind irrational total certainty then I agree with you it doesn’t resemble the mix of curiosity and skepticism that goes into scientific enquiry. But accepting the outcomes of scientific investigation, including for the investigator personally, is certainly consistent with these definitions of faith:

    “Confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing.”

    “To believe with reason: + Believing in some evidence that points to a greater fact.”

    For now I’m going to pull out of the present discussion because I want to go back over what I’ve learned from it and think it through from the ground up in a more coherent manner. Once I’ve done this I might write up my further thoughts on my on voxcosmicos blog.

    This has been a valuable discussion and much appreciated.

  32. “But accepting the outcomes of scientific investigation, including for the investigator personally, is certainly consistent with these definitions of faith”

    Yes, but this is what we do when we’re done with a scientific investigation. It is not the scientific investigation itself in any way, shape or form.

    Again, the practice of science is the search, the investigation, the process, the question, etc. The practice of faith is the affirmation, the conviction, the conclusion. If you’d like to call them ying and yang of each other, that is entirely consistent with the actual definitions.

    As you say, accepting the outcomes of scientific investigation, including for the investigator personally, is certainly consistent with these definitions of faith:

    “Confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing.”

    “To believe with reason: + Believing in some evidence that points to a greater fact.”

    And, as the definition went on to say, “Either way, faith is based upon the interpretation of the intangible (feelings, emotions) instead of the scientific tangible.

    I’m not saying that faith is not involved in the person conducting the research. As a human being, any scientist is prone to bias, belief, assumptions, or other things that could be described as faith, but that is what every scientist strives to divulge him or herself from. Instead, the practice of science is laden with experimental controls to minimize variables that might influence the outcome of an experiment. The movement is towards measurement and quantification, relative to some normative value, that are objective and not value-laden. And the moment you reach one conclusion, other hypotheses present themselves. If you stop questioning alternative hypotheses, and affirm a conclusion, you’ve ceased to practice science. All of that is what science entails.

    The only way that science can be described as equivalent to faith is in the same sense that love=hate, light=dark, ying=yang. I think that it is fair to say that they are counterparts, and we would fully appreciate either if not for the other. In this sense, my ‘science blogging’ is not itself science. I’m writing about science, affirming items that I’m convinced on from scientific data, and so in a sense I believe in science, just as one can believe in the beauty of music. But appreciation of music or science, and conducting such work, are not the same thing.

  33. I have to interject here because I don’t agree with:

    But, accepting the outcomes of scientific investigation, including for the investigator personally, is certainly consistent with these definitions of faith.

    If you mean trusting observational measurements, as in “I trust Dan, when he reports an increase of 32%” then in that case we must trust eachother not to lie, or to at least perform the measurement correctly. But I think what you meant is the theoretical outcome of an investigation as in “this data demonstrates that X causes Y”. This last statement is a model – it is one scientist’s interpretations of a series of experiments. Now it is almost always the case that there are many possible models that can be derived from a set of experiments – the question becomes what model is the most predictive? In that case, the more experiments you perform the more rigorously your model is tested. But don’t forget that the end result is a model of how the item under investigation works, not “the truth” that must be accepted.

  34. Point taken. Thanks for catching the slip-up.

    What I meant was the metaphysical outcome of an experiment, where I trust the data reflects that which is actually the case. Metaphysically, that is about as flimsy as one can get – I might as well have said that I have faith that reality is real, or that I have faith in the fact that I am a conscious being capable of logic. In a deeply philosophical sense, that would be true, but practically speaking, it’s absolute gibberish.

    Sorry ’bout that. ;-)

  35. […] My two (euro) cts. on the Science vs. Faith debate Recently, i have noticed the Science = Faith???? post on The Daily Transcript, where Alex complains (rightfully, I guess) about an article published in the New York Times. I am not going to discuss this article, as I haven’t read it and don’t feel like doing so. Reading Alex’s post, however, reminded me of another blog entry I read a few months ago (can’t remember where, sorry). In this other post, the authors also discussed the idea of science vs. belief and wrote something along the lines of “religious people believe, while I as a scientist do not”. As far as I remember, the arguments were the same: science is not based on faith but on testable hypotheses – scientist do not have to believe, they know. I have just seen that other bloggers too have covered the NYT article, e.g. here. […]

  36. John Bryden: The key to the riddle is my alternate (unconventional) conception of the word faith.

    In other words, to make your argument, you have to use a different definition of a key word. That is an admission that you don’t have an argument at all.

  37. I’ve also added a comment on Suicyte Notes to make the same point for the thousandth time:

    An additional thought… ways to eliminate faith from science (whether it be your own research or reading the work of others):

    1. Check out the figures. Are they showing what the researcher claims they show?

    2. Reproduce the experiments. Alternatively, you can test whether the conclusions are correct on a separate but comparable data set.

    3. Calibrate the measurements. You don’t have to take it for granted that a measurement is correct – check it against a gold standard.

    4. Use experimental controls.

    5. Check the p values for statistical significance. You can also apply other standards of comparison (e.g., standard deviation, chi square, etc.).

    … just for a few.

  38. Ivy, you quite rightly point out that it is problematic for my argument that I base it on an unconventional definition of the word “faith”. By saying it was unconventional I was indeed flagging this problem. I freely admit that as yet I’ve not presented my ideas on the matter with satisfactory clarity or completeness. Currently I’m reflecting on how I might fill in the gaps in my line of reasoning. Hopefully soon I’ll manage to write something more detailed. Meanwhile, I can say that the following statement by Dan resonates with the perspective I have in mind:

    “Again, the practice of science is the search, the investigation, the process, the question, etc. The practice of faith is the affirmation, the conviction, the conclusion. If you’d like to call them ying and yang of each other, that is entirely consistent with the actual definitions.”

    Essentially its the relationship between the yin and yang that I’m interested in understanding. Both are necessary to the formation of knowledge. For now I’m resisting the temptation to make any additional substantive statements. I’m confident that I can justify my “unconventional definition”, but I haven’t yet completed the necessary work. That’s where I’m at, in “the investigation, the process, the question”, at hand.

    (I know you value brevity. Sorry this is a long way of saying I haven’t got anything more to say as yet.)

  39. Damnit, a self-described science blogger (Suicyte Notes) has at least partly fallen for Davies’ gibberish, as has a commenter there who’s profile says he’s a staff scientist working for Craig Venter.

    His point:

    Well…we can *hope* that we are getting closer to the underlying truth of the universe, but I suspect the path of science, like that of civilization in general, isn’t a nice cumulative progressive path, but one filled with backwards and sideways steps as well as forward ones.

    This guy needs to go read some Kuhns and Popper, and then forget the gibberish that science has anything to do with finding the underlying truth of the universe. It’s about finding out facts about the universe. He should know the damn difference if he’s going to call himself a scientist.

  40. […] why, that’s evangelism!” This smells to me of apologist excrement along the lines of Paul Davies’ NY Times article of last […]

  41. Dawkins said – “The Universe is nothing but a collection of atoms in motions…”

    If you remove the words – “nothing but” from that statement you have a statement of science. Adding those two words make it go beyond science and become an expression of naturalistic belief.

    Davies seems to acknowledge something that C. S. Lewis wrote about. Lewis said, ““Men became scientific because they expected law in nature and they expected law in nature because they believed in a law giver.”

    Men like Galileo, Kepler, Newton, Faraday, Pasteur, etc. were theists. Their belief, far from being a hindrance to their science, was often the inspiration for it.

  42. Hi mootpoints,
    Clearly you cannot distinguish between methodological naturalism (science) and philosophical naturalism (philosophy). Please, look them up, and educate yourself. Einstein and the great atomic physicists of the 1930’s posit precisely that, and have backed it up, that the universe is indeed made up solely of matter and energy (E=mc2).

    On the Davies item, yes, that’s Platonism you are referring to. Copernicus, for instance, looked to the harmony of the heavenly planets, and was devastated to find that the facts revealed a universe apparently not created for man (the Copernican Principle). So yes, the early scientists sought to glorify their God by studying the natural world, and found a world not compatible with an orderly designer. What they found was a mix of chaos and order, dependent on historical contingency.

  43. I took your advice and looked those words up. I think I understand the difference better now.

    However I think people like Dawkins and other’s must also get their definitions confused. They seem to think that their ideas are science at it’s simplest, when in fact science, by definition, can make no claims on the non-existence of God.

  44. However I think people like Dawkins and other’s must also get their definitions confused. They seem to think that their ideas are science at it’s simplest, when in fact science, by definition, can make no claims on the non-existence of God.

    No, Dawkins doesn’t argue that science makes claims on the non-existence of gods. Dawkins argues that science (methodological naturalism) makes that claim possible. The rest is merely common sense – afterall, methodological naturalism implies philosophical naturalism. [You don’t pray to have gravity keep you on the ground, do you? An interventionist god is thus logically ridiculous.]

  45. You make an important distinction. One that I had previously been blurring. I does bring up a question for me.

    By the same token doesn’t methodological naturalism allow for claims about the existence of God in regard to design or first cause?

  46. Your distinction of methodological and philosophical naturalism helped clarify something for me.

    I think my issue is with philosophical naturalism disguising itself as methodological naturalism. It’s one thing to have evidence from which to draw philosophical conclusions. It’s another thing to have philosophy which presupposes ideas and then imposes them on science. It’s this reverse sort of science with which I want to take issue.

  47. By the same token doesn’t methodological naturalism allow for claims about the existence of God in regard to design or first cause?

    Methodological naturalism is non-theistic (i.e., it is neither theistic nor deistic nor atheistic, it simply cannot take a position on it at all). Yes, the notion of an interventionist God (theism) is rather ruled out as science, but a creator God (deism) is not necessarily. In fact, I would argue that both deism and atheism are completely consistent with methodological naturalism, strictly speaking.

    I would also argue that methodological naturalism implies philosophical naturalism, but I recognize that “implies” and “proves” are completely different things.

  48. I would agree that methodological naturalism implies philosophical naturalism in that the burden to prove otherwise is upon the theist.

    But how does one separate methodological and philosophical naturalism? It seems like any philosophy natural or otherwise, plays a crucial part in the interpretation of evidence. For example sometimes it feels like the argument against theism (or deism) goes like this;

    Us: Here’s evidence for God.
    Them: That can’t be evidence for God.
    Us: Why not?
    Them: Because God doesn’t exist.

    You made a point about my not understanding the difference between the method and the philosophy. I understand that better now, but aren’t we left with essentially the same problem? We can categorically distinguish method and philosophy but we do we practically distinguish them in our interpretation of the evidence?

  49. Now you’re getting into the territory of some insightful comments. Or at least difficult questions. Good for you – you’ve clearly done some background reading on the topic in this short amount of time.

    Do we practically distinguish them in our interpretation of evidence however? For the most part, the scientist has to in the course of his or her detailed analysis of evidence. For many people though, in the course of more mundane activities and in making generalized statements, the line blurs, precisely because the one implies the other.

  50. Dawkins said something that I think illustrates this concept. He defined biology as “the study of complicated things which give the impression of having been designed for a purpose.” He then obviously says that it, of course, was not designed at all.

    My simplistic response would be, “If it looks/sounds/smells like a duck…”

    So isn’t the existence and precision of the universe itself a good example of methodological naturalism implying theism (or at least deism) rather than philosophical naturalism?

  51. The trouble with an interventionist designer is that the capriciousness of the forms and their notorious imperfections and flaws is something difficult to explain for such a cause. Thus, it doesn’t “look like a duck” at all.

  52. I personally don’t think theism hinges on perfection or flawlessness in nature. But is it possible that something we see as a flaw or imperfection has a purpose we do not yet know? Or a result of the second law of Thermodynamics, a sort of de-evolution, like a muscle that atrophies without use?

    I just had my wisdom teeth out so I’m well aware of the existence of useless parts of the body.

  53. I personally don’t think theism hinges on perfection or flawlessness in nature.

    We’re talking specifically about the act of creating/designing here, not theism in general.

    But is it possible that something we see as a flaw or imperfection has a purpose we do not yet know?

    Like your wisdom teeth?

    Or a result of the second law of Thermodynamics, a sort of de-evolution, like a muscle that atrophies without use?

    Only applies to closed systems.

  54. But even in the act of creating/designing we’re not by necessity stuck with vestigial body parts as a direct result of the creation. If the vestigial body parts prove anything don’t they simply show that species adapt to their environment, (a fact about which we agree) not that we have some “leftovers” from common descent?

    Thus it seems reasonable to assume that my wisdom teeth played an ancient role in human life. (I don’t know, less hamburgers more steaks maybe?)

    So forgetting closed-system entropy doesn’t the principle remain same? We have examples of things that may have been important but are no longer necessary within a specific species. Unless I’m missing something, (a strong possibility) I don’t see a problem reconciling that with a designer.

  55. That’s probably the logic to “Old Earth Creationism” in a nutshell. However, it relies on an interventionist God just as much as the Young Earth model, if you buy into astrology and geology at all. But anyhoo…

    Also, for your problem of reconciling belief in God with acceptance of science, you might want to look up Ken Miller. Miller is a prominent biologist at Brown University, who strongly endorses evolution AND common descent. He is also a devout Catholic, and has written a book that might be helpful, titled Finding Darwin’s God. I haven’t read it, since I’m not really concerned with reconciling theism and science, but I’ve heard it’s good if that’s the sort of reading material you’re looking for.

    Maybe that can be of some help, if not, I’m not sure that I’ll be the most helpful person for you in reconciling the two (being an atheist myself and all).

  56. Well thanks for the information. You’re more helpful than you probably realize. Our beliefs are better refined by those with whom we disagree than by those with whom we have no argument.

    I’m not neccesarily an Old Earth (or Young Earth) Creationist. Not by choice but because I don’t feel I’ve seen the final word on the issue and thus I’m reserving judgment. I’m just looking for where naturalism might strongly indicate theism or atheism.

  57. Not a problem. Mind you, I of course think that theism is completely bunk from a natural history point of view (although viable from a sociological point of view – see some of my posts on religion). Mostly though, I’m just happy that I was wrong about you at first, and that you are seriously interested in learning for yourself.

    Best of luck.

  58. […] clear-headed thinking that more people need to hear about, to find some way of understanding that science is the antithesis of faith. Of course I believe […]


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