On the Internet the other day I came across a forum that used the following statement as a discussion thread:
There’s just no point arguing with science unless you are a scientist.
Have you ever come across a statement, like this one, that just sticks in your mind because it somehow bothers you? It kind of grinds your gears so to speak. You know something is wrong with the assertion or claim and so you keep rolling it over in your mind—analyzing it.
As a philosopher I probably have somewhat of an obsessive-compulsive personality because I roll things over and over in my mind. My friend and RTB colleague Fuz Rana says that my lengthy commute to and from work gives me far too much time to think about things. When I read before going to bed I often have a hard time falling asleep because I am engaged in stimulating contemplation. It’s the philosopher’s curse!
Teaching college courses in logic over the past twenty years has made my mind sensitive to detecting various fallacious forms of reasoning. One form of such thinking involves statements and arguments that are, by nature, self-defeating. Such a statement involves an inner contradiction (both affirming and denying the essence of the statement).
Having read some of the posts where the assertion above came from, it appeared that the discussion leader was using this statement to chastise religious people who believe in some form of creationism or intelligent design. The implication was that religion has no place in science.
However, the statement troubled me and I began my ritual of reflective analysis.
In a loose sense, the given assertion carries a reasonable meaning. For a person to comment intelligently about a field of study one would expect that person to be adequately acquainted with the discipline in question. This is, of course, why RTB employs highly trained scientists to work on the scholar team of a science apologetics organization.
In a technical sense, however, this assertion seems philosophically naíve at best and logically self-defeating at worst. Why?
I take the statement to claim that only scientists can speak intelligently about science. Or only scientists are qualified to speak about scientific issues. But that is the very point that irks me.
If only scientists can speak about science, then what do you do with the foundational question: What is science?
It is not itself a scientific question. It is rather a philosophical question, or better, a philosophy of science question. The scientific enterprise is filled with critical philosophical assumptions. Consider the words of respected philosopher of science Del Ratzsch:
The philosophy of science is basically the study of what science is, what it does, how it works, why it works, and what we should make of it.
Now, couldn’t philosophers of science have something important to say about the nature of science without themselves having been formally trained in a given scientific discipline? Of course they can!
This identifies the inner contradiction contained in this flawed statement. To assert that only scientists can speak intelligently about science ignores the reality that the scientific enterprise itself involves many assumptions that are not technically part of the natural sciences.
To achieve a robust understanding of science and scientifically oriented issues would appropriately require the thoughts and ideas of people from a variety of nonscientific academic disciplines. Certainly philosophers, mathematicians, historians, and others have much to contribute to the proper analysis of the important and powerful enterprise known as science.
In the next installment of this series I will identify other disciplines that appropriately deserve a place at the table when discussing the nature and proceedings of modern science.
For an introduction to the philosophy of science from a Christian perspective, see Del Ratzsch, Science & Its Limits: The Natural Sciences in Christian Perspective.
For an essay on science’s relationship to historic Christianity, see chapter 14 of my book Without a Doubt: Answering the 20 Toughest Faith Questions.
|Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3|