Turtles Much of the Way Down

Paul Davies has published an Op-Ed in the New York Times, about science and faith. Edge has put together a set of responses — by Jerry Coyne, Nathan Myhrvold, Lawrence Krauss, Scott Atran, Jeremy Bernstein, and me, so that’s some pretty lofty company I’m hob-nobbing with. Astonishingly, bloggers have also weighed in: among my regular reads, we find responses from Dr. Free-Ride, PZ, and The Quantum Pontiff. (Bloggers have much more colorful monikers than respectable folk.) Peter Woit blames string theory.

I post about this only with some reluctance, as I fear the resulting conversation is very likely to lower the average wisdom of the human race. Davies manages to hit a number of hot buttons right up front — claiming that both science and religion rely on faith (I don’t think there is any useful definition of the word “faith” in which that is true), and mentioning in passing something vague about the multiverse. All of which obscures what I think is his real point, which only pokes through clearly at the end — a claim to the effect that the laws of nature themselves require an explanation, and that explanation can’t come from the outside.

Personally I find this claim either vacuous or incorrect. Does it mean that the laws of physics are somehow inevitable? I don’t think that they are, and if they were I don’t think it would count as much of an “explanation,” but your mileage may vary. More importantly, we just don’t have the right to make deep proclamations about the laws of nature ahead of time — it’s our job to figure out what they are, and then deal with it. Maybe they come along with some self-justifying “explanation,” maybe they don’t. Maybe they’re totally random. We will hopefully discover the answer by doing science, but we won’t make progress by setting down demands ahead of time.

So I don’t know what it could possibly mean, and that’s what I argued in my response. Paul very kindly emailed me after reading my piece, and — not to be too ungenerous about it, I hope — suggested that I would have to read his book.

My piece is below the fold. The Edge discussion is interesting, too. But if you feel your IQ being lowered by long paragraphs on the nature of “faith” that don’t ever quite bother to give precise definitions and stick to them, don’t blame me.


Why do the laws of physics take the form they do? It sounds like a reasonable question, if you don’t think about it very hard. After all, we ask similar-sounding questions all the time. Why is the sky blue? Why won’t my car start? Why won’t Cindy answer my emails?

And these questions have sensible answers—the sky is blue because short wavelengths are Rayleigh-scattered by the atmosphere, your car won’t start because the battery is dead, and Cindy won’t answer your emails because she told you a dozen times already that it’s over but you just won’t listen. So, at first glance, it seems plausible that there could be a similar answer to the question of why the laws of physics take the form they do.

But there isn’t. At least, there isn’t any as far as we know, and there’s certainly no reason why there must be. The more mundane “why” questions make sense because they refer to objects and processes that are embedded in larger systems of cause and effect. The atmosphere is made of atoms, light is made of photons, and they obey the rules of atomic physics. The battery of the car provides electricity, which the engine needs to start. You and Cindy relate to each other within a structure of social interactions. In every case, our questions are being asked in the context of an explanatory framework in which it’s perfectly clear what form a sensible answer might take.

The universe (in the sense of “the entire natural world,” not only the physical region observable to us) isn’t like that. It’s not embedded in a bigger structure; it’s all there is. We are lulled into asking “why” questions about the universe by sloppily extending the way we think about local phenomena to the whole shebang. What kind of answers could we possibly be expecting?

I can think of a few possibilities. One is logical necessity: the laws of physics take the form they do because no other form is possible. But that can’t be right; it’s easy to think of other possible forms. The universe could be a gas of hard spheres interacting under the rules of Newtonian mechanics, or it could be a cellular automaton, or it could be a single point. Another possibility is external influence: the universe is not all there is, but instead is the product of some higher (supernatural?) power. That is a conceivable answer, but not a very good one, as there is neither evidence for such a power nor any need to invoke it.

The final possibility, which seems to be the right one, is: that’s just how things are. There is a chain of explanations concerning things that happen in the universe, which ultimately reaches to the fundamental laws of nature and stops. This is a simple hypothesis that fits all the data; until it stops being consistent with what we know about the universe, the burden of proof is on any alternative idea for why the laws take the form they do.

But there is a deep-seated human urge to think otherwise. We want to believe that the universe has a purpose, just as we want to believe that our next lottery ticket will hit. Ever since ancient philosophers contemplated the cosmos, humans have sought teleological explanations for the apparently random activities all around them. There is a strong temptation to approach the universe with a demand that it make sense of itself and of our lives, rather than simply accepting it for what it is.

Part of the job of being a good scientist is to overcome that temptation. “The idea that the laws exist reasonlessly is deeply anti-rational” is a deeply anti-rational statement. The laws exist however they exist, and it’s our job to figure that out, not to insist ahead of time that nature’s innermost workings conform to our predilections, or provide us with succor in the face of an unfeeling cosmos.

Paul Davies argues that “the laws should have an explanation from within the universe,” but admits that “the specifics of that explanation are a matter for future research.” This is reminiscent of Wolfgang Pauli’s postcard to George Gamow, featuring an empty rectangle: “This is to show I can paint like Titian. Only technical details are missing.” The reason why it’s hard to find an explanation for the laws of physics within the universe is that the concept makes no sense. If we were to understand the ultimate laws of nature, that particular ambitious intellectual project would be finished, and we could move on to other things. It might be amusing to contemplate how things would be different with another set of laws, but at the end of the day the laws are what they are.

Human beings have a natural tendency to look for meaning and purpose out there in the universe, but we shouldn’t elevate that tendency to a cosmic principle. Meaning and purpose are created by us, not lurking somewhere within the ultimate architecture of reality. And that’s okay. I’m happy to take the universe just as we find it; it’s the only one we have.

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110 Responses to Turtles Much of the Way Down

  1. Peter Woit says:

    Actually in the short piece you link to I don’t blame anyone, just point out that the claim by Davies that the mood among physicists is shifting in favor of the anthropic principle doesn’t reflect the reality that the great majority of serious physicists don’t want anything to do with it. It’s my impression this is true even within the string theory community.

  2. Harvey says:


    This is completely off topic but I was wondering if you could help me?

    I am in an online debate with a Biblical creationist and since he has brought in Quantum Mechanics I thought that I would ask your advice.

    He states “Current scientifc assumptions (including those underpinning the evolutionist viewpoint) are increasingly being undermined by quantum science.”


    “Some insist that genuine understanding demands explanations of the causes of the laws, but it is in the realm of causation that there is the greatest disagreement. Modern quantum mechanics, for example, has given up the quest for causation and today rests only on mathematical description.”(this was taken from the Encyclopaedia Britannic)

    That would sort of make the Lemon test in the Dover trial rather redundant, wouldnt it?”

    and on

    “I then raised the question as to what impact QM could have if causation is no longer an issue for science – it could indirectly open the door to ID as a viable theory as it was the causation that kept it out of the classroom, ref Dover. ”


    “Now that QM has set the precedent, why can ID not use the same arguments to get into the science class?”


    “why must ID have causation but according to Encyclopaedia Brit, Quantum Mechanics has “abandoned the search for causation???”

    I am a layman in terms of science and I am up on most creationist
    fallacies and feel confident enough to discuss biology, paleontology
    etc but quantum mechanics is bit beyond me from the little I can get
    the length scales in quantum theory and evolution are so far apart
    that it makes as much sense as measuring the distance between the
    earth and the sun with a 10 inch ruler..but trying to explain that is
    another matter.

    Any help/advice/hints in answering him would be greatly appreciated.



  3. Bad says:

    I’m hardly distinguished in distinguished company, but my own layperson’s response to Davies here.

    I think most of the critics are having all the same sorts of feelings. Mostly, we’re realizing that maybe Davies has a profoundly different and ambitious idea of what “science” is than the rest of us.

  4. Bad says:

    Harvey, the ID question actually has a pretty obvious answer regardless of any particular knowledge of QM. To even GET to the claim that “first cause” ID is a useful explanation of anything, you have to first posit that everything must have causation. So once you’ve done that, ID cannot spin around and declare that the principle doesn’t apply it: that the designer is an exception. If you can have exceptions, then why can’t we all offer our exceptions, like making the universe itself an exception?

    But all of that only makes sense within the context of THAT ARGUMENT. If you’re just talking about science, period, then there is no solid rule in the first place to be had that everything must have a cause, or at least that we should always be capable of determining that it had a cause (in QM, most people think the last two statements are basically indistinguishable for all practical purposes, since if you just plain can’t find a cause, there is no way to tell which is true).

    He’s confusing the implications of accepting his argument (and then that causing a contradiction) with science in general, which may or may not accept is argument.

    As to the rest of his claims, I’m hardly an expert on QM, but I know enough about it to know that the vast majority of claims made about what QM implies for science or reality are BS. The problem with QM is that it’s so weird that it doesn’t lend itself to much of anything that’s analogous to the macro-world.

  5. Matt says:

    This subject of the big “why” questions is the reason I love reading Galileo’s scientific work so much. In his early writings and commentary, he expressed utter disdain for those who spent time “philosophizing about nature.” Those aetherial questions of “why is what is the way it is,” were a waste of time in his mind.

    An investigator of nature primary purpose was to discover/describe patterns one finds in natural phenomena.

    Sean seems to say everything else that can be send in response, so best to end this here.

  6. nigel cook says:

    Paul Davies openly admits at http://aca.mq.edu.au/PaulDavies/prize.htm

    I was awarded the 1995 [million dollar] Templeton Prize for my work on the deeper significance of science. The award was announced at a press conference at The United Nations in New York. The ceremony took place in Westminster Abbey in May 1995 in front of an audience of 700, where I delivered a 30 minute address describing my personal vision of science and theology. … [Irrelevant waffle about involvement of British Royalty and politicians in religion.]

    I enjoyed at least one of Davies books at school, The Forces of Nature, 2nd ed., 1986. What first warned me that Davies was obsessed with orthodoxy and interested in that suppressing the scientific facts of physics, was the following claim of his on pages 54-7 of his 1995 book About Time:

    Whenever I read dissenting views of time, I cannot help thinking of Herbert Dingle… who wrote … Relativity for All, published in 1922. He became Professor … at University College London… In his later years, Dingle began seriously to doubt Einstein’s concept … Dingle … wrote papers for journals pointing out Einstein’s [SR] errors and had them rejected … In October 1971, J.C. Hafele [used atomic clocks flown around the world to defend SR] … You can’t get much closer to Dingle’s ‘everyday’ language than that.

    It turned out that Hafele’s paper didn’t defend SR at all, quite the opposite. Hafele in Science, vol. 177 (1972) pp 166-8, for the analysis of the atomic clocks uses G. Builder (1958), ‘Ether and Relativity’ in the Australian Journal of Physics, v11, p279, which concludes:

    … we conclude that the relative retardation of clocks … does indeed compel us to recognise the causal significance of absolute velocities.

    Dingle’s claim in the Introduction to his book Science at the Crossroads, Martin Brian & O’Keefe, London, 1972:

    … you have two exactly similar clocks … one is moving … they must work at different rates … But the [SR] theory also requires that you cannot distinguish which clock … moves. The question therefore arises … which clock works the more slowly?

    was therefore validated by Hafele’s results, since Builder’s analysis is identical to Dingle’s, contrary to the ridicule dished out by Davies.

    The underlying message from Davies is that mainstream fashionable consensus, not factual evidence, define what science is.

    [BTW, Einstein did get absolute motion wrong in Ann. d. Phys., v17 (1905), p. 891, where he falsely claims: ‘a balance-clock at the equator must go more slowly, by a very small amount, than a precisely similar clock situated at one of the poles under otherwise identical conditions.’ For the error Einstein made see http://www.physicstoday.org/vol-58/iss-9/pdf/vol58no9p12_13.pdf Einstein repudiated this in general relativity, e.g., he writes: ‘The special theory of relativity … does not extend to non-uniform motion … The laws of physics must be of such a nature that they apply to systems of reference in any kind of motion. … The general laws of nature are to be expressed by equations which hold good for all systems of co-ordinates, that is, are co-variant with respect to any substitutions whatever (generally co-variant).’ – Albert Einstein, ‘The Foundation of the General Theory of Relativity’, Annalen der Physik, v49, 1916 (italics are Einstein’s own).]

  7. efp says:

    I’ve been asking myself why, why would Davies send such a silly, sloppy piece to be published by the NYT. What purpose does it serve? It undermines science, by telling faith-heads like ID proponents that science is just another religion. He may have more subtle points (not very), but that’s the message most people will take away from the piece and he knows it. Then it occurred to me: he did it to sell his book. That’s tapping into a huge market. Perhaps he’ll cash in on the church lecture circuit like the Discovery Institute hacks? Brilliant, nicely done!

  8. Bad says:

    Nigel, I don’t see why getting an award from Templeton or being sympathetic to their values and hopes should necessarily be a black flag, though certainly there is some legitimate criticism to be had on the way Templeton pushes its funding and message. Davies has defended it on several occasions, and while I’m not particularly eager for or interested in the goals, the defenses are altogether unreasonable for people that do have religious inclinations and want to know if science can better direct where they’re pointing.

    Unfortunately for Davies, this OpEd really weakens his positions and defenses of that sort of program considerably, playing to exactly the sorts of legitimate fears many scientists have about science/religion “mixers.”

  9. PZ Myers says:

    Hang on there…”PZ” isnt a very colorful moniker. It’s just short.

    If bloggers get colorful monikers, where’s yours?

  10. Sean says:

    Anything with a “Z” in it is presumptively colorful. Even if you were born with it.

    I’m still working on a good moniker. Something imposing yet playful, like “Galileo Doombabble, Destroyer of Solecisms.” But I was too impatient to let that stop me from blogging.

  11. Blake Stacey says:

    “PZ” can be a colorful moniker if you’re a synaesthete! (-:

    As for the Templeton racket. . . by Janus, that sounds like easy money!

  12. Sam Cox says:

    I’ve always seen science as the process of observing, describing, measuring and relating. Any conclusions we draw are suspect, and subject to the results of the continuing refinement of our measurements.

    Speculating as to where the “laws” of physics (and nature in general) come from is of dubious value, for our conclusions are built on the results of relating a body of evidence which is constantly being refined. More important, perhaps, our conclusions are influenced by our own culture and point of view.

    Some time ago, I read Paul Davies: “The Mind of God”. At the end, Paul asserts that: “We are truly meant to be here”…an anthopic statement as much as an inference about the possible existence of diety.

    Since any cosmic models “beyond Einstein” must be inclusive in their ability to describe relativistic phenomena, for example, it might be possilbe, with appropriate fear and trepidation to draw a few general conclusions from what is presently understood about the nature of our existence, consciousness in general and the relationship of informational complexity to the universe as a whole.

    To my mind, it all comes back to how the universe is observed. Fish see it one way, Dogs, with their acute sense of smell “see” it another. We as humans have our own unique way of viewing the cosmos. Each of our points of view is as unique as our individual fingerprints.

    Science is a unifying “language”…a human way of approaching and solving problems which must be strictly conformed to if it is to remain meaningful and useful. We all have “reasons” for “believing” the way we do; that is to be expected, for our frames of reference are different.

    However, in science, our intellectual concepts must be reduced to mathematical models and these models must be verified by increasingly rigorous testing in the field. The concepts and models (our “laws” of nature) are manmade. If they can be verified, they are possibly useful in the construction of a technology- even understanding the nature of our existence- and all scientists are interested. If not, our concepts remain but a personal opinion.

  13. Jason Dick says:

    The whole “ultimate cause” line of argument is inherently dishonest. Consider this situation:

    Imagine that we have discovered the “theory of everything”: we have found the correct theory for unifying gravity and quantum mechanics. This theory is simple and beautiful, it reduces to a singular equation which can itself be derived from a single physical principle. The person who wants to argue for the existence of God then states, “But what is your explanation for the existence for that physical principle? It must be God!” No, this is nonsense. You don’t get a free pass like that. Yes, there must be an ultimate explanation, at some point you reach an explanation for which there is no explanation. But to claim that any such explanation that is not God is not valid is just plain irrational.

    In fact, I contend, attempting to stick a being like God in as a “first cause” is itself fundamentally irrational. First, God, in the way it is typically defined, is a being that is itself unexplainable. So, in essence the argument is that the ultimate explanation is itself a mysterious entity which cannot be properly described. This is, of course, nonsense: if you don’t know what it is that is holding the place of an explanation, then you haven’t explained anything at all.

    Then there’s the problem that the explanation is itself monstrously complex. That is, if we consider the way people typically think of a deity, they think of one that is anthropomorphic, at least in the capacity to make decisions, and as such it “explains” the universe because it decided to make the universe as it is. Such a decision-making capacity requires tremendous complexity, making any such being that could fill the place of a decision-making creator God even more complex than that which it explains, reducing the whole edifice to a non-explanation in yet another way.

    As for potential ultimate explanations, I really like Max Tegmark’s mathiverse:

    The idea is pretty simple: perhaps the underlying principle at the heart of it all is nothing more than, “All mathematical structures have physical existence.” Certainly this is a very simple principle, enough such that I sincerely doubt that we can do better. The question remains as to whether or not it’s correct, and if we ever find the mathematical structure that is isomorphic to the region of the universe which we observe (the “theory of everything”), perhaps we will be able to say whether or not this mathiverse makes any sense.

  14. Isn’t the decision to take meaning and purpose as cosmic principles as much a ‘leap of faith’ as the decision to treat them that way? The best religious viewpoints can offer is symbols of this transcendent mystery, but I don’t see how extrapolating from our experience of meaning to the meaningfulness of existence is any more or less justified than extrapolating from our experiences of meaninglessness. Indeed, I wonder if there is any worldview that can fully do justice to both.

    I do agree wholeheartedly that meaning is something we give to the universe, and is something that is not intrinsically connected to our explanations about the universe, to the extent that we have any. Well said!

  15. jeff says:

    Paul Davies argues that “the laws should have an explanation from within the universe

    Seems to me that this is wrong even without assuming a God. (Aren’t there cosmologies where this universe is embedded within another?)

    The final possibility, which seems to be the right one, is: that’s just how things are.

    This will always be an unsatisfactory explanation, since it is in the nature of science to explain. If someone asks you why the sky is blue, should you say “that’s just how things are?” A more honest answer would be “we don’t know”. It’s best not to pretend to know what you don’t.

  16. Count Iblis says:

    The multiverse theory is increasingly popular, but it doesn’t so much explain the laws of physics as dodge the whole issue. There has to be a physical mechanism to make all those universes and bestow bylaws on them. This process will require its own laws, or meta-laws. Where do they come from? The problem has simply been shifted up a level from the laws of the universe to the meta-laws of the multiverse.

    I don’t understand this. Except for a probability distribution over the set of all universes there are are no “meta laws”. In the Tegmark ensemble a universe is just a mathematical model. The notion of “physical mechanism” doesn’t apply to the ensemble of universes. Physics is what an observer (a self aware mathematical substructure, according to Tegmak) experiences in his universe.

  17. Sergey says:

    I wonder if there is any solid proof that the value of physical constants in far away galaxies is the same as here or that they were not changed since the moment of big bang ? I am not sure, but I presume that the answer is negative and there is no proof. If it is so, then our reliance on the known values of fundamental constant when we reason about remote past or remote future is an act of belief or faith.
    I bet that a logician used to deal with somewhat classical possible worlds semantics for logics of knowledge and belief would tend to descibe both belief and faith within framework of modal logic KD45. Let us see how the situation looks like from standpoint of modal epistemic logic.

    In modal logic of knowledge there is a an axiom “Know( F) is true then F is true” and this axiom does not hold in the logic of beliefs. Both operators Know and Believe have similar semantics:

    “Know(F) is true in world M” means that F holds in all worlds accessible from given world M

    “Believe(F) is true in world M” means that F holds in all worlds accessible from given world M

    The difference between the two cases is that in logic of knowledge the relation “R’ is accessible from R” has to be reflexive (which is the warranty that F is true on M as long as Know(F) is true on M) while in logic of belief this relation does not have to be reflexive. In both logics the accessibility relationship is roughly interpreted as “in all conservable worlds.”

    Now, if it is logically possible that fundamental constants can be different in far away galaxies, yet when we reason about far away galaxies in all situations we consider all fundamental constants are the same, then our selection of the set of possible worlds stipulates that we are working in the framework of the logics of belief. Bang! Davies was not wrong in some sense (at least from standpoint of modal logic. See for yourself if this can be useful.)

    I think that what makes most fundamental difference between science and religion is that in science we can change our beliefs remaining faithful to our occupation, but if a believer of some religion changes his beliefs, he find that he changed his religion. A set of beliefs defines a religion, but science can not be defined by a fixed set of beliefs. T

  18. Neil B. says:

    First, folks, if Tegmark were right, there’d be no reliable continuity (lawful patterns continuing into the future) because of all the “universes” where attractive forces change into being some other rule than 1/r^2 (or r^(N-1) if N is large space dimensions) and etc. After all, they are describable – I just did. Our chance of being in a description that really simulated lawfulness long-term would be negligible, even if we were in such a model up to this point.

    Jason Dick: You are simply wrong that we have to describe something clearly for it to make sense as an explanation. Negative and wide-ranging notions, like “not X” can be coherent logical concepts. As long as what I am saying is somewhere in a class that would fit the bill I am looking for, I don’t need to characterize it any more narrowly. As for God being complex: you don’t understand the idea of the plenum, and of intelligence etc. as potential rather than some particular structure. Ironically, physicists should know better, because of “the vacuum” being able to generate virtual particles of all kinds without having structure. In any case, we really can’t expect any explanation of things to be simplistically accessible in the same way as the things themselves, regardless of whether it’s about “God” or some other scheme, since all of them have to “reach outside” the given and straightforwardly comprehensible in some sense eventually.

    Davies: Davies is right that there’s a strong faith component to science: the idea that the universe is susceptible to scientific methods. To a large extent that’s true, and we know it because of what we’ve already accomplished. But there is no reason to expect a priori or for any other reason I know, that everything about it would be. Why should it be? Does it have some obligation to do that? That would be a kind of ironic perspective coming from people who gripe about “anthropocentrism” wouldn’t it? (And don’t ask me to prove that it isn’t, for the claimant is the one with the burden of proof, not to be confused with whoever seems more outside some mainstream or orthodoxy versus the inside.)

    But when Davies says, described here as “…a claim to the effect that the laws of nature themselves require an explanation, and that explanation can’t come from the outside.” Assuming that’s a fair characterization (certainly well intentioned, but with Davies non-simplistic way of parsing things, I’m going to double check): this time I don’t agree with him at all. To me, it’s clearly the other way around: the laws of nature have to come from outside. The one thing this universe can’t do is just justify its own laws independently, because of the problem of existential preferability among all possible choices, much discussed among philosophers (but not widely appreciated among scientists, who are – despite their pretensions to being philosophically adept – mostly philosophical near-illiterates.)

    I give Sean credit for being suspicious of that opinion of Davies, presumably holding open the door for the idea that the source of the laws being the way they are *does* come from outside the universe. That’s a good expression of open-mindedness here, assuming it’s genuine and won’t be hemmed away later due to fear it helps ideas of God etc. (I don’t see why so many of you feel so *driven* to fight against any notion of existential dependency of the universe. If that would make science harder to do, tough luck: you have no right to assume material facts from matters of convenience.)

    One of the commenters well put it thus in a past thread, regarding this stuff having no reason to exist as such without an overarching foundation of being:

    Garth Barber on Nov 13th, 2007 at 9:06 am in “Please Tell Me What “God” Means”

    … And I am entitled to hold my opinion: “I define God as the author and guarantor of the laws of science – the agent that (constantly) “breathes fire into the equations, making a universe for them to describe.”…

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  20. John Merryman says:

    Safe to say we are nowhere near ultimate explanations, so the only real issue is whether the current set of axioms can be further reduced. Is this clog in the drain entirely due to factors beyond our control, or are there institutional strictures that prevent objective review of previous assumptions. I made a few arguments in a previous thread that were very basic in their reasoning, such as that time is a function of motion, like temperature, rather then dimensional basis for it, like space, so it would seem likely anyone here would be able to set me straight, yet the only one with the fortitude to address them was Jason and his defense ultimately boiled down to that if I wasn’t able to describe the problem in mathematical terms, it was meaningless. Which I pointed out was a retreat into formula, not a rebuttal.

    So, the question is, are our limits entirely due to the abilities of our knowledge, or does the fog of politics play some part as well?

    I may well be lowering the average intelligence of this discussion, but sometimes what we think we know is more dangerous than what we don’t, since so much has been invested in it.

  21. Belizean says:

    Davies is only technically correct. Faith is an integral property of physics and religion in the same sense that heat is an integral property of ice and molten lead.

    Niel B wrote:

    …the laws of nature have to come from outside. The one thing this universe can’t do is just justify its own laws independently…

    That’s the crux of the matter. The naturalistic position is that there is no outside, the supernaturalistic position is that there is.

    Note that the “outside” must be supernatural. Otherwise it would (by definition) be intelligible to us and thereby part of the “inside”.

  22. Bad says:

    JasonD, I like to put it like this:

    Saying that God did it is basically saying

    “A hypothetical being that can do anything at all did in a way we don’t understand.”

    Claiming that this explains anything at all is indeed nonsense. It can explain anything merely by definition (despite never actually explaining anything) and hence explains nothing. Of COURSE something that can do ANYTHING could have done this thing. But that doesn’t explain how it was, in particular, done, and that answer could work for anything at all.

  23. Reginald Selkirk says:

    (Bloggers have much more colorful monikers than respectable folk.)

    Have you met Dr. Lionel Tiger?

  24. Juergen says:

    Just a few words on the laws of nature:
    The laws of nature have to be the way they are in order for us to observe them.
    Would they be off just a fraction ( like gravitation, electromagnetic) there would be no observer, or at least not us, to question them. Ergo the laws of nature do NOT need an explanation! They are as they are, would they be any different the universe we live in would be very different.
    A different Universe on the other hand, would have different laws of nature!

  25. Reginald Selkirk says:

    Neil B. said: Davies: Davies is right that there’s a strong faith component to science: the idea that the universe is susceptible to scientific methods. To a large extent that’s true, and we know it because of what we’ve already accomplished.

    I think the usual definition of “faith” in these discussion is “belief in the absence of, or even in spite of, supporting evidence.” What does it mean to say that we have “faith” in the evidence? Isn’t that absurd? Hypothesis and experimentation have been proceeding now for centuries, and the evidence is accumulating. Wouldn’t another word be more suitable, such as “confidence” or “trust”? What definition of “faith are you suing that you can make fit to both religion and science? Because if you are using different definitions, that is cheating.