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The Table Video

Keith Ward

On Reducing Sciences to Physics

Regius Professor of Divinity, University of Oxford / Fellow of the British Academy / Priest of the Church of England
July 24, 2013

Keith Ward sat down with the Biola University Center for Christian Thought in San Diego, California in July of 2013. In this clip, Ward reflects on the prospects of reducing all sciences to physics.


I think there are lots of science’s, I mean the mistake is to think they are all reduced, its a reductionism, okay? Reductionism is every science reduced to physics, and that’s the one that tells you the truth, all you have to do is find some science which doesn’t reduce physics, psychology, economics, what about history is that a science?

Geography, people say its a science, you get all these, even biology, its not quite clear. Even evolution is that a science? Um, like physics, I think there are just lots of different scientific approaches, and they don’t reduce to one sort of activity, in other words there’s nothing scientific to be said in favor of reducibility. But, there is a dogma I agree, I mean there’s,

Interviewer: Sure.

Its pleasingly simple, you know? To say, oh well, we could explain everything in the universe today, if we could just get these few laws, a few simple elements. Well you know, dark energy and dark matter have destroyed that hope as has quantum physics really, you just have to say well these things are a lot more complicated than we thought, and we can’t even interpret them intelligibly yet to everybody’s agreement in science.

So, were not an age where we’ve got a few agreed axioms, and from them we can explain everything that happens, we’re no where near that at all. You know? I don’t want to get into tough science here but, if we’re talking about information theory, and the way that say, DNA is a code full constructing proteins which build bodys, and its actually code is like a, its like but more complicated than the codes you use for digital computers.

And those are not just physical things, you know? A string of noughts and ones on a computer doesn’t mean anything, but its a code, and I think a lot of scientists in life thinking there’s something very odd about a universe which seems to be shaped in terms of codes of information, because information is not purely physical. It is embedded in the physical, but, if you play a whole string of noughts and ones you don’t know its Beethoven’s ninth symphony, right? And yet it is, if you have the code.

And that’s a totally new comparison in science, say, my view about science is, talking to lots of scientists, I just think well its too dogmatic to say we know there could be no cause of influences which come within our present physical understanding. It would be too dogmatic to say that. And then, then other part of this point, if you think about how humans live is that freedom, freewill doing what I want intending, trying hard to do things.

That’s just a common human experience, it would need a very, very, well established theory to show this is an elusion. Right? So I think common sense ought to win, you know? Its the science you should be skeptical about, or its not the science, its the materialistic philosophy which people, some people, think to rise from the science but you need to be skeptical about, because it doesn’t fit. You know?

If your starting philosophy from human experience one of your basic experiences, the most basic experience, is the difference between doing something and having something done to you. Action, and passion, so that sense of action is very primitive, its very, and you gotta say, if you were in science you would have to reduce that to just affect, everything would be an affect of something else. You’d not be making real decisions, which changed things that happened in the future. [calming music]