Friday, November 30, 2007
It's time we had a little talk. The New York Times on Saturday published
an op-ed by Paul Davies that addresses the question: "Is embracing the
laws of nature so different from religious belief?" Davies concludes
that, "until science comes up with a testable theory of the laws of the
universe its claim to be free of faith is manifestly bogus." Davies has
confused two meanings of the word "faith." The Oxford Concise English
Dictionary on my desk gives the two distinct meanings for faith as: "1)
complete trust or confidence, and 2) strong belief in a religion based on
spiritual conviction rather than proof." A scientist's "faith" is built
on experimental proof. The two meanings of the word "faith," therefore,
are not only different, they are exact opposites. Davies, who won the
1995 Templeton Prize is not the only physicist to make that
mistake. "Many people don't realize that science basically involves
faith" Charles Townes said in his 2005 Templeton statement. On laser
physics I would happily defer to Townes, but this is a matter of the
English language. Here we defer to the dictionaries. The judges who
awarded Townes' the 2005 Templeton Prize cited a single line from his 1966
article The Convergence of Science and Religion: "Understanding the order
in the Universe and understanding the purpose of the universe are not
identical, but they are also not very far apart." They are a universe
apart, (WN 11 Mar 05) . In any case,
the "purpose" of the universe is not on the science agenda. Suicide
bombers no doubt believe they are part of some divine "purpose."
I count 8 physicists among the 34 recipients of the Templeton Prize, and a
couple more had degrees in physics. It was initially the Templeton Prize
for Progress in Religion, and the first winner in 1973 was Mother Teresa.
Winners have included Jews, Hindus, and Buddhists. Billy Graham got it in
1982, Charles Colson of Watergate fame in 1993 and Paul Davies in 1995.
But in 1999 Ian Barbour, a student of Fermi, was the recipient. A
professor of physics and theology at Carleton College, Barbour was
credited with initiating a "dialog between science and religion."
Templeton admired Barbour, and coveted his dialog. The scientific
revolution, after all, led to the fantastic growth in the world economy
that made him a billionaire. Templeton believes God has chosen him to
show the world that, as he put it, theology and science are two windows on
the same landscape. So he changed the name to the Templeton Prize for
Research or Discoveries about Spiritual Realities. It is the largest
prize for intellectual accomplishment in existence, chosen to be bigger
than the Nobel. Since that time, six of the last eight winners of the
Templeton Prize have been physicists. They all relied on the anthropic
principle in their Templeton Prize statements.
It argues that the universe has been "fine-tuned" to make life possible.
In the so-called strong form: "The fundamental parameters of the universe
are such as to permit the creation of observers within it." I believe an
equivalent wording would be: "If things were different, things would not
be the way things are."