Thursday, November 29, 2007

Paul Davies and Daniel Dennett

Paul Davies had an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times that got a lot of people hot and bothered:

The problem with this neat separation into “non-overlapping magisteria,” as Stephen Jay Gould described science and religion, is that science has its own faith-based belief system. . .

. . .

Over the years I have often asked my physicist colleagues why the laws of physics are what they are. The answers vary from “that’s not a scientific question” to “nobody knows.” The favorite reply is, “There is no reason they are what they are — they just are.” The idea that the laws exist reasonlessly is deeply anti-rational. After all, the very essence of a scientific explanation of some phenomenon is that the world is ordered logically and that there are reasons things are as they are. If one traces these reasons all the way down to the bedrock of reality — the laws of physics — only to find that reason then deserts us, it makes a mockery of science.

I think he is on the right track, but his arguments could be improved. One of the things he is getting at is that to do science, you have to have a philosophy of science and an epistemology. The scientific method is not provable by the scientific method. It comes out of a philosophy of science and is part of a person's epistemology.

As Daniel Dennett put it:

Scientists sometimes deceive themselves into thinking that philosophical ideas are only, at best, decorations or parasitic commentaries on the hard, objective triumphs of science, and that they themselves are immune to the confusions that philosophers devote their lives to dissolving. But there is no such thing as philosophy-free science, there is only science whose philosophical baggage is taken on board without examination. Darwin's Dangerous Idea, 1995, p.21.

Since our philosophy of science is not provable to a certainty, science is built on "faith." A lot of commentators have quibbled with Davies, and it is clear that many are working with a different definition of faith than Davies' is. Many have also not examined their own philosophical baggage.


Post a Comment

<< Home