Saturday, July 21, 2012

Science Does Not Require Faith

Rabbi Slifkin has claimed more than once that "the entire enterprise of modern science emerged from the monotheistic worldview."  He cites the following:
"The philosophy of experimental science… began its discoveries and made use of its method in the faith, not the knowledge, that it was dealing with a rational universe controlled by a Creator who did not act upon whim nor interfere with the forces He had set in operation… It is surely one of the curious paradoxes of history that science, which professionally has little to do with faith, owes its origins to an act of faith that the universe can be rationally interpreted, and that science today is sustained by that assumption."
I respectfully disagree. The assumption that stable laws govern our universe is an inference from the regularities we constantly see, not a random act of blind faith in a rational universe. Here is a naturalistic account of how humans would develop this type of reasoning:

1) A universe has regularities in it.  2) Intelligent lifeforms evolve.  3) The beings that survive best are those that evolve the cognitive abilities to abstract out regularities from their daily experiences, which lets them predict what will happen next.

This is exactly what we seem to do. Developmental cognitive scientist Alison Gopnik has argued--based on much evidence--that young children are constantly building theories as they learn about the world: they learn abstract rules from multiple experiences, make predictions from those rules, and update their theories when they are falsified.  They act like little scientists.  In this view, scientific experimentation is simply a formalized, more complex, adult, conscious version of the learning we are hardwired to do as children.

So no, there is no reason to assume science involves some blind faith in a creator; it simply involves the types of observation and inferential reasoning wired into us by evolution because they work.