Archive for February, 2022

February 20, 2022

Does science require faith?

by Neil Rickert

There was a recent post at the heterodox stem substack, arguing that science requires faith. My thanks to Jerry Coyne for the reference. Coyne has already expressed his disagreement with that viewpoint. In this post, I’ll add my own disagreement.

In elementary school, after we learned to use fractions we were taught to use 22/7 for the value of \pi. We did not actually use the symbol \pi at that stage. We were not given any reason for using 22/7. We had to trust the teacher for that. This was for doing what we called “mensuration” problems — finding areas and perimeters. So, yes, you could think of that as a kind of faith. A child needs to trust teachers and parents while growing up.

The next year, we learned decimal fractions. And we began to use 3.14 or 3.1416 for \pi. I quickly worked out that this was not the same as 22/7, so by then I understood that these were approximations.

In high school, we studied physics every year. One of our first physics experiments was to find the value of \pi. We were given wooden cylinders, and wrapped a thread around the cylinder as a way of measuring the perimeter. And we directly measured the diameter. At first this seemed strange. I had done enough reading to know that the value of \pi was usually found mathematically (with an infinite series), so the physics experiment seemed bogus. But then I realized the point being made. We did not need to depend on faith. We could find these things out by ourselves. And that’s what is distinctive about science.

read more »