The rise of anti-scientism provoked a response from scientists, just as you might expect. Scientists began to speak out against the irrational claims of these science deniers. The counter-attack necessarily covered many people with strong religious beliefs. Gradually, many scientists came to the realization that the main problem was not the specifics of evolution or whether ESP could be tested. The real battleground was a war between rationalism and superstition. This led to a number of scientists coming out in support of atheism and focusing their attention on the flaws in religious thinking (i.e. superstition).
Now, you would think that philosophy would be a natural ally in this fight since the most important feature of philosophy is its ability to distinguish logical arguments from ones that are illogical. In other words, philosophy should be on the side of rationalism and not on the side of superstition.
It didn't work out that way. Unfortunately, many university philosophy departments were full of theists and those theistic philosophers did not sit still when their basic premises were being challenged. They began to see a connection between atheism and the scientific way of thinking and they decided that the best way to preserve their superstitious beliefs was to join the attack on scientists. That's why we've seen a ton of books from philosophers who try to refute The God Delusion by making a case against the scientific way of thinking. It's why we see so much criticism of scientism.
What we don't see is any serious attempt to demonstrate that God exists. The criticisms focus on the behavior of scientists, especially those who step outside of the traditional science disciplines and address issues that were once the exclusive domain of philosophy. Instead of actually debating those issues, the philosophers are much more interested in trying to prove that scientists should keep their mouths shut because they haven't studied enough philosophy to have a serious opinion on the existence of god(s).
It's all about defending turf. And it's astonishing that this comes from philosophers who should be smart enough to see why their logic is flawed.
The next thing that happened was truly shocking. A group of atheist philosophers joined their religious colleagues in attacking the scientific way of thinking. They developed an elaborate ruse1 to limit the magisterium of science to the "natural world" thus making it "illegal" for scientists to challenge anything that smacked of the supernatural. This was very clever, since it gathered in all the important questions under the umbrella of philosophy to the exclusion of science.
If a scientist got involved in the question of god's existence then they were no longer thinking like a scientist—they were in the realm of metaphysics. And in order to engage in metaphysical debates you pretty much had to be a card-carrying philosopher. In other words, if you don't know the difference between Plato and Aristotle then you have no business debating the existence of god(s). Pretty neat, eh? Atheist scientists can be safely ignored because they are stepping outside their area of expertise. They haven't studied enough philosophy.
I think the philosophers were a little surprised at what happened next. Instead of just rolling over and admitting that philosophy could provide all the answers, scientists starting challenging the premises that philosophers had been taking for granted over the past several hundred years. They started to ask embarrassing questions like, "What's the evidence that philosophy has produced knowledge?" or "What's the evidence that methodological naturalism is a limitation of science?"
Even more embarrassing, the atheist scientists are wondering how a discipline like philosophy can justify the presence in their midst of huge numbers of theists—many of whom seem to be highly respected in their field. How is superstition compatible with philosophy?
That's where we are right now. Philosophers are rightly upset by this development. They all seem to have believed that their status and authority would rapidly squelch the upstart scientists who dared to intrude on their territory. They seem to have believed that all they had to do was start talking about Hume and Kant, and other long-dead philosophers, and that would quickly send the scientists scurrying back into their labs.
Now they don't know what to do. Some of them just start shouting even louder that they are the authorities and whatever they say is right. That's not going to work. Some of them try using their well-honed rhetorical tricks to defend their turf. That's not going to work either. Those tricks are mostly question begging.
Most philosophers continue to avoid the questions that scientists (and others) are raising. There are a few exceptions. John Wilkins is one. He tries to address the problem in his latest post: Begging questions about philosophy, science and everything else. I'm going to try and answer him in the next few posts.
1. Pun intended.
[Photo Credit: The Divergence of Thought in Science & Philosophy: Could “Complexity” be New Common Ground?] (The answer, BTW, is no.)