The Faith-Based Heart of Science

An artist's depiction of gravitational waves like the ‘ripples in the fabric of space-time’ posited by Albert Einstein. (PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY)
An artist’s depiction of gravitational waves like the ‘ripples in the fabric of space-time’ posited by Albert Einstein. (PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY)

Scientists held firm to their belief that they’d find gravitational waves from deep space.

From 1.3 billion light years away, the universe has spoken. On Feb. 11, a team of scientists led by the California Institute of Technology and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced that they had detected gravitational waves from a collision in deep space. The news, confirming a 1915 theory of Albert Einstein about the ripple effect of space-time, generated tributes to the achievements of human reason.

Commenting in Science News, Tom Siegfried wrote that the breakthrough on gravitational waves demonstrates “the power of the human mind to discern deeply hidden features of physical reality.” Writing in Slate, Italian physicist Carlo Rovelli called it a “vivid indication of the power of scientific reason.”

But courtesy of Mr. Rovelli, there’s also another word that has entered the conversation: faith. The scientists who made the gravitational-wave discovery, he wrote, were pursuing a “dream based on faith in reason: that the logical deductions of Einstein and his mathematics would be reliable.”

Mr. Rovelli was not referring to religious faith. And scientists generally deem even faith scrubbed of theological meaning to be something unrelated to their endeavors. Yet the relationship between faith and science is far closer than many assume, and Mr. Rovelli is not alone in drawing attention to this important connection.

Arizona State University physicist Paul Davies has noted that the work of science depends upon beliefs—that the hidden architecture of the universe, all the constants and laws of nature that sustain the scientific enterprise, will hold. As he wrote in his book “The Mind of God: The Scientific Basis for a Rational World”: “Just because the sun has risen every day of your life, there is no guarantee that it will therefore rise tomorrow. The belief that it will—that there are indeed dependable regularities of nature—is an act of faith, but one which is indispensable to the progress of science.”

Recognizing the existence of this kind of faith is an important step in bridging the artificial divide between science and religion, a divide that is taken for granted in schools, the media and in the culture. People often assume that science is the realm of certainty and verifiability, while religion is the place of reasonless belief. But the work of Messrs. Davies and Rovelli and others, including Pope John Paul II in his 1998 encyclical “Fides et Ratio,” demonstrates that religion and science sit within a similar intellectual framework.

The fundamental choice is not whether humans will have faith, but rather what the objects of their faith will be, and how far and into what dimensions this faith will extend.

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SOURCE: The Wall Street Journal
Matt Emerson

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