Stirrring up Antediluvian Soup

A Templeton Prize winning (not a good recommendation) astrobiologist (not necessarily a good recommendation) named Paul Davies has created quite a bit of stir over a deistic op-ed carried by the NYT.

Davies' argument hinges on a number of tried-and-failed fallacious assumptions and arguments:
▪ supposed separation of science and religion into "non-overlapping magisteria"
▪ fallacious doublespeak claim that "science relies on faith"
anthropic 'principle' versus multiverses

"The problem with this neat separation into “non-overlapping magisteria,” as Stephen Jay Gould described science and religion, is that science has its own faith-based belief system."
The first problem is that scientists and philosophers of science no longer accept this polite separation. The real problem facing theism lies in the fact that theistic claims about the deity's interference in the natural world can be tested by science. So far, no traces of this omnipotent deity have been found. Odd, that.

Faith? Surely he doesn't mean leaps of faith such as religions require of believers (believe despite lack of evidence!).

"All science proceeds on the assumption that nature is ordered in a rational and intelligible way."

Wrong. Much science proceeds on the recognition that nature is incredibly messy. However, Davies is a physicist, so he is more interested in the supposed intersection between cosmology and deism than in biology, for example.

So, when Davies talks of scientific "faith", he is really referring to metaphysical confidence that scientific laws will not suddenly mutate and turn incomprehensible while they are examined. All the data accumulated-to-date empirically supports this confidence. This is utterly different than the case for religious Faith.

"Over the years I have often asked my physicist colleagues why the laws of physics are what they are. The answers vary from “that’s not a scientific question” to "nobody knows.” The favorite reply is, “There is no reason they are what they are — they just are.” The idea that the laws exist reasonlessly is deeply anti-rational."

The crux of this regress argument is Davies' deistic desire to impose deeper purpose, meaning, and design onto the fundamental laws of the cosmos. Having reached the fundament, Davies wants to go one step farther so as to add his deistic designer.

"Isaac Newton first got the idea of absolute, universal, perfect, immutable laws from the Christian doctrine that God created the world and ordered it in a rational way."

Yes, Sir Isaac Newton was an influential giant of the early days of science's revolution – he died almost 300 years ago (1727), so his religious musings have no relevance to modern cosmology.

Davies does not name the 'anthropic principle' directly. This is the notion that if the fundamental physical laws of our universe were not as they are, then life as we know it could not have evolved. Even if this is the case, it is a retrospective position – if life as we know it had not evolved because the fundamental physical laws were different, then we simply would not be pondering the question. Just as for the case of the universe we inhabit, even if there were no humans or physicists to ponder this question, this does not mean that there must be a God Who Made It Either Way. Theoretically, there could be. I just don't believe it, partly because deistic and theistic arguments are so needy and flimsy.

Instead of direct anthropism, Davies criticizes multiverse theory, by implication leaving only the supposedly designed, purposeful, God-given "bylaws" of the universe.

"In other words, the laws should have an explanation from within the universe and not involve appealing to an external agency. The specifics of that explanation are a matter for future research. But until science comes up with a testable theory of the laws of the universe, its claim to be free of faith is manifestly bogus."

Paul Davies is a scientist – he should know better than this ridiculous statement implies. Paul Davies is clearly a deist, which explains why he doesn't.

One wonders why the New York Times deigned to print this article.

Of course, some religionist blogs are simply pasting the "good" bits without comment.

Article : Taking Science on Faith, by Paul Davies: New York Times, November 24, 2007

cosmology, deism, physics, religion, science, Paul Davies, New York Times,


Bad said...

Thanks for the linkback. It really is pretty disappointing, muddled stuff.

salient said...

You're welcome, yours was a good post and I put you in with the good company.

Even though there has been an outcry from scientists, theists will be delighted with the piece, I'm sure.

Aaron Weber said...

I'm glad to see your collection of responses-- everyone I've spoken to is furious about it.

(Has anyone sent a letter to the Times, or do we just blog things now?)

salient said...

That's a good question, Aaron. I'm pretty sure that I saw some "Letter to the Times" post-headers when I was reading the blog posts that I listed.

You might like to volunteer, yourself. (hint, hint)

In comparison to some of the other junk written about creationism and IDiocy, Davies' piece was mild. However, its sheer superficial plausibility might be more reason for letter writing, lest it be allowed to slip under illogic-radar.