Friday, 2 June 2017

Does Science Require Faith?

Most scientists would probably say that science would cease to be science if it rested on faith.  As far as science is concerned, what counts is evidence.  Results of research are accepted and rejected solely on the basis of evidence.  Unlike other areas of human life, where articles of faith and dogma play a significant role, faith plays no role in science whatsoever.  Of course, in some very loose sense, scientists may need faith in the possibility of making new discoveries, making a worthwhile contribution to science - but that is not faith as dogmatic belief in some specific doctrine.

All this is wrong.  As I pointed out in my last post, in physics only unified theories are ever accepted, even though endlessly many empirically more successful disunified rivals are always available.  Theoretical physics clings to the dogma of unity, in a certain sense, against the evidence.  As long as scientists continue to deny this implicit presupposition that there is some kind of underlying unity in nature, it must remain an irrational dogma, an irrational article of faith.

But if this implicit presupposition is acknowledged openly, in the context of science, thrown open for critical scrutiny, for alternatives to be developed and assessed, in the hope that the assumption that is made can be improved, the whole character of the presupposition is transformed.  It ceases to be irrational dogma, and becoems a rational article of faith.  This is especially the case if physics puts aim-oriented empiricism into practice, a meta-methodology which facilitates the development, critical assessment and improvement of metaphysical assumptions of physics as it proceeds.  See my In Praise of Natural Philosophy, McGill-Queen's University Press, 2017; and Understanding Scientific Progress, Paragon House, 2017.

The distinction between science and religion is not that the former has no article of faith whereas the latter does.  It is rather that the former, ideally, subjects its article of faith to sustained imagintive and critical assessment in an attempt to improve it, and thus has a rational article of faith, whereas the latter, all too often, does not - faith being dogmatic and irrational as a result.