You can only know things through science. This is one of the most common claims in our modern society. “Follow the science” and ” We must make assessments using science” are heard everywhere. But is this really true? Can we only know things through science?
A Self Defeating Argument
This is what’s know as a self defeating statement. In other words, the claim that is being made can’t even live up to its own standard. The claim that science is the only way to knowledge is not a scientific statement, it’s a philosophic statement. How do I know? Because the person making the claim did not produce the statement using the scientific method. Science didn’t tell them that science is the only way to knowledge. They didn’t go into a lab and run an experiment to come up with this claim.
The Limits Of Science
What is it that science can do? Lots of things! But science isn’t capable of answering certain types of questions. As stated in the short video below, there are many things science can’t explain. Logical and mathematical truths cannot be explained by science. Metaphysical truths cannot be proven by science. Beliefs about morality cannot be proven by science. And ideas about beauty and love also cannot be shown to be true by the scientific method.
Science Informs, But Can’t Make Our Decisions
In our current circumstances, science has become almost a daily topic in handling the pandemic. “We need to follow the science” is the mantra we have been living by. And make no mistake, science is going to play an invaluable role in bringing us through the COVID-19 crisis. But, there is only so much science can do for us.
Science gives us information, but it can’t make our decisions for us. Everyone wants things to be “safe” again. But what is “safe”? Safe for one person may not be safe for another. We are all looking at the exact same data, and are all coming to different conclusions on when it is safe for us to resume normal activities.
Science can tell us about infection rates, death rates and what happens to economies when they are shut down too long. But the one thing science can’t tell us is how much risk to accept. What is an acceptable death/infection rate at which we fully reopen our economy? This is not a scientific decision. It is a decision that will be made by humans, not a computer. And its a decision that science can’t give us the answers to.
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3 thoughts on “Quick Challenge Answer: You Can Only Know Things By Science”
I have two main responses to this post. The first one is to point out that the definition of science here is pretty narrow. I pointed this out in a previous response – that if you define science narrowly, as “lab work” for example, then of course you’re not going to be able to justify science with that procedure. But I see science as just applied probability theory. Therefore it has the same foundations as mathematics and logic. Probability theory really is just a generalization of logic to those cases where you have incomplete information.
So if you then take from the video you posted, Craig’s list of five things that “science can’t explain” we find that the list really isn’t that compelling. First he has mathematical and logical truth. Since science is just applied probability it really has the same foundation. If you’re going to question the justification of mathematics then I think that will not be very productive, so I think we can at least agree on that. The second thing Craig mentions is metaphysical truth. Some of examples are that there are other minds, that the universe is more than five minutes old, etc… Here again we can apply science and Occam’s razor (which is a direct consequence of probability theory) to justify the reasonableness of these models of the world. The third point of Craig’s is our moral truths. We can justify these using Sam Harris’ utilitarian theory. The fourth is beauty and aesthetics. Again I am not certain whether you can say these are truths in any fundamental way, but in as much as they are objective one certainly could demonstrate how they are true using scientific methods. And finally Craig uses science itself, kind of like people say that “induction can’t justify induction”. Again this misses the point that we are just applying probability theory when we do science.
The second main response I have to this post is to to ask what theists think they gain from the argument that you’re proposing? In a way it seems like the genetic fallacy. Theists can’t come up with good evidence to believe what they believe, so they try to question or malign the process of using evidence to reason to truth. But let’s just say that the theists are right and that science can’t justify science. Where does that get you? I think we would both agree that science can demonstrate *some* true things even if not *all* true things. This immediately makes two categories: things that science can demonstrate and things that it can’t. Given some new claim how do we know which category it falls into? Have there been any proposed alternative methods for determining the truth of a claim when science isn’t seemingly enough? Other processes that theists have proposed include using ancient documents and using direct revelation – both of which have been demonstrated to be unreliable. So what else is there? So even if we assume this argument is true we are still no closer to accepting any answers the theists have proposed.
This is an odd formulation of what Science is – both methodologically speaking (As in the need to do repeated experiments of some kind) as well as “philosophically” speaking. Science is not applied probability – though you can say that you have to take the “proven” claims of science with a healthy dose of probability i.e. using applied probability to hedge on the claims of science.
As I see it, Science is in the business of falsification of imaginative models via repeated experiments – these are the vital components of science.
So if you want to map that to applied probability or probabilistic evaluation of Scientific models or claims – I don’t think it computes. The models that survive just haven’t been falsified – not just because of incomplete information, we probably have a great deal of information at hand. However, that doesn’t even remotely say that these imaginative models that we’ve created and fitted this information on is valid at all.
Again, you can try a probabilistic approach to evaluation models – but that is just repeating this problem all over again.
I see your response in being skeptical as to how the Luke and Matthew birth narratives can even be coherent and true. This is the inverse problem that you have vis a vis Science.
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