Sunday, August 18, 2013

We do not have "faith" in science, and we don't need to justify science a priori

Another piece of text quoted from Jerry Coyne's WEIT website, this time written by himself, because it so clearly and concisely expresses a point that so many are confused about (or perhaps only pretend to be):
Science, however, doesn’t operate on that kind of faith, but rather on belief or confidence based on evidence (and evidence that is sufficient to command assent from every reasonable person).  Scientists and laypeople who trust science don’t get their “faith” from revelation or scripture, but from evidence that has passed critical scrutiny by other scientists.  And you don’t trust your doctor, or your next plane flight, based on revelation: you trust them because your doctor prescribes antibiotics based on data showing that they work, and you trust your plane because it’s designed on principles of aerodynamics.
Exactly right. Science is not another faith, it works, and everybody who is sane agrees on that already, no matter how religious they otherwise are, as demonstrated by the fact that they accept it in all areas that don't conflict with their particular superstitions.
Wax’s incursion into philosophy, which smacks of the odious Alvin Plantinga, leads him to claim that “there is no scientific evidence to prove that science is the only reliable way to discover truth.”  So bloody what? Experience, not a priori reasoning, has taught us that science is the only reliable way to discover truth, and so we rely on science and its attendant naturalism, rather than the lucubrations of religion, to discover how our cosmos works.  There are plenty of spiritualists and faith healers who derive their methodology from “revelation” (often the revelation that quackery makes you rich), but who trusts them? If you had an infection, would you take a drug that has been tested in double-blind studies to kill the bacteria, or would you go to a shaman or faith healer? Your chances of surviving are much higher if you go to the doctor. That is what the data show. We don’t need to justify this through a priori philosophical rumination.  The difference between a shaman and a doctor is the difference between scientific “belief” and religious faith. It is by the fruits that you distinguish them.
Again, it could not have been said better. A great many armchair philosophers, postmodernists and believers are very proud of having grasped the problem of induction, i.e. that there is no way to show the validity of the inductive reasoning used by science through deductive reasoning. Others think they have arrived at a very important conclusion when they realize that the validity of science cannot be demonstrated through a scientific experiment.

Newsflash: Nobody cares. Quite apart form the fact that an insistence of deductive reasoning is exactly as self-defeating as pure positivism because you could not even formulate your argument without first having used inductive reasoning to learn your own language, I have yet to understand why science would have to be justified through deductive reasoning to be acceptable. Who went and said that deduction is the gold standard? A philosopher who very much likes deductive reasoning, I presume?

And as nice as deduction is, really science has to work as long as the universe you find yourself in shows some kind of regularity, and if it didn't it could most likely not contain an intelligence capable of asking these kinds of questions in the first place.

As I have argued before, even if we were to lean over backwards and accept the ludicrous idea that empiricism, science, and reason in general are faiths on equal footing with religion, there still remains the fact that every human being is agreed on the acceptance of those first few "faiths" except in a few cases where they conflict with the wishful thinking or religious dogma particular to that human being. In other words, the difference between the skeptical scientist and somebody who rejects a piece of science for religious reasons is not that of one faith versus another faith, but that of intellectual consistency versus special pleading.


  1. A while back, I was talking with a colleague at the Taxonomic Institute in Amsterdam. He asked me a question. I started my reply, "I believe . . ." He cut me off and said, "I don't want to know what you believe. I want to know what you think."

    I have thought about that a good bit. I think "believe" is so contaminated by association with irrational, dogmantic, immovable faith that we should do our best to eleminate it from our vocabulary when discussing science. I shudder when I read or hear "Scientists believe . . ." The fathist, reading this, thinks that this means scientists think in the same way he does. It would be much better if we use scientists think, scientists conclude, scientists agree, etc., because these words are not so misleading.

  2. Personally, I think everybody understands "believe" to mean that one isn't entirely certain of the facts of the matter, and so that should be no problem. "Faith", on the other hand, has no business being anywhere near things we have some reason to believe.