Sunday, November 25, 2007

Science Has Its Own Spaghetti Monsters

We don't have to be holy-rollers to be intellectually honest about metaphysical assumptions in every discipline. Yesterday's NY Times op-ed page pulled back the curtain that hides the gods that science makes in some of its unassailable assumptions

The piece demonstrates once again why philosophy is helpful for both religion and science:
[B]oth religion and science are founded on faith — namely, on belief in the existence of something outside the universe, like an unexplained God or an unexplained set of physical laws, maybe even a huge ensemble of unseen universes, too. For that reason, both monotheistic religion and orthodox science fail to provide a complete account of physical existence.

This shared failing is no surprise, because the very notion of physical law is a theological one in the first place, a fact that makes many scientists squirm. 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. Christians envisage God as upholding the natural order from beyond the universe, while physicists think of their laws as inhabiting an abstract transcendent realm of perfect mathematical relationships.
I do not think that the suggestion here is that science and religion operate in the same field or have the same goals. I do think that it is arguing that holding certain unquestioned metaphysical assumptions is common to all human behavior even as it is the basis of religion. But I would also argue that doubt, self-interrogation, and agnosticism are also integral to religion, just as they are to science.

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