Science and Philosophy

This post may ramble a bit.  Be forewarned also, that the title may not accurately reflect the content.

Science is a way, perhaps the only way, of finding out knowledge about the universe around us.  Scientism is a belief that science is the only way of finding out knowledge about the universe.

I personally believe that scientism is a justified belief system, because science works.  If I turn the ignition on my car, my battery will send electricity to a variety of systems, pumps will run, gasoline will explode and my car will run.  There are a variety of faults that could occur in the system, but it’s because of a fault in the machine… it will not be because of changes in chemistry, electrical activity, mechanics, or whatever.

In that way, in the way that all knowledge about the real world comes from science, the believe in science is perfectly justified.

I have been accused in the past of saying things like, “Science will figure out x.” or “We will soon learn about y.”

This is used as an example of my scientism… my belief that science will learn answers about some process that we don’t know about today.  What’s wrong with that?  Again, over the past few hundred years, believing that science can determine the answers about things has been proven to be true, over and over and over again.  So, isn’t that belief in the abilities of science to find answers justified?

Let me reply with this question: What other process has ever given us knowledge about the natural world?

I’ll wait while you think.

There isn’t one.

I’ve heard from various people a few other suggestions.  “Revelation” is a method for being told knowledge about the world.

Wait… what?  Revelation?  Really, the divine knowledge given to man from a deity is a reliable way of finding out things about the universe?  What about when the various deities say different things?   What about when they say things that are known to conflict with the way the world actually works.

I would submit that revelation is not a reliable way to learn about the universe.

I haven’t heard any other method for finding out knowledge about the universe.

Now, are there things that science has no place in.  That’s a good question and I don’t have a perfect answer.  A recent article by Jason Rosenhouse highlights some possible things that science can’t help us with.

The three things mentioned are: mathematics, morality, and something about statements about statements.  I’m not sure if it’s philosophy or what.

Rosenhouse handles these three pretty well.  I would just add a few points that I thought about.

Morality is arguably discoverable by science.  We know that as societies and cultures have changed, the moralties of those cultures have changed as well.  However, what we see is that cultures that have embraced the enlightenment (i.e. science) tend to have a very different moral set from those cultures that are stuck in pre-enlightenment systems (for example, religion based cultures).  Which moral system is better is completely dependent on whom you are talking to.  What is obvious, is that less religious cultures have generally greater personal freedoms.

I would also submit that many of the constraints of a society based on ‘morals’ is really based on the evolution of a tribal organism.  It’s not OK to just kill a member of the tribe.  Because the tribe can no longer trust the offender.  When one is a member of a species that is relatively weak, with poor physical characteristics (compared to the local predators), trust is an important concept.  Call it social evolution.

But, importantly, this is repeatable and observable, unlike revelation.  We can collect data using the few remaining primitive cultures about their morals.  I don’t know if it’s been done.  I’m just talking here… not researching.  But it’s a curious thought.

Let’s talk briefly about philosophy.  Philosophy is (to me) sort of a meta discussion on knowing.  It’s talking about knowing how we know things.


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