Of Models and Truth: Random Thoughts on the Same

Stephen Jay Gould has (somewhat) famously noted that science and faith comprise non-overlapping magisteria. However, the difference may be more philosophical. Religion makes claims of an ontological and epistemological nature. Science makes no such claims. The claims science makes are representational claims, not truth claims. When it is noted that an the behavior of elementary particles can be described by a wave function whose time evolution is described by the Dirac equation for example, it is not claimed that the electron is actually such a thing. There is no claim made as to what it “really” is. Just that this is an (imperfect) model that best describes and predicts its motion. On the other hand, for example, Genesis 1 makes ontological/epistemological claims about the nature of Creation, for example that the visible creation is intelligible (see this and the followup, here). Faith in this ontological claim is what makes science possible.

Representational Keplerian/Newtonian physics teaches us about the motion of astronomical bodies. Yet I think that the faith in the rising of the sun on the morrow sinks deeper in our selves than an abstract knowledge of laws of motion. In some sense, the Noetherian theorems about conservations laws implied by symmetries in nature (for example that conservation of linear (and angular) momentum is implied by the translational (and rotational) symmetry of the laws of nature). Emmy Noether’s theorem is a statement is a natural consequence given the intelligiblity of nature. Our faith in those laws are the same as that faith in the ontological conclusions found in of Genesis 1. Ms Noether’s theorem is of a different nature than, say, the standard model. The standard model is a description of families of particles, group theoretical families, and rules for a description which best describes what we observe. The statement that continuous symmetries imply conservation laws is a statement required to be true by any description of nature which is intelligible.

Religious and philosophical claims have different methods of validation than do scientific ones. When Sartre, St. Maximus, Kant, or St. Augustine explain their ideas we don’t test them in the same arena as we test Maxwell’s (modernized) notion that the behaviour of charged particles are described by a U(1) classical gauge theory. The latter makes predictions which we can test, for example does V=I2R? Not so the former. In the West, mind (and its appreciation for beauty) comprise how we judge the former. The East has other notions, which include this and a bit more (the scope of which is beyond the alloted time for tonight’s essay). But the point is, the epistemological basis for theology and philosophy is not the same as that of science.

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