John Wilkins said something in the comments on his blog [On the need for grownups [Thoughts from Kansas]] that I'd like to discuss.
I do not think, contrary to some, that science exhausts the realm of knowledge, largely because I have a fairly broad and fallibilistic notion of what it is to know something – you can know that it is wrong to eat fish on a Friday, for example, or that one must not abuse children, neither of which are scientific questions. So I have no truck for those who merely assert that knowledge is all and only scientific – you have to argue for it.I'm one of those naive scientists who don't understand philosophy so forgive me if I make some silly errors in logic.1
First, John, I wish you'd stop making false claims about those people you disagree with. I don't know anyone who simply ASSERTS that science is the only way of knowing. On the other hand, I do know people (I am one) who adopt it as a working hypothesis.
I'm looking for evidence of other ways of knowing that might provide valid knowledge. So far I haven't found any so my hypothesis hasn't been falsified.
Now, the problem here falls into the realm of epistemology—defined as "the study of knowledge and justified belief" (Epistemology). As with most philosophical issues, the discussions in that field are far too obtuse for most people to follow. Just look at the article I linked to. I imagine that 99% of people who follow that link will not read past the first section on "What Is Knowledge?"
Here's how I think of "knowledge" in the context of this debate. Knowledge, in my mind, is a form of justified belief that can be affirmed as true by all people. In other words, "knowledge" in this sense is something that applies universally and not just to particular individuals. Your definition of "knowledge" is much broader and that means we are talking past each other. I'm surprised you didn't recognize this.
Here are some examples. I think we should "know" that the Earth revolves around the sun, we should "know" that life evolved from a common ancestor, we should "know" that our species was not almost wiped out by a giant flood in 2500 BCE, we should "know" that some humans believe things that aren't true, and we should "know" that humans have a finite life span. These are all examples of the kind of knowledge that I'm referring to.
Note that there's an immediate problem here since clearly not everyone agrees with my statements of knowledge. In other words, they are not really universally accepted. Does that disqualify them from being examples of true knowledge? Perhaps, but I think we can at least agree that they are good candidates for the kind of knowledge I'm talking about. (We can't realistically demand "universal" acceptance since there will always be some kooks who disagree with even the most obvious examples of knowledge.)
Another potential candidate is, "God exists." The tough part is trying to decide which of these potential candidates for knowledge are true and which ones aren't. The ones we reject don't count as knowledge. I claim that the scientific way of knowing is a tried and true approach to arriving at knowledge of this sort, i.e. things that we can universally agree on. I don't see any other ways of knowing that have achieved the objective.
What about statement such as, "I know that it's wrong to eat fish on Friday" or "It's wrong to abuse children"? I don't think either of those qualify as "knowledge" in the sense that I'm concerned with. You may believe that it's wrong to eat fish on Friday and that belief may be justified by your desire to remain a respected member of your Roman Catholic church, but it hardly qualifies as the kind of knowledge that might be universally accepted as true.
The rule that you shouldn't abuse children isn't "knowledge" at all, in my opinion. It's a rule that our society accepts in order to promote peace and harmony and conform to our concepts of rights and respect for fellow humans.
That rule may be informed by evidence and rationality or it may derive from what your pastor tells you about God's perceived will. But no matter how you come to accept these rules of society they don't count as potential examples of universal knowledge. At best, the rule is secondarily derived from such potential universal knowledge that remains to be proven (Universal Moral Laws).
I'm not sure if this makes sense.
One more thing, when John says, "neither of which are scientific questions" it reveals a different version of science than the one I propose. I'm trying to make the case for science as a way of knowing and, if John accepts my definition, then every question about knowledge is potentially a scientific question. One can't just arbitrarily dismiss something as not being a scientific question without explaining why you can't get an answer by applying rationality, evidence, and skepticism. When John dismisses questions arbitrarily it's called "begging the question."
His logic goes like this:
1: Science can address all questions about knowledge.
2: Some questions are not scientific.
3: Therefore, science can't address all questions.
1. John Wilkins says, "First of all I have little confidence that scientists and other science-based critics of the philosophical arguments have a good grasp of what those arguments are."