RE: Clint & Robert on "Faith in Science"

O'Regan, Emlyn (
Tue, 26 Oct 1999 14:07:54 +1000

> ----------
> From: Clint O'Dell[]
> Reply To:
> Sent: Tuesday, 26 October 1999 9:00
> To:
> Subject: Re: Clint & Robert on "Faith in Science"
> >I assert that it is completely impossible for you to flip a coin 1
> million
> >times and have it turn up heads every time. When I say completely
> >impossible, I mean that it will never EVER happen, no matter how many
> times
> >you try.
> The laws of probability clearly state this won't happen, and it has
> already
> been explained by predicting that the more tosses I, make the closer to
> 50%
> 50% the calls become.
I think the point here is that probability says that it can happen; it has a probability of 2^-1000000.

Faith is utterly present in science; Occam's Razor is not some absolute rule of objective reality, its really an aesthetic principle. All the predictive power in science is model based; you build a model of how things are, pump in some inputs, and get a prediction of future behavior of the universe. A good model will give you a truthful prediction, but this is only ever provable in hindsight.

There are infinitely many ways to model the universe; we just use Occam's Razor as a guide to which model to choose. With all these models, however, there is always an underlying assumption, and that is that the rules of the universe will not change on us. We say that, given the status quo and model x, y will occur. If the status quo is not, then neither is science (unless a pattern can be found in the changes to the rules, in which case we have a new set of rules).

This is not to say that the faith underpinning science is in the rules not changing. They change all the time, or at least our knowledge of the does. Models get revised, re-revised, and so on. The faith is in the idea that there is a true way that the universe works. Our models are all an attempt to approach this, even though no-one assumes that we can capture the whole thing.

This is in contradiction to faith in an external force which interacts with the universe in such a way that we cannot model the results. Even dynamical systems theory is about bounding and describing the limits to our prediction; we still assume that these limits are consistent and that we can create valid models.

Likewise athiesm is a faith. An atheist believes that there is no external agent interfering with the universe. There is nothing wrong with this. You cannot have a model, describe a system, without making assumptions. Every system has its axioms. Atheists need a ground like anyone else. It is also a rational ground, if you define rationality in terms of the scientific method, and particularly atheism.

Pragmatism creeps in for the rational. A rational person (the reasonable englishman?) may well ask what is the need for God in our models? We only need god, the external agent, if we observe things in the universe which we absolutely cannot model, and will never be able to. More so, we must also not be able to model the limitations of our modeling caused by such. Perhaps this expands to encompass everything: if we cannot model something, and cannot model our inability to model that thing, can we model anything?

Leaving that aside, if we find we need to introduce God to create valid models, then we have valid models. We no longer need God. Saying that we can't model a particular aspect of existence because God interferes is still defining bounds and limitations.

Why then would the purely rational choose atheism? The purely rational would mark the question of the existence of God as an unanswerable and unnecessary question. You cannot know if there is a God, and you don't need to know this to understand the universe. If God's behaviour (effecting the universe) can be modeled, then His behavior assumes the status of natural law. If God's behaviour cannot be fully modeled, then we'll never know, because we can only assume that our models are invalid, and that we are missing information. Either way, we have no rational way to choose either option (God or Not God), and cannot make anything useful of such information even if we have it.

To choose Atheism then is to choose a belief. It is based on aesthetics; on a feeling about how the universe works, and on nothing else. Like any system of belief.

Godless, and loving it.