To round off English week, I would like to comment on an article in The New York Times
. It is written by Paul Davies, according to wikipedia a physicist specialising in quantum field theory, cosmology and astrobilology, whatever that is. He has also written a host of books with philosophically sounding titles like How to Build a Time Machine
, Are We Alone?
and The Accidental Universe
. The point of the article seems to be that science, which is generally thought to be something different than religious belief because it is based on testable hypotheses, is actually just as based on faith. I unleash my fearsome blogger skills, and cut and paste, like I normally do:
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.
Indeed, this is what we expect, because order of a kind is what we have seen so far. Our expectations, however, are not science, and if the universe could be shown not to behave according to the laws of physics, we would certainly have to abandon our laws. It is reasonable and practical to belive that the universe will behave in a similar fashion tomorrow, as it did today, but this belief has nothing to do with science. Our laws are still testable, even if we expect them to hold in the future, and if they failed the test, we would have to find new ones.
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.
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.
In my opinion, this is manifestly bullshit. First of all, I would argue that the laws of physics are certainly not off limits. They are to be tested, and if they do not hold up, they must be replaced or revised. Also, in order to be a scientist, you do not need to hold any particular beliefs as to the origin of the laws of physics. It is sufficient that you know how to apply and test them. Perhaps some day physics will be able to explain why the universe is the way it is, but until then we simply say that we do not know. This has nothing to do with faith.