Is science based on faith?

Discussion in 'General Philosophy' started by Magical Realist, Apr 2, 2024.

  1. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

    I would say that ultimately it is. Science assumes the existence of fundamental laws that always hold true and hold true everywhere in universe. Is it justified in this assumption? We might be prone to say "Absolutely. That's the way the laws have always been." Turns out this is not a good reason for believing the laws of the universe never change. Why? It is all because of Hume's troublesome "Problem of Induction". Here's Sabine's take on this issue. See if you agree with her conclusion that science is indeed based on faith.

    Last edited: Apr 2, 2024
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  3. davewhite04 Valued Senior Member

    What's interesting, and maybe irrelevant to your OP is that I find it fascinating that mathematics wasn't created by us, and it's an intelligent universal language, it was discovered. So who did create it? It requires no faith. Almost everything else requires faith. If I drop an apple I have faith that it will fall to the ground, is it the law of attraction? Cause and effect requires faith. If I press a button to move a scalextric car, it requires faith that it will move. Faith in oneself is as important as faith in God is for the religious person.
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  5. Pinball1970 Valued Senior Member

    No. We can test it, that's the whole point.
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  7. davewhite04 Valued Senior Member

    Science made it possible for my PC to work. On repeated testing it works. But it could stop working at anytime, I require faith in my PC(mainly down to the 2nd law of thermodynamics).

    Repeated testing could fail, you require faith that it won't.
  8. Pinball1970 Valued Senior Member

    You are missing the point.

    Science is way of exploring how the world works, not testing how well we build our machines

    It is ever changing as technology changes and our understanding changes.

    This does not require faith, it requires empirical data and theory to explain it.

    Established science like the Theory of Evolution or QT can make predictions which can be tested.

    The JWST could have exploded 20 seconds after take off, it happens and I was worried about it.

    My friend was not in the least bit worried he was confident the launch would be successful, why? Because of Ariane 5s record and he knows about rockets and I do not

    Hope, confidence, expectation is not the same as religious faith.

    Jesus cannot be tested, we cannot go back in time and ask him things, we cannot see heaven, we cannot see god.

    If the fall back is the Bible then you have to consider all of the other religions that have texts to support them and they are all incompatible with the Jesus story.

    You need faith to dismiss all but Jesus and if the stories had sufficient evidence then you would not need faith.
  9. exchemist Valued Senior Member

    No I don’t think he is missing the point actually. The point, made by Sabine in her video, is to do with the “Problem of Induction”: Science relies on using past observations to predict the outcome of future ones. This rests on the assumption that nature will behave in the same way tomorrow as it has done up to now. That assumption is what she is designating as “faith”, because it cannot be logically deduced.
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  10. Pinball1970 Valued Senior Member

    ill watch the vid
  11. C C Consular Corps - "the backbone of diplomacy" Valued Senior Member

    A scientific realism stance about an _X_ being (absolutely?) true or a particular interpretation of QM being metaphysically the case will, and so forth -- will of course, run into issues of confidence about those beliefs. Nomological realism (i.e., laws) might flounder close to the same shores as mathematical realism.

    Even a scientist of a particular field (much less the buffs mentioned below) may not be able to meticulously justify belief in _X_ due to not knowing as much as those working directly in _X_'s field of study. That scientist thereby has a kind of "faith" in others, though it is far more warranted than faith in some traditional myths that fail to conform to commonsense or mundane reasoning -- and political, humanities "just-so" theories that the administrative bodies of institutions accept at face-value so to conform to popular moral and social trends.

    Scientific Faith Is Different From Religious Faith

    EXCERPTS: Many scientific views endorsed by non-specialists are credences as well. Some people reading this will say they believe in natural selection, but not all will be able to explain how natural selection works. (As an example, how does this theory explain the evolution of the eye?) It turns out that those who assert the truth of natural selection are often unable to define it, or, worse, have it confused with some long-rejected pre-Darwinian notion that animals naturally improve over time.

    There are exceptions, of course. There are those who can talk your ear off about cap and trade, and can delve into the minutiae of selfish gene theory and group selection. And there are people of faith who can justify their views with powerful arguments.

    But much of what’s in our heads are credences, not beliefs we can justify—and there’s nothing wrong with this. Life is too brief; there is too much to know and not enough time. We need epistemological shortcuts.

    [...] I don’t want to fetishize science. Sociologists and philosophers deserve a lot of credit in reminding us that scientific practice is permeated by groupthink, bias, and financial, political, and personal motivations. The physicist Richard Feynman once wrote that the essence of science was “bending over backwards to prove ourselves wrong.” But he was talking about the collective cultural activity of science, not scientists as individuals, most of whom prefer to be proven right, and who are highly biased to see the evidence in whatever light most favors their preferred theory.

    But science as an institution behaves differently than particular scientists. Science establishes conditions where rational argument is able to flourish, where ideas can be tested against the world, and where individuals can work together to surpass their individual limitations. Science is not just one “faith community” among many. It has earned its epistemological stripes. And when the stakes are high, as they are with climate change and vaccines, we should appreciate its special status.

    Last edited: Apr 3, 2024
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  12. exchemist Valued Senior Member

    Ah but this is addressing a somewhat different issue. I would obviously agree that faith in science is rooted in reproducible observation of nature, performed by others over the years, whose expertise we take on trust, which is quite different from faith in, say, political or religious ideas.

    As it happens I had a bit of an argument on another forum with someone who wanted to differentiate science from religion by claiming that the latter depends on faith while the former does not. I disagreed. In the end we settled our difference by him agreeing that what he had originally meant by "faith" was really blind faith, i.e. faith taken on trust without any trail of observational evidence to support it.
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  13. davewhite04 Valued Senior Member

    Pinball, I made a distinction between faith and religious faith. You don't need to believe in God(s) to have faith. It is a sign of a healthy human being that they have faith in themself.

    I think we will be able to go back in time one day, maybe in a DeLorean! But that is not an answer just a thought of mine.... You're right in all your points I think.


    It requires religious faith to believe in God, if you're lucky enough to have it(mine is flaky, but I had it strong once upon a time so I know what I've lost) you can achieve anything. Religious faith placed in God is so powerful. Atheists/Agnostics are incapable of this, and I predict they were never meant to have r faith. God wants atheists and agnostics. Must be a reason. Good atheists and agnostics will go to heaven imo, bad Christians might here these terryfying words:Matthew 7:21-23(in context) Matthew 7:23 for the words. This might apply to you personally:

    Luke 5:32

    32 I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

    EDIT: Just for clarity,Luke 5:32 is Jesus speaking.
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2024
  14. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    Yes, I agree. I'd go so far as to suggest that all of our knowledge claims ultimately reduce to faith: to committment to assumptions about which we can't be sure and can't conclusively justify.

    And quite an assumption it is too. Historically it's an outgrowth of theistic religion, derived from the idea of God as some kind of ancient monarch, one who creates laws from out of his logos (mind/reason/ideas) simply by speaking them into existence. The laws were assumed to be universal because of God's lordship over all of creation.

    Hence the orderliness of nature was derived from and a reflection of God's reason and rationality. Of course reality is disorderly in our experience as well. And that was interpreted as its having fallen away from the perfection of its original creation.

    When theistic religion started to fade in Europe and the Western world in the last couple of centuries, God gradually slipped into the background while his laws remained as the basis of science, like the Cheshire cat's grin in Alice.
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2024
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  15. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

    Interesting article on the laws of nature and the two main schools of regarding them, as 1) given mandates that somehow impose order upon an otherwise random universe, and 2) as merely descriptions for how the universe is and operates. Echoing Yazata's point, the former school of Necessitarianism is basically a faith left over from a former age of theistic belief:

    "Twentieth-century Necessitarianism has dropped God from its picture of the world. Physical necessity has assumed God’s role: the universe conforms to (the dictates of? / the secret, hidden, force of? / the inexplicable mystical power of?) physical laws. God does not ‘drive’ the universe; physical laws do.

    But how? How could such a thing be possible? The very posit lies beyond (far beyond) the ability of science to uncover. It is the transmuted remnant of a supernatural theory, one which science, emphatically, does not need."

    OTOH, the Regularist view is that no such imposed necessity exists in the laws of nature:

    "Regularists eschew a view of Laws of Nature which would make of them inviolable edicts imposed on the universe. Such a view, Regularists claim, is simply a holdover from a theistic view. It is time, they insist, to adopt a thoroughly naturalistic philosophy of science, one which is not only purged of the hand of God, but is also purged of its unempirical latter-day surrogate, namely, nomological necessity. The difference is, perhaps, highlighted most strongly in Necessitarians saying that the Laws of Nature govern the world; while Regularists insist that Laws of Nature do no more or less than correctly describe the world."

    Ultimately it all comes down to this:

    "For Regularists, the way-the-world-is is the rock bottom of their intellectual reconstruction. They have reconciled themselves to, and embraced, the ultimately inexplicable contingency of the universe.

    But for Necessitarians, the way-the-world-is cannot be the rock bottom. For after all, they will insist, there has to be some reason, some explanation, why the world is as it is and is not some other way. It can’t simply be, for example, that all electrons, the trillions upon trillions of them, just happen to all bear the identical electrical charge as one another—that would be a cosmic coincidence of an unimaginable improbability. No, this is no coincidence. The identity of electrical charge comes about because there is a law of nature to the effect that electrons have this charge. Laws of nature “drive” the world. The laws of physics which, for example, describe the behavior of diffraction gratings (see Harrison) were true from time immemorial and it is because of those laws that diffraction gratings, when they came to be engineered in modern times, have the peculiar properties they do.

    Regularists will retort that the supposed explanatory advantage of Necessitarianism is illusory. Physical necessity, nomicity if you will, is as idle and unempirical a notion as was Locke’s posit of a material substratum. Locke’s notion fell into deserved disuse simply because it did no useful work in science. It was a superfluous notion. (The case is not unlike modern arguments that minds are convenient fictions, the product of “folk” psychology.)

    At some point explanations must come to an end. Regularists place that stopping point at the way-the-world-is. Necessitarians place it one, inaccessible, step beyond, at the way-the-world-must-be."

    IMO it would behoove science to get rid of the faithbased Necessitarian view and to embrace the Regularist view of a universe behaving the way it does because that's just the way it is. SOMEthing has to end up being given and arbitrary---a God? the laws of nature? or the Universe itself? It might as well be the one we can actually see and observe and study.
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2024
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  16. C C Consular Corps - "the backbone of diplomacy" Valued Senior Member

    I recall Paul Davies triggering a controversy via venturing into that historical transition back in 2007. Despite the portrayal as internal, I feel his replacement analogy of "software programs being run on the great cosmic computer" is just indulging in the same territory of speculatively inferring a procedural system that's probably also prior-in-rank to the accessible product.

    Yes, the universe looks like a fix. But that doesn't mean that a god fixed it

    EXCERPT: . . . The root cause of all the difficulty can be traced to the fact that both religion and science appeal to some agency outside the universe to explain its lawlike order. [...] This shared failing is no surprise, because the very notion of physical law has its origins in theology.

    The idea of absolute, universal, perfect, immutable laws comes straight out of monotheism, which was the dominant influence in Europe at the time science as we know it was being formulated by Isaac Newton and his contemporaries. Just as classical Christianity presents God as upholding the natural order from beyond the universe, so physicists envisage their laws as inhabiting an abstract transcendent realm of perfect mathematical relationships.

    Furthermore, Christians believe the world depends utterly on God for its existence, while the converse is not the case. Correspondingly, physicists declare that the universe is governed by eternal laws, but the laws remain impervious to events in the universe.

    I think this entire line of reasoning is now outdated and simplistic. We will never fully explain the world by appealing to something outside it that must simply be accepted on faith, be it an unexplained God or an unexplained set of mathematical laws. Can we do better?

    Yes, but only by relinquishing the traditional idea of physical laws as fixed, perfect relationships. I propose instead that the laws are more like computer software: programs being run on the great cosmic computer. They emerge with the universe at the big bang and are inherent in it, not stamped on it from without like a maker's mark.
    Last edited: Apr 4, 2024
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  17. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    My thinking on all this is a work in progress and it changes by the day.

    But right now, I'm inclined to think that this is a distinction without a difference:

    The IEP says, "...Necessitarians [say] that the Laws of Nature govern the world; while Regularists insist that Laws of Nature do no more or less than correctly describe the world."

    But either way, the world is believed to behave in accordance with the posited regularities. Whatever we call them, the regularities describe how the universe in fact (seems to us to) behave. The Regularists can complain (perhaps rightfully, it's certainly a legitimate metaphysical question) that the Necessitarians fail to explain how the Laws of Nature "govern the world". But equally, the Regularists themselves fail to explain the equal metaphysical question of why the world behaves in accordance with the regularities that they seek to describe.

    How can our Regularists criticize the Necessitarians this way:

    ...when they themselves are claiming that we should just accept observed regularities as inexplicable givens?? How are such things as their observed regularities even possible? How are they any less beyond the ability of science to explain and account for than Laws of Nature?

    Simply announcing that the universe's regularities must be accepted as inexplicable givens brings us no closer to explaining their origin or nature.

    And that strikes me profoundly anti-intellectual. It flies in the face of the fundamental ethos of science: We don't just receive our surroundings in the unquestioning way that other animals do. We don't just accept everything simply as the way things are. We want to know why, we want to understand the principles involved.

    We don't just shrug and say that birds succeed in flying because it's the nature of birds to fly. We inquire into things from muscle physiology to aerodynamics. And in the process we learn to fly ourselves.

    I'm not convinced that "explanations must come to an end". I suspect, but obviously don't know, that they might go on forever. And I think that it's the mission of science, the philosophy of science, philosophical logic and metaphysics to take Morpheus' red pill and inquire into just how deep that rabbit-hole goes.

    What I definitely object to is people dictating ex cathedra that our inquiries must stop right here at this point, and that we must not inquire as to anything that lies beyond.
    Last edited: Apr 4, 2024
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  18. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

    I suppose it depends on the level of explanation we are looking for, There are alot of phenomena in nature that aren't explained by invoking eternal laws.

    Biology for example has a few laws, but they aren't explanations for why things operate the way they do. They are descriptions of how things behave. Evolution for example is a process in nature that seems to operate thru the very nature and structure of life itself and its genetic composition. But it's not a law. Still to me it is one of the most beautifully efficient and concise explanations for a natural state of things ever conceived.

    I guess a regularist seeks to explain things more in terms of interrelations and interactions of the entities of the universe on a collective level. The order and structure of the system is not imposed upon it top down but rather arises from bottom up, say how an ice crystal forms spontaneously from the nature of freezing water molecules. Complexity science is a growing field of research that studies how systems behave and evolve not how they should behave. I think it is a good approach for explaining much of the order of nature without positing abstract inviolable laws that nobody seems to know how to justify the existence or influence of.
    Last edited: Apr 4, 2024
  19. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

    The word "faith" is problematic, because most people use it in two very different ways. The problem comes when those two different ways are equivocated, either unthinkingly or (worse) deliberately.

    Here are the two usages:
    1. 'Faith' is a synonym for 'trust'.
    2. 'Faith' is pretending to know something that you can't justify using evidence.
    We all have faith, in the first sense. We often trust in other people to tell us the truth about things and to give us reliable information.

    Blind trust, of course, is a risky business. For instance, if you put blind trust in things you read on the internet, you'll be an easy target for scammers and other kinds of liars - people who want to use your naivete to gain some benefit in a dishonest way.

    Most of us, however, do not put blind trust in people. Instead, we learn from experience who we can trust and who we cannot trust. Some people repeatedly give us information that we find to be true; other people repeatedly give us information that turns out to be false.

    If you say you have faith that your mother will help you in your time of need, what you're really saying is that you trust - based on the evidence of your experience - that your mother cares about you enough so that she will step up to help you. You might simply say "I have faith in my mother", but it's really an evidence-based trust you're referring to.

    When a scientist says something like "I have faith in the laws of nature", she probably just means that, as far as she is aware, no exceptions have yet been found in which said laws do not apply. In my own experience, scientists rarely talk that way, though. Scientists might well talk about what they expect to happen, based on past experience and the assumed laws of nature. They might say "I have faith that the Sun will rise tomorrow", or (more likely), "I expect the Sun will rise tomorrow." This is an expression of a kind of trust: that some aspect of the scientist's knowledge will most likely remain reliable in the future. But, again, it's a trust based on experience. Importantly, the scientist is not pretending to know that the Sun will definitely rise tomorrow if she says this sort of thing. It's just her strong expectation that it will, based on evidence from the past.

    The second sense in which the word "faith" is often used is the religious or superstitious sense: "I have faith in God" or "I have faith in astrology" - although the word tends to be used more by people who believe in one or more supernatural agents, compared to people who believe in pseudosciences.

    If somebody says they have faith that God will help them in their time of need, it's a different kind of faith than when they say they have faith that their mother will help them in their time of need. They know, for starters, that the mother exists, whereas nobody actually knows whether any kind of god exists. Nevertheless, people like to pretend that the God statement is the same as the mother statement. If asked, they will assert that they are sure that God exists, for instance, because they "have faith in God" or because the bible tells them that "faith is the evidence of things unseen". God is certainly unseen, so it must be real, right?

    Is science based on faith? No. It's based on evidence. There's no need to pretend to know things, when it comes to science, because we can always produce the evidence and experience to back it up.
  20. exchemist Valued Senior Member

    I rather think you have made up your second definition of faith (pretended knowledge). At any rate it does not appear in my OED.

    I'd be interested in your comments on Sabine's video and the "Problem of Induction" as it relates to natural science, because that is what this thread is really about.

    Science does indeed rely on "faith" in the sense Sabine is using it. One could argue her use of the term "faith" in this context is being a bit provocative and tongue-in-cheek, but in fact there is a quite serious point here, it seems to me. Science makes implicit assumptions of uniformitarianism all the time, most notably perhaps in geology and cosmology. It's just an application of Ockham's Razor, really, but nonetheless it is an assumption.
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  21. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

    Maybe the OED needs an update!

    Grabbing the nearest dictionary I have, I find the following definitions of 'faith':
    1. A strong belief in a supernatural power or powers that control human destiny.
    2. Complete confidence in a person or plan, etc.
    3. An institution to express belief in a divine power.
    4. Loyalty or allegiance to a cause or a person.
    Comparing the two usages I gave, number 1 - using 'faith' to mean a kind of trust - covers similar ground to definitions 2 and 4, here. Number 2 - using 'faith' to pretend to know something you don't actually know - is exemplified by definitions 1 and 3, here.

    Belief in divine or supernatural powers is an irrational belief, given the complete lack of evidence for any such thing. Anybody who expresses complete confidence in a supernatural power is pretending to know some things they don't know: that there is a supernatural power, and that it is appropriate to have confidence in it.

    Personally, I might quibble a little with definition 2, above, on the grounds that I am wary about having complete confidence in anything at all, although in many practical cases the difference between complete confidence and very high confidence doesn't matter much.
    She's right about the problem of induction, of course.

    I already wrote in post #16:
    Importantly, the scientist is not pretending to know that the Sun will definitely rise tomorrow if she says this sort of thing. It's just her strong expectation that it will, based on evidence from the past.
    There are no guarantees that past experience is a reliable guide to future performance, as any investor in the stock market will quickly confirm.

    When it comes to science, my own view is that science is descriptive, not prescriptive. When we do science, we're not trying to dictate how the world must operate; we are merely trying our best to describe how it has operated so far, based on experience. Any predictions we make about future events, using our science, operate on the assumption that the laws we have discovered/invented will probably continue to work as well tomorrow as they did today. That's a pragmatic assumption, not a philosophically watertight one. Call it a rule of thumb, if you like. It seems to have worked out well enough so far - but, of course, that's no guarantee either!
    Yes, of course.

    We can't know the future until it happens, as Sabine says in her video. But that doesn't mean it's unreasonable to expect that the sun will rise tomorrow or that gravity will still pull things downwards tomorrow. On the other hand, philosophers will happily argue that it is, in fact, unreasonable to expect those things. But, pragmatically, even the philosophers work on the assumption that the sun will rise tomorrow, in all likelihood.

    On the wider point, I find that the people who most often resort to philosophical skepticism, to the extent where all knowledge has to be placed on an equal footing, are the sorts of people who are desperate to try to bring science down to the same level as religion or superstition. It's because they lack positive arguments to support their religious beliefs. At some level, they realise they are pretending to know something they don't actually know. To compensate, they go looking for things that nobody can know, and then complain that scientists don't know them and accuse them of hypocrisy as a result.

    Another very common philosophical argument that religious apologists often raise is the one that goes "We can't know that anything is real, so who are you, Mr Snooty Scientist, to question if God is real? We could all be brains in vats, for all you know!"

    Well, yes, we might all be brains in vats, fed arbitrary laws of physics that could be easily changed at the whim of the Great Controllers at any time. But, pragmatically, it doesn't make much difference. We have to deal as best as we can with the universe that presents itself to us. While many things are philosophically possible, science needn't concern itself with a lot of them. And in practice, there are very few people, if any, who are out in the world seriously worrying that they might, in fact, be a brain in a vat somewhere.

    The implicit religious argument often seems to be: my belief in the Big Guy in the Sky is just as good as your belief that the sun will rise tomorrow, because neither of us can justify our respective basic assumptions about the world. One thing to note is that, in this example, both people are assuming they aren't brains in vats and that natural laws will in all likelihood work the same way tomorrow as they did today, but one of the two people is making a whole bunch of additional assumptions that are clearly more dubious.
    Last edited: Apr 4, 2024
  22. exchemist Valued Senior Member

    I agree it is very tiresome when some people try to reduce natural science to just another "belief system", on the basis that it involves faith. It is a disingenuous rhetorical trick, exploiting the wider meaning of faith while implying its narrower meaning as used in religious contexts. I've come across this both among creationists and among cultural relativists too. (It is the latter of whom Dawkins famously said: "Show me a cultural relativist at 30,000ft and I'll show you a hypocrite."

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    However, I object to the attempts of some - other - people to turn the generally positive, term "faith" into some kind of pejorative, implying gullibility or self-deceit. That is just not what the word means.
  23. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

    Just to be clear: I'm all in favour of placing trust in people (and institutions) that have an established track record of trustworthiness.

    I trust that the New York Times is a reliable source of news, for example, based on its track record. If you were to insist on a specific form language, I might even be willing to agree that I have faith in the New York Times.

    On the other hand, I'm firmly against the idea of pretending to know things I don't know. I don't admire people who pretend to know things they don't know.

    Clearly, I don't have faith in God. I don't know that there's a God. I haven't seen any convincing evidence for a God. So, I'm not going to pretend there's a God.

    Do I have faith in Science? I do, in the same sense that I have faith in the New York Times. Science has a proven track record for getting things right (sooner or later). It seems trustworthy to me. I've seen lots of convincing evidence in support of scientific claims.

    Does my 'faith' in science extend to pretending that science is infallible or that it can solve all problems? No, it doesn't. The level of 'faith' I have in it is a considered, rational, pragmatic judgment, not "blind faith".

    I put 'faith' in inverted commas when referring to Science because it's not the word I would ordinarily use for the kind of confidence I have in it. The reason I don't use the word in that context - in fact, the reason I seldom use the word in any context other than discussions about religion - is precisely because of the way that so many people tend to equivocate between the two usages of the word that I outlined in post #16. If I want to say I trust somebody or that I have confidence in something, I'll most often use those words, rather then the 'f' word. And I try my best to completely avoid pretending to knowledge.
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