Field of Science

Philosophy is down the hall, dude

I have a couple of times heard people question the philosophical foundation of science. The argument goes that scientist, naturalists, secularists - people who believe science have real answers about this world we live in - have blind faith that their way of knowing is the right one. This faith is comparable, the argument goes, to religious faith, meaning that it is not based on any logical reasoning or on any sort of evidence. The trust in the scientific method is just as blind as religious faith, and therefore no more valid. The two ways of knowing are thus equal. So they say.

My answer is (and I am aware this is trivial) that knowing based on evidence that the next person can verify is better because it works. Not because of some philosophical reasoning about science and cognition, but because of the results. I trust in the scientific method first because of it's predictive power. It is so clear to anyone that the scientific theories describe what we can observe in great detail, and the progress (for lack of a neutral word) human society has seen is caused by increases in our scientific knowledge. We did go to the moon (no, really!), we can cure infections (if only there was no evolution), the bombs did explode (blame Oppenheimer), and the LHC does work (when it does). The list goes on, of course.

My point here is that all of the scientific results are not, and was not, in need of any philosophical discussion. They would have barged in on our cozy evening with or without philosophical assistance. I don't actually send people away if they do initiate a discussion about the philosophy of science, but I do feel a strong urge to cut them short with a "philosophy is down the hall, dude." I just finished reading Finding Darwin's God by Kenneth Miller. I wanted to read it before the conference I attended a little over a week ago, because Miller was speaking there. I read the first half of it quickly, because it is a beautiful defense of evolution, and an enjoyable read indeed. However, the second half is all Miller's private theology, and I got severely stuck in the middle of it. Miller is a strong defender of evolution - one of the prime witnesses on the Dover trial. I respect him a lot for that. I also respect that he has his own private belief, and would have left it at that if he hadn't gone on in his book to tell everyone how it can unite the scientific and religious ways of knowing.

Miller's argument is that his religion is totally consistent with our scientific knowledge. He is a Roman Catholic, but in his book he never defends the God and myths of Catholicism that I know of. He never even mentions the dogmatic belief in miracles, sainthood, the Papal infallibility, et cetera, et cetera. Instead he yarns about this way in which his religion and science are not opposed, but rather strengthens each other. For complete knowledge, both ways must be followed, he urges. God used evolution to create us, and therefore knowledge of God comes through knowledge of evolution, for example.

But... the problem I have with religion is that I find it all ever so implausible. Even if I were to concede that there might be some god, I certainly wouldn't think that he would be such a jealous, vain, nasty (let's cut this list short, already) being as is so carefully described in the Judeo-Christian scriptures. My reply to Miller is therefore "philosophy is down the hall, dude," because it may be all good and fine as he tells it, but it just doesn't change the fact that religious people believe in crazy stuff every day, and these people are the ones who dictate what religion means in society, not Miller.

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