Sunday, August 3, 2014

What Do We Know, and How Do We Know It? Part 2

The first post within this series on epistemology focused on the idea that certainty is necessary for knowledge (which, of course, it isn’t). This next post in our series is going to speak about another common error. This is usually found among skeptics rather than Christians. It’s called “scientism,” and it contains the following idea:

2. All knowledge can only be gained by science or the scientific method.

This is both a na├»ve and false view for several reasons. First, a clear definition of what counts as necessary and sufficient for science has not been forthcoming. Virtually every definition proposed of science either excludes some things that are counted as scientific or else includes things that would clearly not be regarded as scientific. In any case, no uncontroversial definition of science exists, and if that’s the case, it’s difficult then to demand that all knowledge claims be subjected to science!

Next, scientism is self-refuting. This is because the claim that “all knowledge can only be gained by science” is not itself a deliverance of science. It cannot even in principle be derived from science. It is a philosophical claim that must be either presupposed or else argued for on the basis of solely or mostly philosophical claims. If that is the case, however, then if we assume the principle is correct, then the claim “all knowledge can only be gained by science” is false. If something’s assumed truth leads to its falsehood, then we call that self-refuting.

I have written elsewhere on scientism, and while it is largely not accepted in philosophical circles (or if it is it is greatly modified), one runs into this on your run-of-the-mill atheist types.

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