The Values of Science: The Oxford Amnesty Lectures 1997

By Wes Williams | Go to book overview

6
Faith in the Truth

Daniel C. Dennett

Mathematics is the only religion that can prove it is a religion.

-- John D. Barrow1


Is Science a Religion?

Is mathematics a religion at all? Is science? One often hears these days that science is "just" another religion. There are some interesting similarities. Established science, like established religion, has its bureaucracies and hierarchies of officials, its lavish and arcane installations of no utility apparent to outsiders, its initiation ceremonies. Like a religion bent on enlarging its congregation, it has a huge phalanx of proselytizers--who call themselves not missionaries but educators.

An amusing fantasy: an ill-informed observer witnesses the intricate, formal teamwork that goes into preparing a person for the arcane paraphernalia of positron emission tomography--a PET scan--and decides it must be a religious ceremony, a ritual sacrifice, perhaps, or the investiture of a new archbishop. But these are superficial appearances. What of the deeper similarities that have been proposed? Science, like religion, has its orthodoxies and heresies, doesn't it? Isn't the belief in the power of the scientific method a creed, on all fours with religious creeds in the sense that it is ultimately a matter of faith, no more capable of independent confirmation or rational support than any other religious creed? Notice that the question threatens to undermine itself: by contrasting faith with independent confirmation and rational support and denying that science as a whole can use its own methods to secure its own triumph, it pays homage to those very methods. There seems to be a curious asymmetry: scientists do not appeal to the authority of any religious leaders when their results are challenged, but many religions today would love

-95-

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The Values of Science: The Oxford Amnesty Lectures 1997
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface to the Oxford Amnesty Lectures ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • 1 - Introduction: Nature, Values, And the Future of Science 1
  • Notes 10
  • 2 - The Values of Science And The Science of Values 11
  • Notes 37
  • 3 - Science with Scruples 42
  • Notes 55
  • 4 - What Shall We Tell The Children? 58
  • Notes 78
  • 5 - Is the World Simple Or Complex? 80
  • 6 - Faith in the Truth 95
  • Notes 108
  • 7 - The Myths We Live By 110
  • Notes 131
  • About the Editor And Contributors 133
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