Posts Tagged ‘empiricism’

Ever since the Enlightenment there’s been a lot of talk about science, mostly about how great it is. The scientific method of observation and hypothesis-forming has lead to innumerable discoveries and advancements in technology of every kind, from industry to medicine. There are T-shirts, now, which read, “Science: it works, bitches.” No doubt it does! I don’t actually think there’s anyone who denies this. But in the great success of the scientific method, I think people got carried away. They started to think that science was “all one needed,” and somehow (I cannot quite discover how) the jump was made from the success of empiricism to total assent in materialism, and the buzzword of “science” permeating through it all. Empiricism raised its banner in defiance of all other truth-claims. “Truly,” its adherents sighed, “with this we can master all things.”

But wait, we have a problem. The problem is that the empirical method of science is not philosophy. Not philosophy? What does philosophy have to do with this? Well, philosophy was the discipline that used to claim the capacity to answer all of life’s questions, and I think its quite safe to conclude that it still firmly sits upon that throne. What I think was not realized was that science was only a sub-discipline of philosophy, only a small specialization of the great study of Reality. Why is that? Because science cannot answer a number of questions about reality. Which ones? Start at 1:10 if you want to cut to it:

The dubious claim is Atkins’, that “science is omnipotent.” Craig shows by counterexample that this statement is obviously false, and I want to dwell on the last one in particular. Whether or not you buy Craig’s example about the Theory of Special Relativity (or even his other examples) is not the issue, the point he raises is profound: The empirical method is entirely circular: it cannot justify itself. Empiricism lays great emphasis on the superiority of its method, because it yields results which we can touch and see. But what does that mean? Essentially, it’s a claim to the superiority of empiricism because its methods yield empirically-verifiable results. One is appealing to empiricism to prove empiricism to be true, and hence becomes entirely circular.

What are we not saying here? No one’s saying that science doesn’t “work.” Of course it does. What we have discovered is that empiricism cannot itself be its own justification, and therefore is not a substantial, self-subsisting worldview, not to mention the number of other things Dr. Craig points out which science lacks the ability to explain. Why? Because those things are not scientific questions. To quote CS Lewis in Mere Christianity,

“Science works by experiments. It watches how things behave. Every scientific statement in the long run, however complicated it looks, really means something like, ‘I pointed the telescope to such and such a part of the sky at 2.20 a.m. on January 15th and saw so-and-so,’ or, ‘I put some of this stuff in a pot and heated it to such-and-such a temperature and it did so-and-so.’ Do not think that I am saying anything against science; I am only saying what its job is.”

And science’s job, we might add, is not to create a self-subsisting worldview or to “achieve omnipotence;” for it cannot, even in potentiality, do either. Those tasks are the duties of Philosophy and the philosopher, to which Science and the scientist must ever be subservient. The last few centuries have shown science to be a usurper; but the time has come for its humbling.


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