Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Faith in science

The title is meant to sound paradoxical. Faith is a belief that is not supported by evidence whereas science, by definition, is based on evidence. This distinction is crystal clear theoretically, however, if one looks at reality I think it is evident that there are religious people who modifies their faith in the light of evidence as well as scientists who do not base their theories entirely on evidence but rather use methods that resemble faith.

When I have written about science here on my blog I have discussed the ideal situation, that is, I have discussed science as if it always followed the fundamental principles that defines science. These principles include among other things, using evidence to build theories, openness to new ideas, adaptation to new empirical evidence, admitting that you were wrong when evidence becomes overwhelming, unbiased and objective accounts of new discoveries etc. When these principles are followed science is indeed a noble endeavour. Faith on the other hand, by definition, is not based on these principles of openness and adaption to new ideas. In fact, I would argue that faith stands in stark contrast to these principles.

Regrettably scientists are humans, and we all know that humans have trouble following the principles listed above to the extent that being a scientist requires. All too often I hear stories of how distinguished scientists will mock each other during presentations (just like in the English Parliament), and how scientists with opposite theories will become worst enemies. No, scientists are by no means perfect. Scientists are often proud people, and proud people do not like to change their mind (see my previous post about the virtue of changing your mind). It is perhaps not so strange that someone who has been a Freudian his (they are mostly male) whole life does not want to go out and say that he had been wrong his entire career and that the theory he has based his counselling on was wrong, yet that is what a true scientist should do. We should perhaps show some respect for Freud (see picture) who was after all an important philosopher and taboo breaker in his time, but to me the fact that Freud's books were part of the course literature in psychology here in Lund until quite recently appears to be nothing short of insanity. Sure, some of his theories, in modified versions has gained some experimental support, just like the old testament probably got some historical details right, but all together they are not worth much.

There are of course many more examples of "scientists" who hold onto theories as if it were their own children. However, there are also scientists who do follow the ideals and who more readily, and without making faces, accept evidence that contradict their views. All this in a sense is irrelevant though. The scientific ideals are ideals that we should strive towards, independent of whether we will ever get all the way. I firmly believe that our world would be a better place if more people did this. In contrast, striving towards the ideals of faith i.e. beliefs that do not have any foundation in evidence, I think, would have a negative effect because it becomes so much harder to solve arguments. If I do not care about evidence then you can throw any argument at me and it will just bounce of. Solving arguments requires a scientific mindset.

1 comment:

Z said...

I do agree, in general.

But there is one question. Why is there any logic at all?
Why does anything at all, exist?

this is commented on my blog, but i will write more.