Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Science and philosophy

One of the frequent commenters on this blog has been pestering me for an answer to one of his questions that resulted from my post on Stephen Hawking's new book, some of the public pronouncement from which I critiqued in an earlier post.

Here is Singring:
Which is the path to truth? Philosophy or science? That is exactly the issue we are wrestling with at this very moment!

Hawkings says: 'Science is all I need to give me the ultimate truth at the root of the universe!'

You say: 'Oh no it isn't!'

Yet so far you have done nothing more than ASSERT that it isn't. So why should I even consider the possibility that what science can and cannot answer is a philosophical question?

As fa[r] as I can tell, science is the ONLY way we are able to arive at truth (as far as we can tell at the moment).

You disagree. But WHY? What argument can you possibly present that will give me or anyone else a good reason to believe that we need anything OTHER than science (philosophy, for example) to account for everything there is?
Now first of all, Singring simply assumes that I have the burden of proof here. It was, after all, Hawking who implies that science can explain why there is something rather than nothing. Why is the burden of proof on me to disprove him? He doesn't have prove his original assertion?

But let's just go along with Singring here. Science is the only way we are able to arrive at truth. How do we determine whether that statement is true? By science? Maybe Singring could enlighten us on how that can be done.

Then he turns right around and asks for an argument that will give him good reason to believe that we need "anything other than science." Wait, I thought science was the only avenue to truth? If that's the case, then why does he want an argument? What good would an argument do to show that my statement is true if only science can yield truth? Shouldn't he want an experiment, or a hypothesis, or a theory, or empirical evidence?

What good would an argument do? Giving him an argument would be engaging in logic, and logic is a branch of philosophy. What does he want that for?

Can he have much confidence in his belief that science is the only avenue to truth if the only way he can think of to determine whether that belief is true is to resort to philosophy?

12 comments:

Singring said...

P.S.: Logic is a branch of philosophy - yes, you might say that, especially in the light of historic development.

Logic is also a prerequisite of science. If you want to say that philosophy is nothing but logic, then we are in agreement. But that's not what you are saying, is it?

Finally: Any positions that are logically arrived at must have a connection to reality, I'm sure we would agree. If it has nothing to do with reality it would be pointless, no?

1.) All unicorns are pink
2.) All pink unicorns are hollow
3.) Therefore, all unicorns are hollow

Logical. Buit of no relevance until we have any reason to think unicorns exist.

So, Martin, that brings us back to the question: What parts of reality does Philosophy adress that science does not?

Martin Cothran said...

I have gotten e-mails indicating comments on this post but don't actually see the comments the comments section. I would be curious if others are seeing any more than two comments (counting this one). I'm wondering if blogspot is having problems.

Singring said...

Yeah, I sent off a couple of em. They showed up when I reloaded the page after posting, but were gone a few minutes later.

Could be my browser at the University, though. Never mind. If you them you can read them over and consider the criticisms I have made of this post.

I didn't save a copy, but I may write an extensive reply on my blog at some stage, its an interesting discussion.

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

I've got them in my e-mail. I'll just repost them.

Singring said...

That's nice of you, thanks. Two of them may be very similar because I had to rephrase some of it as I reposted. If you think there's redundant material in there feel free to pick which you want to post, they both pretty much sum up what I was trying to say (at least I hope so).

stan said...

Singring, I suggest you check out the blog

atheism-analyzed.blogspot.com

for basics in rational thought starting with the First Principles.

Martin Cothran said...

Several comments have just disappeared, so I am reposting them from the notification e-mails I got:

I would have thanked you for this post, Martin, if it had actually adressed anything of substance.

1.) You linked to the wrong post, thus making it harder for people to find my words in the context of our discussion. I doubt this was intentional, but I would ask you to correct this.

2.) You offer no answer at all to my two mane questions:

a) Why do you think the universe is contingent?

b) Why do you think philosophy is a better tool for fidning truth tahn science is?

3.) You are attacking a straw man as - ironically - the very quote you use demonstrates:

I clearly have stated that AS FAR AS WE KNOW AT THE MOMENT science is the only path to truth. I can give you a bazillion examples of how science has helped us find truth.

There could be something else, something science can't adress that some other method of truth detection might help us with. I've never claimed there could be no such other method, despite your strenuous insistence that I do hold that position.

YOU claim that in fact there IS such a second method and it is called 'philosophy'. That was the entire point of your attempt at lambasting Haking.

All I asked was a simple little question:

What rational argument do you have to support this claim?

Your response has been this post, which does not give any arguments of your own, which does not answer any of the questions raised, but instead engages in shadowboxing. It's fun to watch your argument self-destruct though, Martin, I must admit.

Martin Cothran said...

Another Singring missing comment:

Thanks for finally adressing the issues raised, Martin. I really do appreciate it. I am just the more disappointed that the post you have composed in response is so obviously misrepresentative of my position that it will take little effort to highlight its inadequacies.

'has been pestering me'

I have been 'pestering' you? Really? Martin, the moment you tell me: 'Hey, X is just what I believe and I don't claim to have credible arguments to back X up' I will shut up. All I am doing is responding to your bald assertions, for instance the assertion that the question 'Why is there something rather than nothing' is a sensible question to ask.

'Why is the burden of proof on me to disprove him?'

I never said it was. I was responding to YOUR assertion that scince can't answer why there is somthing rather than nothing by casting doubt on whether this question is even a sensible one to ask. Yet in this post you simply place my comments in a context that make it appear I am being unduly demanding. I invite anyone to read the original thread to see evidence of your distortion.

'Science is the only way we are able to arrive at truth.'

I never said that. You quote me in your very post, so I cannot fathom how you could have missed this:

'As fa[r] as I can tell, science is the ONLY way we are able to arive at truth (as far as we can tell at the moment).'

See those last few words? As far as we can tell? That means I'm not claiming with certainty that science is the only path to truth - I'm asking YOU why you think science is NOT the only path to truth and more importantly - why you imply that philosophy can answer the question of universal origin, whereas science cannot. This is your burden of proof to carry, Martin. Not mine. I can demonstarte how science is a useful tool for detecting truth about the natural world. It is upo YOU to give some good reasons why anything other than science is.

'Wait, I thought science was the only avenue to truth? If that's the case, then why does he want an argument?'

I'll leave it up to the readers to figure out if this is an honest reflection of my stance on Martin's part or not.

'What good would an argument do to show that my statement is true if only science can yield truth? Shouldn't he want an experiment, or a hypothesis, or a theory, or empirical evidence?'

Any rational argument will do. Yet your post sadly doesn't contain one. Strange.

And so the post ends.

No argument given as to why philosophy is a greater path to truth than science.

No argument given as to why the universe is contingent (a question I asked you previously in connection with the 'why is there something' question and you have again failed to answer).

Instead what we get is an attack against a strawman, a position i do not hold as THE VERY QUOTE YOU POSTED shows.

In the vain hope that at some stage you will actually comment on the issue, I will post my two main questions to you that have gone unanswered yeta agin once more:

1.) Why is it reasonable to think the universe is contingent?

2.) In what way os philosophy superior to science in adressing questions on the origin of the universe or reality in and of itself?

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

1. Logic IS a branch of philosophy, and it has nothing to do with its historical development.

2. Your unicorns argument is NOT valid. It commits the fallacy of four terms.

3. Because you can produce a bazillion examples of how science leads to truth has exactly nothing to do with the question of whether it only leads to truth.

4. The fact that we are having this discussion IS proof that philosophy is an avenue to truth since that is what we are doing now.

Singring said...

'2. Your unicorns argument is NOT valid. It commits the fallacy of four terms.'

It is logically consistent, is it not? Stop deflecting - you understand the point I was making. So what exactly does philosophy tell us about reality that science can't?

You still haven't asnwered that question. You may have valid criticisms on the formulation of my arguments - but I have yet to see you give one positive example of where philosophy has given us access to a truth that science could not have given us.

'has exactly nothing to do with the question of whether it only leads to truth.'

I never claimed it 'ONLY' led truth! I claimed it is the ONLY path we know of right now that CAN lead to truth.

'The fact that we are having this discussion IS proof that philosophy is an avenue to truth since that is what we are doing now.'

No. The fact that we are having this discussion proves that there is legitimate doubt as to philosophy leading us anywhere true at all.

Philosophy is not synonymous with logic. Or are you claiming it is? Logic is only useful as long as it hinges upon reality. That's why physicists TEST their mathematical predictions against the data. They don't just calculate something and say: 'Yup, that's logically consistent! It MUST be true!'. They make physical measurements and test the results against the predictions - only THEN does it become relevant to our perception of reality, or truth.

You STILL have not given a single example of a truth philosophy has produced that science could not have.

You still have not given any good reason why the universe is contingent.

These questions are just hanging in the air. You can ask me counter-questions all the live long day, but these two questions go to the core of the argument. If you can;t give a straight answer, that tells me all I need to know.

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

Okay so now we know you think pointing out that someone's argument is not valid is "deflecting." The argument is invalid. The conclusion does not follow from the premises.

And you apparently just didn't understand my post. I said, in several different ways, that in asking me to give a reason why science is not the only avenue to truth you assume that that is one, since giving reasons for something in the process of arguing for a position is engaging in philosophy. If philosophy is not an avenue to truth, then there is no sense in even asking the question.

You keep saying I'm not answering your question. I DON'T HAVE TO ANSWER YOUR QUESTION. You answered it in asking me the question in the first place.

From now on, if you believe that science is the only avenue to truth (or, as you say, that science is the only avenue to truth we know of, which is not only false, but a distinction from your original statement without a difference), I'm going to have to require that an reasons you give for your arguments on this blog be scientific and not philosophical.

We'll see how you do.

Singring said...

'I said, in several different ways, that in asking me to give a reason why science is not the only avenue to truth you assume that that is one, since giving reasons for something in the process of arguing for a position is engaging in philosophy. If philosophy is not an avenue to truth, then there is no sense in even asking the question.'

I'm sorry, but this is just not the case, Martin.

How do we decide that someone is holding a rational position? We do it based on real, physical evidence or principles derived from real, physical evidence.

In ALL of the discussions we've had here so far, any and all premises I have made have been based on reality - they are premises we can scientifically test for or that are at least supported by scientific knowledge at the moment.

Whenever I ask you questions to support premises YOU have made with any kind of rational evidence at all, you simply refuse to do it. You still have not given any argument for why the universe should be contingent - because you just can't and you know it! You can't because there is simply no evidence for or against this one way or the other, we simply don't have access to that kind of information.

IF you want to define philosophy as 'the process of detecting truth by rational discusion using premises based on physical evidence and logic', then you know what - we agree! But that's called SCIENCE. If that's your definition, you have to accept that Hawking is drawing a perfectly valid 'philosophical' conclusion from the evidence available using the above definition).

I can support my position that science is a way to truth because real, physical evidence tells us it has doen a very good job so far.

But you are saying something completely different! You are claiming that philosophy can adress questions that go beyond what science can test for, beyond what phyiscal evidence can adress. I asked you for one instance where it has done so.

You have not answered.

Simply claiming that arguing about whether or not science is the only valid path to truth does not demonstrate that philosophy IS, just as arguing over whether one door to a house is locked does not tell us whether there is a back door.

You need to actually make a positive case for how and why philosophy can tell us some truth about reality that science cannot.

I'll wait til you come up with an answer.