The War on Science

  • metta

    Posts: 39118

    Oct 30, 2015 5:48 AM GMT
    The War on Science


  • metta

    Posts: 39118

    Oct 30, 2015 6:12 AM GMT
  • JackNNJ

    Posts: 1051

    Oct 30, 2015 1:20 PM GMT
    TAKING SCIENCE ON FAITH
    Paul Davies

    [First published as an OpEd piece by The New York Times, November 24, 2007]

    SCIENCE, we are repeatedly told, is the most reliable form of knowledge about the world because it is based on testable hypotheses. Religion, by contrast, is based on faith. The term "doubting Thomas" well illustrates the difference. In science, a healthy skepticism is a professional necessity, whereas in religion, having belief without evidence is regarded as a virtue.

    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. All science proceeds on the assumption that nature is ordered in a rational and intelligible way. You couldn't be a scientist if you thought the universe was a meaningless jumble of odds and ends haphazardly juxtaposed. When physicists probe to a deeper level of subatomic structure, or astronomers extend the reach of their instruments, they expect to encounter additional elegant mathematical order. And so far this faith has been justified.

    The most refined expression of the rational intelligibility of the cosmos is found in the laws of physics, the fundamental rules on which nature runs. The laws of gravitation and electromagnetism, the laws that regulate the world within the atom, the laws of motion — all are expressed as tidy mathematical relationships. But where do these laws come from? And why do they have the form that they do?

    When I was a student, the laws of physics were regarded as completely off limits. The job of the scientist, we were told, is to discover the laws and apply them, not inquire into their provenance. The laws were treated as "given" — imprinted on the universe like a maker's mark at the moment of cosmic birth — and fixed forevermore. Therefore, to be a scientist, you had to have faith that the universe is governed by dependable, immutable, absolute, universal, mathematical laws of an unspecified origin. You've got to believe that these laws won't fail, that we won't wake up tomorrow to find heat flowing from cold to hot, or the speed of light changing by the hour.

    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.

    Can the mighty edifice of physical order we perceive in the world about us ultimately be rooted in reasonless absurdity? If so, then nature is a fiendishly clever bit of trickery: meaninglessness and absurdity somehow masquerading as ingenious order and rationality.

    Although scientists have long had an inclination to shrug aside such questions concerning the source of the laws of physics, the mood has now shifted considerably. Part of the reason is the growing acceptance that the emergence of life in the universe, and hence the existence of observers like ourselves, depends rather sensitively on the form of the laws. If the laws of physics were just any old ragbag of rules, life would almost certainly not exist.

    A second reason that the laws of physics have now been brought within the scope of scientific inquiry is the realization that what we long regarded as absolute and universal laws might not be truly fundamental at all, but more like local bylaws. They could vary from place to place on a mega-cosmic scale. A God's-eye view might reveal a vast patchwork quilt of universes, each with its own distinctive set of bylaws. In this "multiverse," life will arise only in those patches with bio-friendly bylaws, so it is no surprise that we find ourselves in a Goldilocks universe — one that is just right for life. We have selected it by our very existence.

    The multiverse theory is increasingly popular, but it doesn't so much explain the laws of physics as dodge the whole issue. There has to be a physical mechanism to make all those universes and bestow bylaws on them. This process will require its own laws, or meta-laws. Where do they come from? The problem has simply been shifted up a level from the laws of the universe to the meta-laws of the multiverse.

    Clearly, then, both religion and science are founded on faith — namely, on belief in the existence of something outside the universe, like an unexplained God or an unexplained set of physical laws, maybe even a huge ensemble of unseen universes, too. For that reason, both monotheistic religion and orthodox science fail to provide a complete account of physical existence.

    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.

    And just as Christians claim that the world depends utterly on God for its existence, while the converse is not the case, so physicists declare a similar asymmetry: the universe is governed by eternal laws (or meta-laws), but the laws are completely impervious to what happens in the universe.

    It seems to me there is no hope of ever explaining why the physical universe is as it is so long as we are fixated on immutable laws or meta-laws that exist reasonlessly or are imposed by divine providence. The alternative is to regard the laws of physics and the universe they govern as part and parcel of a unitary system, and to be incorporated together within a common explanatory scheme.

    In other words, the laws should have an explanation from within the universe and not involve appealing to an external agency. The specifics of that explanation are a matter for future research. But until science comes up with a testable theory of the laws of the universe, its claim to be free of faith is manifestly bogus.

    http://edge.org/conversation/taking-science-on-faith


  • tobyb

    Posts: 111

    Oct 30, 2015 2:53 PM GMT
    I don't agree that science and religion are both based on faith. Scientists do not accept the "laws" of physics, they observe what happens and if the "laws" as currently formulated don't fully explain what happens, they formulate new improved laws. That's the essence of the scientific method. From Galileo, to Newton to Einstein to string theory and Higgs Boson particles, the scientific method involves NOT taking the laws as currently understood on faith, but to question whether they adequately explain the observed physical world.

    Your post also assumes that science is trying to explain how the "laws" of science came to be. My brother, who has made a career in this area, would be able to explain better, but of course there is a metaphysical realm in which science doesn't really help us. Questions like "what is the purpose of our lives?" and "why are we here?" presuppose some external force, entity or agent (a God, for lack of a better term) who formulated some purpose for us, either one purpose for all humans, or a purpose for each of us individually.

    I personally don't believe that external force, entity agent exists. But I think it's still a valid question to try to work out what purpose we can each serve while we are alive. In fact, I think the absence of a conscious God makes it more important for each of us to work out that purpose. Noone's going to do it for us, so if we're going to be good valuable worthwhile human beings, we each have to work out how to do that for ourselves.

    But if you're trying to equate science to religion and say they are both faith-based, I couldn't disagree more. Science depends not on faith but on skepticism, and a willingness to throw away existing theories as soon as we learn that they don't adequately explain what we see. Religion tries to answer wholly different questions, and simply doesn't address those issues.
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    Oct 30, 2015 4:26 PM GMT
    Hell, gravity is a theory.however it is a constant that we can take as a law. But still is a theory.
    Besides people do not question the science behind air travel, most tech for that matter, the science of farming, most established medical practices both western and eastern however people without a education will poo poo science that is inconvienent. Like climate change or archaeology. All science is based on questioning and requestioning the facts as we see them now.
    Makes no sense.
    But then
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    Oct 30, 2015 4:30 PM GMT
    tobyb saidI don't agree that science and religion are both based on faith. Scientists do not accept the "laws" of physics, they observe what happens and if the "laws" as currently formulated don't fully explain what happens, they formulate new improved laws. That's the essence of the scientific method. From Galileo, to Newton to Einstein to string theory and Higgs Boson particles, the scientific method involves NOT taking the laws as currently understood on faith, but to question whether they adequately explain the observed physical world.

    Your post also assumes that science is trying to explain how the "laws" of science came to be. My brother, who has made a career in this area, would be able to explain better, but of course there is a metaphysical realm in which science doesn't really help us. Questions like "what is the purpose of our lives?" and "why are we here?" presuppose some external force, entity or agent (a God, for lack of a better term) who formulated some purpose for us, either one purpose for all humans, or a purpose for each of us individually.

    I personally don't believe that external force, entity agent exists. But I think it's still a valid question to try to work out what purpose we can each serve while we are alive. In fact, I think the absence of a conscious God makes it more important for each of us to work out that purpose. Noone's going to do it for us, so if we're going to be good valuable worthwhile human beings, we each have to work out how to do that for ourselves.

    But if you're trying to equate science to religion and say they are both faith-based, I couldn't disagree more. Science depends not on faith but on skepticism, and a willingness to throw away existing theories as soon as we learn that they don't adequately explain what we see. Religion tries to answer wholly different questions, and simply doesn't address those issues.

    "Why are we here?" And questions like that is for philosophers. Not scientist. How we came to be, that's for science.
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    Oct 30, 2015 8:11 PM GMT
    JackNNJ saidTAKING SCIENCE ON FAITH
    Paul Davies

    [First published as an OpEd piece by The New York Times, November 24, 2007]


    This is a well-written piece that amounts to utter claptrap.

    Faith is human. It's beautiful and meaningful. It provides a foundation to the beauty that is in the eye of every beholder. Yes, Sir Isaac Newton had faith. His baptism is a matter of historical record.

    Faith is, however, useless in every way for explaining how the universe works. What every science denier attempts to conflate (I'll group you with those, because I've read many of your other posts) is What and How with Why.

    Yes, science cannot answer why the universe exists. But then again, neither can faith. Or have you met God? Because any claim that faith provides the answer is the easiest conceit to laugh out of the room (think: John's faith refutes yours, neither is testable; are both contradictions simultaneously correct and wrong at the same time?)
  • JackNNJ

    Posts: 1051

    Oct 30, 2015 10:59 PM GMT
    The faith exception that science makes for itself is nothing new, has long been acknowledged, and is a constant point of discussion, particularly among philosophers/historians of science.

    To point it out does not make one a "science denier"; I am not one, and Davies certainly isn't.

    But pointing it out produces howls of pain from certain quarters, notably the ad hoc Inquisition that was assembled before the ink was dry on Davies's op-ed.

    (It was good news for noted pop-science hack and all-around paranoid scold Lawrence Krauss, who clearly emerged as His Most High Lord Inquisitor, Grand Excellency of the Anti-Humanist Realm, &c., &c.)

    http://edge.org/discourse/science_faith.html

  • JackNNJ

    Posts: 1051

    Oct 30, 2015 11:06 PM GMT
    tobyb saidI don't agree that science and religion are both based on faith. Scientists do not accept the "laws" of physics, they observe what happens and if the "laws" as currently formulated don't fully explain what happens, they formulate new improved laws. That's the essence of the scientific method. From Galileo, to Newton to Einstein to string theory and Higgs Boson particles, the scientific method involves NOT taking the laws as currently understood on faith, but to question whether they adequately explain the observed physical world.

    Your post also assumes that science is trying to explain how the "laws" of science came to be. My brother, who has made a career in this area, would be able to explain better, but of course there is a metaphysical realm in which science doesn't really help us. Questions like "what is the purpose of our lives?" and "why are we here?" presuppose some external force, entity or agent (a God, for lack of a better term) who formulated some purpose for us, either one purpose for all humans, or a purpose for each of us individually.

    I personally don't believe that external force, entity agent exists. But I think it's still a valid question to try to work out what purpose we can each serve while we are alive. In fact, I think the absence of a conscious God makes it more important for each of us to work out that purpose. Noone's going to do it for us, so if we're going to be good valuable worthwhile human beings, we each have to work out how to do that for ourselves.

    But if you're trying to equate science to religion and say they are both faith-based, I couldn't disagree more. Science depends not on faith but on skepticism, and a willingness to throw away existing theories as soon as we learn that they don't adequately explain what we see. Religion tries to answer wholly different questions, and simply doesn't address those issues.


    I'm glad you mentioned the scientific Method. A specific conundrum noted in the area of philosophy/history of science involves the question of whether the scientific method can be meaningfully understood in terms of itself - in other words, can we use the scientific method to prove that the scientific method gives us intelligible result?

    This does not mean that the scientific method doesn't work - it does serve as a warning, however, not to smugly get all up one's own ass about being "on the side of science" in opposition to faith and religion (or any other field, for that matter).
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    Oct 30, 2015 11:21 PM GMT
    SamSellers saidHell, gravity is a theory.however it is a constant that we can take as a law. But still is a theory.

    I thought it was the Law of Gravity. Has that changed?
  • leanandclean

    Posts: 271

    Oct 30, 2015 11:58 PM GMT
    Art_Deco said
    SamSellers saidHell, gravity is a theory.however it is a constant that we can take as a law. But still is a theory.

    I thought it was the Law of Gravity. Has that changed?


    When scientists use the word 'theory', it isn't synonymous with 'hypothesis'. It is not meant to emphasize that the propositions at hand are provisional. Instead, it refers to the fact that those propositions are comprehensive: they account for many observations and are therefore more certain because more tested.

    The author is historically correct that contemporary Western science was born of a rationalism rooted in religious faith. However, as others have stated above, most modern scientists are agnostic and pragmatic on the issues where the believer is assertive or perhaps dogmatic. Science is not based on faith in the same way as religion, and the comparison is helpful only if the distinction is followed through.
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    Nov 01, 2015 3:15 AM GMT
    leanandclean said
    Art_Deco said
    SamSellers saidHell, gravity is a theory.however it is a constant that we can take as a law. But still is a theory.

    I thought it was the Law of Gravity. Has that changed?

    When scientists use the word 'theory', it isn't synonymous with 'hypothesis'. It is not meant to emphasize that the propositions at hand are provisional. Instead, it refers to the fact that those propositions are comprehensive: they account for many observations and are therefore more certain because more tested.

    The author is historically correct that contemporary Western science was born of a rationalism rooted in religious faith. However, as others have stated above, most modern scientists are agnostic and pragmatic on the issues where the believer is assertive or perhaps dogmatic. Science is not based on faith in the same way as religion, and the comparison is helpful only if the distinction is followed through.

    You did not answer my question.
  • tj85016

    Posts: 4123

    Nov 01, 2015 11:06 AM GMT
    Art_Deco said
    SamSellers saidHell, gravity is a theory.however it is a constant that we can take as a law. But still is a theory.

    I thought it was the Law of Gravity. Has that changed?


    nah gravity has been a law for over 300 years, it's one of the first things you learn in physics
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    Nov 01, 2015 2:13 PM GMT
    SamSellers saidHell, gravity is a theory.however it is a constant that we can take as a law. But still is a theory.
    Besides people do not question the science behind air travel, most tech for that matter, the science of farming, most established medical practices both western and eastern however people without a education will poo poo science that is inconvienent. Like climate change or archaeology. All science is based on questioning and requestioning the facts as we see them now.
    Makes no sense.
    But then

    This made no sense whatsoever. What are you trying to say?
    There is no science behind air travel? There is a whole field of aerodynamics dedicated to it. Gravity isn't a theory. Where do you guys learn all this from? Physics lessons start from law of gravitation which leads to the gravity.
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    Nov 01, 2015 3:25 PM GMT
    theantijock%20engage%20stalker%20reducti

    As I understand it, gravity itself is a fact. If you don't believe that, step off a bridge. So part of the concept gravity is law. It will never change, it is what it is, there's no denying it, there's no debate.

    But then comes the why is there gravity and about that you've got the theory, what attracts the two objects to each other, how does that work, etc.

    And I just googled and found an explanation that pretty much matches mine so of course I agree with it (and that poster obviously has a more comprehensive grasp of it than I......

    https://www.quora.com/Is-gravity-a-law-or-a-theory
    Hypothesis, Theory and Law are not collective units of knowledge. That is to say, a theory isn’t made of laws or hypothesis alone. These terms also signify the extent of rigor or empirical/theoretical validity an idea holds.

    •Hypothesis: An hypothesis is an educated guess that one makes to explain certain physical phenomenon. It is inherently falsifiable as one starts to accumulate evidences that either refute or justify the hypothesis. As an example, thinking that gravitation is basically atmosphere pushing us down is a hypothesis. It seems correct in our situation. But when one questions that what holds the atmosphere to the planet and so on, it falls apart.

    •Law: A law is more empirical in nature and is an explanation of an observation. It is not an explanation of why things work but rather a representation of the way they appear to work. Newton’s law of gravitation was just that. It was derived from Johannes Kepler’s laws of planetary motions which in turn were representations of his (and Tycho Brahe’s) meticulous observations of planets and their movements around the sun. Neither of those sets of laws explained why gravitation worked the way it did. They were attempts to find a mathematical pattern in the data or to find a matching curve for the data plot. As representations of natural phenomenon, laws can be wrong. However if one thinks of laws as “laws of nature”, like the fact that the earth moves around the sun which in turn moves around the galactic center, they become facts.

    •Theory: A theory is an elaborate construct of ideas that is hired to explain observations, how they happen and why they happen. It’s roots are in hypothesis which are then set against observations and tested for rigor, modified, refined and molded in a formal construct. Once a set of hypothesis explains most of the known observations, it can be safely called a theory and then extrapolated to predict. Prediction is critical to a theory, as is falsifiability. A theory must be able to predict experimentally verifiable outcomes when provided with input variables. This has troubled string theorists for a while as string theory provided little to no verifiable predictions. For gravitation, General Relativity is a theory that tries to explain how gravitation arises and works.

    Conclusion: Gravitation is a known fact or a law of nature, as much as that this iPad I am typing on is a solid or that birds fly. Attempts to explain its dynamics, like general relativity, loop quantum gravity, string theory etc. are theories.


    So that someone might deny climate change is a fact of them denying, that's what they do, it demonstrates the law of climate change denying. But that they deny climate change because they are an idiot is a theory.
  • tobyb

    Posts: 111

    Nov 03, 2015 4:01 PM GMT
    Oh boy, we've gotten all tied up with words here. There's a good explanation of the difference in what physicists mean when they use the words phenomenon, hypothesis, theory and law at https://www.quora.com/Is-gravity-a-law-or-a-theory. Here it is:

    "Gravity is a phenomenon. General Relativity is a theory of gravity. The word "law" does not have a very precise definition in physics: the sense of the word is different in "Newton's laws", "Kepler's laws", "Gauss's law", and a "conservation law". People often refer to the Newtonian theory of gravity as "Newton's law of gravity", but theory is a better term."

    Someone else in that site had a good explanation, which I'll summarize and build on: Aristole saw thing sfall to the ground, and developed a theory of gravity based on four "elements:" air, water, fire and earth. He proposed that all elements tended to move towards each other, so water and earth moved down. But once we discovered the earth is round, that theory failed to explain why the air in the atmosphere remains close to the earth. Newton devised a much better theory, that all things with mass are attracted to each other by a force equal to their mass times by the square of their distance apart. That simple equation is so good at explaining the phenomenon of how all the things we see, including the sun, earth, moon and planets behave that it became known as a law.

    However as astronomy got better, there were planetary movements and observed phenomena of light which even this "law" couldn't explain. When Einstein came up with his General Theory of Relativity (100 years ago this month!), it explained those things much better.

    So far, we haven't really done much better, at least with gravity. We still have absolutely no idea how gravity is transmitted, whether via particles, waves, or some other mechanism we don't yet understand. (If we did, we could finally have hoverboards!) Einstein's theories also don't explain the behavior of subatomic particles. Quantum theory does much better at that. And as I understand it, string theory still doesn't yet explain how all these things fit together.

    So we have a "law" - Newton's neat mathematical formula - that almost completely accurately describes and predicts how the phenomenon of gravity will work on everything we can observe with our eyes. And a bunch of theories that still need to be reconciled to describe how gravity works on galaxies, black holes and the insides of atoms.

    Does that help?