In what sense might science require faith?

A bunch of us (MC Spanky McGee, Griff, me, et al.) were out last night at Joe’s Place:

And amongst other things we started talking about god, religion, and atheism. At one point, our homeboy MC Cigar (aka YoMama) brought up the issue of science requiring faith. Rather than recount the details of that conversation (which I couldn’t do anyway), I thought I would piece together various things here from other sources.

At answersingenesis.org, they make the following claim:

Much of the problem stems from the different starting points of biblical creationists and Darwinists. Everyone, scientist or not, must start their quests for knowledge with some unprovable axiom—some a priori belief on which they sort through experience and deduce other truths. This starting point, whatever it is, can only be accepted by faith; eventually, in each belief system, there must be some unprovable, presupposed foundation for reasoning (since an infinite regression is impossible).

There are a number of sticky issues here, but one of the problems with the above is that science is founded on experience and it is experience that is what, in some sense, stops the regress. That is, science is based, among other things, on the observation that the world behaves in a law-like fashion. That the world appears to behave in a law-like fashion is not an a priori (i.e., prior to or independent of experience) belief. There is of course the little ol’ problem of induction (thank you Hume) concerning whether there is any possible justification for believing that the world outside of one’s actual experience (say in the distant past, in the future, or just outside of the range of one’s sense organs) behaves in the law-like way that one does experience it (see here for more details). However, it is not clear that belief in induction requires faith in the sense claimed in the above answersingenesis paragraph.

More interesting than the answersingenesis claim is the following from the Transterrestrial Musings blog:

Belief in the scientific method is faith, in the sense that there are a number of unprovable axioms that must be accepted:
1) There is an objective reality
2) It obeys universal laws
3) Its nature can be revealed by asking questions of it in the form of experiments
4) The simplest explanation that fits the facts is the one that should be preferred

There is a similar problem here as with the other. The problem of induction is forever looming, but that aside, 2)-4) seem to be grounded in our experience of the world in general and in the process of formulating hypotheses and testing them. So, for example, with 4) it typically turns out that if my wife’s car is gone and she is gone at the time when I know she works, the reason she and the car are gone is not that aliens visited Jerry Seinfeld, brainwashed him into being a kidnapper, dropped him off at our house and he took my wife., but rather she is at work (i.e., the simpler explanation is the correct one). (Another question concerns how we should read the “unprovable axioms.” That is, what are the provable things that we are supposed to be contrasting with these axioms, if the axioms themselves are unprovable.) “Axiom” 1) from above is more complicated: while most scientists may accept 1) without much thought, it certainly is something that has been heatedly debated in philosophy using various arguments, i.e., reasoning. As such, even if it is just assumed by many, it is not therefore groundless or faith-based. Much more could, of course, be said concerning all of this.

Much more interesting, to my mind, than the claims above concerning science requiring faith is the following from Robert Pollack:

Science makes the following claim for itself, legitimately: most of what is knowable is unknown at this moment, and most of what is unknown will be knowable eventually through science. The faith of science makes a further claim: all that is unknown will be knowable through science. The distinction between the two turns on the question: Is there anything unknown now, whether or not it lies on the outer edge of what is knowable, that will never be understood, anything that is ultimately unknowable? No one denies that science will push the margin ever closer to full knowledge. The issue is whether some unknown will always remain. That question about science is by its very nature not answerable by science. Therefore to claim there is nothing unknowable is an act of faith, and to affirm this statement makes science into a faith. [From Practicing Science, Living Faith, Eds. P. Clayton and J. Schaal. Page 229]

Importantly, he goes on to make clear that he does not think that all scientists make the claim that “all that is unknown will be knowable through science.” And that may simply be because there are questions that science cannot answer as a result of contingent human limitations (e.g., whether there are extraterrestrials). Thus he is not claiming that the practicing of science necessarily requires faith. Rather, his claim is that a certain way of viewing science and knowledge requires faith. The crucial move in Pollack’s argument is “The issue is whether some unknown will always remain. That question about science is by its very nature not answerable by science. Therefore to claim there is nothing unknowable is an act of faith, and to affirm this statement makes science into a faith.” It would be great to see what others think about this move.

THIS is why religion can be dangerous. Parents merely pray while daughter dies.

http://www.cnn.com/2008/CRIME/04/28/prayer.death.ap/index.html

Two parents who prayed as their 11-year-old daughter died of untreated diabetes were charged Monday with second-degree reckless homicide. “

Family and friends had urged Dale and Leilani Neumann to get help for their daughter, but the father considered the illness “a test of faith” and the mother never considered taking the girl to the doctor because she thought her daughter was under a “spiritual attack,” the criminal complaint said. “

GODDAMNIT. This is senseless. The parents and their preacher should all be put in prison. They were running around, using faith–and wouldn’t ya know it–faith turned out to get someone killed.

A day before Madeline died, according to the criminal complaint, the father wrote an e-mail with the headline, “Help our daughter needs emergency prayer!!!!.” It said his daughter was “very weak and pale at the moment with hardly any strength.” “

If you know anyone who is like this, call the cops and the loony-catchers on their dumbasses immediately.

It’s called science, and don’t you dare tell me that science “doesn’t have all the answers.” No shit, assface. I know that. But it sure as shit drives that computer you’re now using to view this goofy-ass website. That Gateway Pentium-II you’re on doesn’t run on the Bible or Jesus-juice.

DAMNIT!

-MC Spanky McGee

“Sex takes 3 to 13 minutes.” Thank you. I had no clue.

Sex takes 3 to 13 minutes, study says

A survey of sex therapists concluded the optimal amount of time for sexual intercourse was 3 to 13 minutes. The findings, to be published in the May issue of the Journal of Sexual Medicine, strike at the notion that endurance is the key to a great sex life.

If that sounds like good news to you, don’t cheer too loudly. The time does not count foreplay, and the therapists did rate sexual intercourse that lasts from 1 to 2 minutes as “too short.”

No shit. Maybe the sexual noobs don’t know this stuff, but I doubt that they’re that ignorant. After all, every other comic on Comedy Central makes a joke about either premature ejaculation or sex taking too long. (Remember the “Wrap it up” box?)

Ok, maybe hardcore Christian sexual noobs don’t know this stuff. They’ve been busy:

http://www.youngwriterssociety.com/ywsblog/wp-content/uploads/2007/09/hear-no-evil.jpg

But those sexually-competent folks hardly need this study. I’m sure the clock gets involved sometimes.

“Oh Spanky, but it’s up to science to confirm or falsify what the folk believe.”

Fine. You read the journal article. I’m busy.

-MC Spanky McGee

Global warming is not the issue here, dude. A new argument for cutting emissions.

Well, maybe it’s new.

Let’s get some things out in the open here. I accept the old arguments for the conclusion that global warming is occurring and that it is caused by humans. Ok–I feel better.

We could wrangle over the data and findings, and nay-sayers will tell you that it’s possible that the warming is not occurring or it’s not being caused by us. However, we can skip this debate and use a much better argument that should have the exact same consequences if we had all accepted the old argument for the conclusion that we should curtail our carbon emissions. The result should be that nay-sayers will accept the conclusion that thy should conserve energy and switch to renewable sources.
The new argument relies on premises that all sane people accept:

  1. Fossil fuel sources are practically finite, and they are not renewable in a useful way. We use them up at a rate that exponentially exceeds the rate at which dead things turn into oil, for example. In other words, we can’t wait around for new oil to pop up.
  2. As far as I know, nuclear materials fall in the same boat.
  3. As these non-renewable sources become scarcer, their prices will rise, and that rise is not in the self-interest of consumers.
  4. We are going to require energy sources that are renewable at a rate that keeps up with demand. This is also important for economic reasons.
  5. The sun, the wind, and wave power are all good candidates for sources presented in #3, and once the systems are in place, their carbon footprint is greatly smaller than systems relying on fossil fuels, etc. Solar energy, especially, is practically infinite. Of course, the sun will burn out, as I have discussed in OIL ON TITAN? SWEET!
  6. . So it is not absolutely infinite. But it should crank out sunlight as long as we can stick around on this planet, anyway. (And we don’t cloud the atmosphere….)

Though the technology is still in the infant stage, we should research these new systems as much as possible, and implement them as soon as possible.

Concerning 3, we will have to strike a compromise. I’m betting that systems involving solar, wind, etc., will not be able to be able to keep up with projected demand. That means that we will have to reduce demand and conserve. So, we will have to use CFLs, turn out the lights when we leave a room, inflate our tires, drive less, etc.

Here’s the kicker. Once we make the necessary switch to these “renewable” sources, we will find that our carbon emissions will drop anyway. But the new argument relies on relatively uncontroversial premises. Even if carbon emissions drop and the average global temperature happens to keep rising, we will still be in a better economic situation, because fossil fuels and nuclear fuels are practically finite and our reliance on them will become a royal pain in the economic ass.

Bottom line: it’s in everyone’s self-interest to use fossil fuels as little as possible and to make the switch to renewables. Yep–oil companies are going to get hit, but you should keep in mind that they’re going to have to play a new game, anyway. Their oil won’t last forever, and I guarantee you that they are already thinking about new investments.

Duh. They’re not stupid.

-MC Spanky McGee

OIL ON TITAN? SWEET! updated for the modern human.

(Post updated 2/14/2008)

Heh. I commented on Titan’s oil back in November of 2006 (that post is below), and now the news is saying:

Saturn’s orange moon Titan has hundreds of times more liquid hydrocarbons than all the known oil and natural gas reserves on Earth, according to new Cassini data. The hydrocarbons rain from the sky, collecting in vast deposits that form lakes and dunes. http://www.esa.int/esaSC/SEMCSUUHJCF_index_0.html

(See also http://blog.wired.com/wiredscience/2008/02/titans-organic.html)

Ok, ok. This is very good news for us. Kinda. It depends on what we mean by the word, “us.” Here’s what I’m thinking.

  1. Someday the sun is going to go supernova and engulf the Earth. Fact.
  2. That means that we are going to want to pack up our Taco Bells and get the hell out of here. Thus, the Grand Planetary Hop.
  3. However, (and this is the juicy fun part) not everyone will “qualify” for the GHP. In other words, when the sun swallows Mercury and the Earf heats up, not everybody is going on the rocketship. “This is ground control to Major Tom…. it’s getting very waaaaarm….
  4. Solution? Lottery. “Free” markets. In other words, ya better start a trust fund for your temporally-distant relatives. Don’t say that MC Spanky McGee never got anything right.
  5. Ok, so you’re gonna need tons o’ cash to go. You hit the moon, Mars, and then you’re off to Titan to load up on some sweet rocket fuel. Brrrr.
  6. Have fun getting your ass to Proxima Centauri. http://www.astro.wisc.edu/%7Edolan/constellations/extra/nearest.html “Gonna make it… gonna make it…. not gonna make it”

By the way, if you’re left behind when the supernova is about to occur, I know it’s going to suck. Total chaos. Total anarchy. Sorry we didn’t have the foresight, will, or ability to do ya better.
Peace out.
-MC Spanky McGee


So I’m reading the December 2006 issue of National Geographic last night, la la-la, checking out these kickass pictures of Saturn (I’m a dork. So what?), kinda reading the article about the Cassini and Huygens probes, when I hit page 54. At the top of the page in bigass letters, it quoted Hunter Waite, from the Southwest Research Institute:“THERE’S A LAYER OF FROZEN HYDROCARBONS, SIMILAR TO GASOLINE, COVERING MUCH OF THE MOON [TITAN]. IF YOU COULD MINE TITAN, YOU’D NEVER HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT OIL SHORTAGES.”-Sweet! This is going to rock. You can drive 95 after all! We will send a freakin’ huge rocket to Titan, which will take 7 years. We’ll load up on oil, and then we’ll send it back, and wait for 7 more years. Come on, now, don’t wuss out on me. You can wait 14 years for oil so that your ol’ Corvette club can still roll around and listen to Elvis–just for shits and giggles. Of course, this will only please us if we use more oil than we’re getting out of the trip.-
Below: the totally rad moon of Saturn, Titan.
oil_on_titan.jpg

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What is extra-sugary is that National Geographic is in the middle of story about these strange objects in our solar system, and one of the things they highlight is how we could plunder that shit for oil. (Man, I hope there are some life forms on Titan that we can screw over. We have the God-given right to any oil in the solar system.) That’s like talking about a quadratic equation in a math book and then telling the reader that you could apply it to some chicken strips. Sure, Grown Pumpkin thinks about chicken strips a lot, but do you really have to torture the lil’ guy when he’s trying to do his math homework? How can I focus on the pretty pretty rings of Saturn when I start daydreaming about going to the gas station?
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Too bad I’m not gonna be around for the Grand Planetary Hop. Humans are going to be intergalactic oil pirates some day, and I’d be a freakin’ sweet foot soldier in that shit. I just played 3 hours of Gears of War with Pumpkin on his monstrous plasma screen this last weekend. I’m ready to kick some alien-ass.

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Ah, for some reason, I hear Queens of the Stone Age: “GIMME SOME MORE… DEEP FRIED, GIMME SOME MORE!” Now there’s the American motto: “GIMME SOME MORE!”

We soooo rock the house. Beeg time.