December 18, 2007


Laws of Nature, Source Unknown (DENNIS OVERBYE, 12/18/07, NY Times)

Yes, it’s a lawful universe. But what kind of laws are these, anyway, that might be inscribed on a T-shirt but apparently not on any stone tablet that we have ever been able to find?

Are they merely fancy bookkeeping, a way of organizing facts about the world? Do they govern nature or just describe it? And does it matter that we don’t know and that most scientists don’t seem to know or care where they come from?

Apparently it does matter, judging from the reaction to a recent article by Paul Davies, a cosmologist at Arizona State University and author of popular science books, on the Op-Ed page of The New York Times.

Dr. Davies asserted in the article that science, not unlike religion, rested on faith, not in God but in the idea of an orderly universe. Without that presumption a scientist could not function. His argument provoked an avalanche of blog commentary, articles on and letters to The Times, pointing out that the order we perceive in nature has been explored and tested for more than 2,000 years by observation and experimentation. That order is precisely the hypothesis that the scientific enterprise is engaged in testing.

David J. Gross, director of the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics in Santa Barbara, Calif., and co-winner of the Nobel Prize in physics, told me in an e-mail message, “I have more confidence in the methods of science, based on the amazing record of science and its ability over the centuries to answer unanswerable questions, than I do in the methods of faith (what are they?).”

I believed in it, I set out to find it, I found it--thus closeth the loop.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 18, 2007 1:13 PM

I once read someone (Popper, perhaps) who pointed out that if our theories had to perfectly correspond to all our observations, they would be immensely more complicated, and perhaps impossible. It is common to discard those observations which fall too far from expectations, and ascribe them to experimental error or other defect.

Posted by: jd watson at December 18, 2007 3:18 PM

I shot an arrow into the air....

Posted by: ras at December 18, 2007 3:53 PM

Bingo! Objective reality is independent of your subjective theory. Just as a Giulianist reads data to support his faith in a candidacy, so does the Darwinist read it to confirm his faith

Posted by: oj at December 18, 2007 6:53 PM

Wow! 2000 years of observation. Not much if the beginning was 12-15 billion years ago.

Posted by: ratbert at December 19, 2007 4:03 AM