He then goes on to give an example ... [Begging questions about philosophy, science and everything else]
But we expect better of the educated and cosmopolitan. It comes, therefore, as a continuing pain to me that scientists will often offer this piece of question beggary:It pains me to read this because I expect so much better of an educated and cosmopolitan Australian.
The begged premise here is that only knowing things the scientific way is knowledge, or if the philosopher in question doesn’t say that knowledge is what philosophy offers, that only knowing things the scientific way is worthwhile. Some may even hint that only science delivers beauty, too.
- Science finds out things
- Philosophy does not find out things the scientific way
- Therefore philosophy is a waste of time and effort
I'm not aware of any scientist who argues like this.
The closest I can come is an argument that I made myself, many times. It goes something like this ...
- Science is a way of knowing that relies on evidence, healthy skepticism, and rational thinking
- The scientific way of knowing has produced knowledge of the sort that everyone can agree on. It has a proven track record.
- Many philosophers argue that philosophy and religion are different ways of knowing that also produce knowledge
- I have asked repeatedly for examples of this kind of knowledge but no philosopher or theist has provided one
- My working hypothesis is that philosophy and religion are not different ways of knowing and that they have never produced unambiguous knowledge
Ever since I started doing philosophy I have been told, and have believed both on authority and on my own reflections, that the goal of philosophy is to make people think and to deliver clarity where before there was just confusion. Sometimes clarity means showing that confusion is inevitable, but I never thought, and most philosophers do not think, that philosophy delivers scientific knowledge. Instead they hope for insight, understanding, clarity and charity towards the ideas of others.This is what is most valuable about philosophy. It helps us understand rational thinking and it helps us weed out faulty arguments. That's why Chris DiCarlo, a philosopher, is giving many lectures in my course on critical thinking. Philosophers are experts on this topic. Thinking clearly is an absolute prerequisite for discovering knowledge. But it doesn't appear to be sufficient.
Philosophers are quite capable of producing knowledge using the scientific way of knowing. I've seen John do it. He employs evidence to produce knowledge. The question before us it whether there's another way on knowing, used by philosophers, that can also produce knowledge. Many philosophers attack science by claiming that there's another way of knowing. This is especially common among theistic philosophers. They claim that philosophy is superior to science in producing truth. They claim that anyone who believes otherwise is guilty of "scientism," an insult that appears to be worse than calling someone a theist. (I'm sure John would never do that without backing up his accusation.)
John is just warming up ...
Generally, scientists do not. I know this sounds harsh, but it is true. Scientists want straightforward answers based on data, and will argue over meanings, interpretations and concepts only when they must, either to present or to defend a view. They want just so much clarity and understanding as they need to convince others their hypothesis, results or explanations are correct. Often, this is not, itself, very scientific. Having seen scientists argue over theories and doctrines of different research programs, I can say they use rhetorical and sophistical arguments as much as any political party when it suits them. Usually, though, scientists care very much about the truth of their claims. What they don’t care about is either history or interpretation.Now it's going to take some time to unpack these claims because, not being a philosopher, I can't cut to the chase as quickly as they can.
Scientists live in a kind of self-contained hermeneutic bubble. They simply cannot usually see the point of any view other than their own. If they think science disproves religious beliefs, then so far as they are concerned, any person – scientist or not – who takes religion seriously is simply stupid. Anyone who grants, even for argument’s sake, that there might be pathways of knowing other than the mythical (since no such beast actually exists) “scientific method”, is a mental defective, a liar, or a self serving individual trying to get money out of someone. In other words, for that kind of scientist, they treat religion, philosophy and any non-scientific activity exactly the same way that some religious and science deniers treat science they do not like: as an act of faith that is simply false.
The first thing I want to say is that science as a way of knowing is not confined to physicists, chemists, biologists and geologists. Therefore, I reject any attempt to turn this into a debate about the behavior of scientists. We're talking about a way of knowing that applies equally well to historians, sociologists, economists, and even (gasp!) philosophers.
So let's not confine the discussion to the way scientists behave.
People who think scientifically do NOT think that their way of thinking DISPROVES religious beliefs—at least not in the sense that stands up to rigorous philosophical analysis. What they say is that there is no evidence of god(s). Since the scientific way of knowing requires evidence for beliefs it follows, as night follows day, that belief in god(s) is not compatible with the scientific way of thinking.
Philosophers tell us all the time that this argument is misguided. They claim that science, sensu strictu, can never say anything about the existence of god(s), the existence of a soul, miracles, the efficacy of prayer, or the possibility of life after death because those questions are entirely outside of the magisterium of science. They invoke something called "methodological naturalism." This is a limitation on the scientific way of knowing that forbids its application to many important questions that are best left to philosophers and theists. As far as I can tell, philosophers just made this up without ever thinking seriously about the evidence of how scientific thinking actually works outside in the real world.
John, do you believe this? If so, can you tell me what other ways of knowing can be applied to questions like the existence of god(s) or the Flying Spaghetti Monster? Do those other ways of knowing give you an answer? Have philosophers discovered whether god(s) exist or not? Can they give us a rational explanation of whether the Flying Spaghetti Monster exists or not?
John, I really resent your assertion that scientists cannot see any point of view other than their own. I'm trying really hard to understand what philosophers and theists are trying to say and so is Jerry Coyne. That's why I'm asking questions like What Kind of Knowledge Does Philosophy Discover?. That's why over the past two decades I've been asking theists to give me their best argument for the existence of god(s). People who ask questions are not ignoring other people's point of view, they are simply asking them to defend it.
Frankly, your accusation is not only silly but hypocritical. From my perspective, there are many philosophers who pontificate regularly about biology and evolution without ever considering the point of view (and the facts) of science. It's like they are living in a "self-contained hermeneutic bubble."
Now is this a criticism of those scientists? Yes, and no. Yes in that this approach simply abandons the canons of civil discourse that have been accepted in the western tradition for over 2500 years as being the best and most “rational” (i.e., requiring reasons for your claims, and not prejudging the debate one might have about those reasons). This is simply a matter of what used to be called “positivism”, a view that was invented by August Comte in the early 19th century. Science is all there is, and nothing else has worth unless it can be made scientific.I don't know for sure what you mean by "positivism" and I'm pretty sure that if you ask ten philosophers you'll get ten different answers.
However, I have adopted, as my working hypothesis, the idea that the scientific way of knowing is the only valid way of acquiring true knowledge. It would be easy to refute this hypothesis. Give it a shot.
As for civil discourse, I reject your assertion that I have abandoned the canons of civil discourse. I give reasons for my claims. When philosophers and theists tell me (rather uncivilly, I might add) that I'm full of excrement, I try to respond by addressing their critiques. I admit that the arguments can get a bit heated but that's not what you're asserting, is it?
But on the other hand, if one thought there was something better than science, one might not be a scientist at all. Science is hard. It takes years to become a professional, and the return on investment is small. Few scientists end up wealthy; many end up doing something else. Almost none are ever remembered. So one cannot fault scientists for not being philosophers, another profession that takes most of your formative years to become competent in (contrary to many popular writers’ apparent belief), and which ends up with little to no remuneration (again, contrary to many popular writers’ experiences).As far as I'm concerned, this is not about scientists. It's about people of all sorts who value the scientific way of knowing.
It is about philosophers. I'm questioning whether the claims of philosophers—claims that they alone have special insight into, and answers to, metaphysical questions—are valid. So far you have done nothing to address that question except insult scientists.
But still the begging of that question bugs me. When scientists try to extend science to cover all human activity, when they deny that other people who might disagree on the specific views they think are true (but which are not scientifically verifiable, like the value of art) have any standing or sense to them, when they simply denigrate anything that isn’t what they do personally, yes, that really is scientism.I'm not begging any questions but you are.
I'm not interested in the value of art. I don't think the answer would contribute to true knowledge in the sense I'm thinking of. I'm interested in important questions like, "Does God exist?" This is a question that can be addressed using the scientific way of knowing. The answer is "no." There's no evidence for the existence of god(s) (or the Flying Spaghetti Monster).
So, is there another way of knowing that gives a different answer and is there any logical reason why I should trust that this other way of knowing actually produces knowledge? Why not answer the question using the subject you just brought up, the value of art. What is the answer and how did you get it by not using the scientific way of knowing? Is it something you describe as true knowledge?
As for scientism, I know you mean this as an insult but the more I listen to the insults from theists and philosophers the more I begin to realize that it may actually be a valid way of describing my position. I'll accept it as long as you realize that what it means is that I tentatively hold to the view that the scientific way of knowing is the only valid way of acquiring true knowledge.
All you have to do now is refute that view by providing examples of true knowledge that can be reached by any other way of knowing. You seem certain that you can do it. I'm looking forward to your next post.
This post is inspired by, and illustrated by, scientists Larry Moran’s and Jerry Coyne’s posts attacking philosophers Massimo Pigliucci and Elliot Sober. Because the latter attend to questions of clarity of concepts, logic and meaning, and do not deliver “knowledge” (and what is knowledge one might philosophically ask?), Larry and Jerry accuse the philosophers of “arrogance” and “denigrating science”, neither of which seem to me correct. Moreover, arrogance seems to be inherent in the broad dismissal of a profession simply because it doesn’t do what the accuser’s profession does. Yes, Larry, that really is scientism. It is treating science as if it were a belief system that supersedes and excludes, by some sort of divine right, all other human activities.
Elliott Sober gave a lecture at the University of Chicago in which he put forth the argument that a sneaky all-powerful god could have guided evolution in a way that is undetectable by humans. Thus, there's no reason for theists to be upset because science cannot say for certain that evolution is unguided.
This is a logical argument, according to philosophers, but it's ridiculous nonetheless. It tells us nothing about the existence of god(s) and it tells us nothing about their character. It tells us nothing about whether evolution is guided or unguided. I made fun of the argument by constructing another, perfectly logical, argument showing that The Flying Spaghetti Monster Steals Meatballs.
Yes, it's true that Sober attended to a question of clarity, logic, and meaning, but he used an argument that we've known about for hundreds of years; namely, that if you construct the right premises you can make a logical case for just about anything you can dream up. Is this what passes for front line research in philosophy? Apparently. I think it says something about philosophers that they consider this form of argument to be useful in clarifying an issue.
Supposedly respected philosophers lose my respect when they use this kind of argument to dispute the scientific way of knowing. They might as well be arguing that George Bush and the CIA are responsible for 9/11 because philosophers can construct an elaborate conspiracy theory that nobody can refute.
I'm sorry if this upsets you, John, but rather than writing a post that just insults scientists, why not defend philosophy? Do you honestly think that Sober's talk makes a meaningful contribution to the debate over the existence of god(s)? If a philosopher repeats it next year will it still be meaningful? How about if ten philosophers put it into their books over the next decade? Will that make it any better?
Apparently that's what philosophers think because the same argument has been made repeatedly for decades yet it still seems to get Sober an invite to a special talk at the University of Chicago.