Science versus philosophy? (Part 2)

APOLOGIA By Hendrik van der Breggen
(The Carillon, February 26, 2009)

Science versus philosophy? (Part 2)
Some folks subscribe to the following statement: A claim is reasonable to believe only if it is a claim of science—so philosophical (and theological) claims should be dismissed as unreasonable.

The above view is known as strong scientism (hereafter, scientism). In the previous instalment of Apologia, I argued that scientism is self-refuting. Here are two more reasons for not believing scientism.

First, if scientism is true, then science as a knowledge-seeking discipline lacks rational support, which is very odd, if not absurd.

Consider this. If, as scientism claims, philosophical claims are neither true nor reasonable to believe, then scientism disallows the task of setting out and defending the philosophical presuppositions (assumptions) required for the practice of good science.

What are these presuppositions? Philosopher J. P. Moreland, in his book Christianity and the Nature of Science, sets out the following list: “[1] that the universe is intelligible and not capricious, [2] that the mind and senses inform us about reality, [3] that mathematics and language can be applied to the world, [4] that knowledge is possible, [5] that there is a uniformity in nature that justifies inductive inferences from the past to the future and from examined cases…to unexamined cases.”

Significantly, the setting out and defence of these presuppositions is a philosophical, rational undertaking. But if scientism is true, then these presuppositions cannot be set out or rationally defended. Hence, the practice of science would lose its rational foundations, which is very odd, if not absurd.

At this juncture, one might be tempted simply to ignore the above philosophical assumptions and say, “Well, science works—that’s good enough.” It should be noticed, however, that this pragmatic claim is also a philosophical claim—a claim about science, not of science—which scientism would also disallow (see last week’s column for further argument).

Second, if scientism is true, then no true or reasonable claims outside of science would exist, which is clearly false.

Scientism says a claim is true or reasonable only if it is a claim of science. But the fact of the matter is that truths and reasonable beliefs can be found in disciplines of inquiry outside of science: e.g., history, law, and ethics. Moreover, as Moreland points out in Love Your God With All Your Mind, “some propositions believed outside of science (‘red is a colour,’ ‘torturing babies is wrong,’ ‘I am now thinking about science’) are better justified than some believed within science (‘evolution takes place through a series of very small steps’).”

Scientism, therefore, is neither true nor reasonable to believe.

The upshot: As truly important and wonderful as science is, the realm of good reasoning and knowledge is not exhausted by it.

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is assistant professor of philosophy at Providence College, Otterburne, Manitoba.)

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