Saturday, March 9, 2013

Science, Philosophy, and God

There is a major problem on the popular level with a form of scientism. It's not precisely the idea that all knowledge or truth comes from science, but rather all "important" truths are discoverable by science, and hence anything not scientific is either illusory or unimportant (or perhaps could be held tentatively). I engaged in a recent conversation in which an objector insisted that God had not been proven or disproven (and possibly could not be so) since the concept was not subject to the scientific method. As readers of my blog probably already know, the claim that "something that is not subject to the scientific method cannot be proven" is not subject to the scientific method, and so cannot be proven (regardless of its truth). In fact, he went on to claim that philosophy cannot provide any answers, only raise questions. All must be subservient to science.

These two points made me come to a realization: the popular-level mind has no real concept of what it means to be a philosopher. They think it's some pie-in-the-sky, head-in-the-clouds guy who has Yoda-like backward sayings and asks questions all the time. Problem is, good philosophy is just the quest for truth! It's the study of whatever comports with reality.

This is where the first claim concerning science and the importance of truth comes in. I'm not sure why science must be considered superior. First, it's impossible to do science without philosophy. If one attempts to do science without philosophy, he won't be able to infer gravity, for example. Second, it's impossible for science to justify itself. "Now wait a minute!" my objector said (paraphrasing). "Of course science justifies itself; it does so all the time! The scientific method proves itself." Of course, this is blatantly question-begging; it assumes what it seeks to prove. To illustrate, consider that if one wanted to use science to prove science, he would already have to believe science in order to do so. Suppose the objector had continued, and responded with the idea of pragmatism ("well, it works, so it must be right!")? Regardless of the dubious nature of the claim, the bottom line is that pragmatism is a philosophy of science, not science itself.

Science is a wonderful tool, but it is by no means the be-all and end-all of truth. Simply because something cannot be shown scientifically, it does not mean that a truth must be held with any less rigor. Ed Feser said on his blog,

Scientism claims to be “reality based” but that is precisely what it is not.  It recognizes only aspects of reality, and in particular only those susceptible of study via its favored methods.   When those methods fail to capture some aspect of reality -- God, consciousness, intentionality, free will, selfhood, moral value, and so on -- scientism tends to blame reality rather than its methods, and to insist that the reality either be redefined so as to make it compatible with its methods, or eliminated entirely.[1]

In short, we need good philosophy and theology precisely because God's existence is not a scientific fact. If that is true, then it follows we are all philosophers in this respect. The only question is what type of philosopher will we be?

                [1] Edward Feser, "Noe on the Origin of Life, Etc.", accessed March 9, 2013.

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