Friday, November 30, 2007

More on Faith

Bob Parks, in his weekly What's New column, gets to the heart of Paul Davies' essay in the NYT the other day on science and faith:
It’s time we had a little talk. The New York Times on Saturday published an op-ed by Paul Davies that addresses the question: "Is embracing the laws of nature so different from religious belief?" Davies concludes that, "until science comes up with a testable theory of the laws of the universe its claim to be free of faith is manifestly bogus." Davies has confused two meanings of the word "faith." The Oxford Concise English Dictionary on my desk gives the two distinct meanings for faith as: "1) complete trust or confidence, and 2) strong belief in a religion based on spiritual conviction rather than proof." A scientist’s "faith" is built on experimental proof. The two meanings of the word "faith," therefore, are not only different, they are exact opposites. Davies, who won the 1995 Templeton Prize is not the only physicist to make that mistake. "Many people don’t realize that science basically involves faith" Charles Townes said in his 2005 Templeton statement. On laser physics I would happily defer to Townes, but this is a matter of the English language. Here we defer to the dictionaries. The judges who awarded Townes’ the 2005 Templeton Prize cited a single line from his 1966 article The Convergence of Science and Religion: "Understanding the order in the Universe and understanding the purpose of the universe are not identical, but they are also not very far apart." They are a universe apart ( In any case, the "purpose" of the universe is not on the science agenda. Suicide bombers no doubt believe they are part of some divine "purpose."
Speaking of this Davies' essay, there were a lot of good, on-target responses, many in this same line (as was my response), in the Letters section of the Times a few days later.

1 comment:

Michael Tobis said...

That is a straw man argument. You and most of the other correspondents are completely missing the point.

The point is we have souls. Your soul is that thing getting an irritated feeling as you hear me saying something you don't like. That. Yes that.

Science can only detect behavior. It cannot detect the subjectivity that is involved in the behavior. That subjectivity is inexplicable by objective means because it is undetectable by objective means.

Accordingly the most central feature of the universe, the salient fact of one's own metaphysical existence, is not reducible to physics, and physical reasoning is incomplete.

Accordingly there is some unapproachably mysterious reason as to why the beautiful dance of feeling and impression, not intelligence, not stimulus/response, but the soul that experiences all that, why that soul can possibly exist in a universe subject to this odd set of mathematical laws.

To approach that mystery with anything other than aunbounded we, delight and gratitude, that is to say, worship, strikes me as, if not irrational, at least obviously inappropiate and self-defeating.

There is nothing unscientific about such a feeling of gratitude. It's really very sensible and I recommend that prespective highly.