It just grates on them that there are other methods and modes of inquiry out there other than the purely scientific. There are humanities disciplines out there like philosophy, which just cannot be allowed to exist as legitimate and distinct academic disciplines. The answer? Just proclaim (with no evidence whatsoever, despite the fact that they talk a lot about evidence) that the questions that have traditionally been part of the province of philosophy are amenable to scientific investigation.
Coyne and Moran are both professors of biology, Coyne at the University of Chicago, and Moran at the University of Toronto. They're mad as Hell that humanities scholars are criticizing their naive views about what are properly theological and philosophical questions and they're not going to take it anymore.
Their chief strategy in defending themselves against charges of philosophical naivete seems to be to emphasize just how naive they are.
I'll deal with Coyne later, but Moran is on something of a roll over the last couple of weeks, producing a series of posts in which he demonstrates just how out of his depth he is.
In a post responding to a graduate student who wrote an article in Scientific American defending the humanities, he declares:
Science is a way of knowing that is evidence based and requires rational thinking and healthy skepticism. It's the only successful way of knowing that has ever been invented.The statement is either too specific to be true or too broad to be meaningful. If he means that there is a form of reasoning unique to the natural sciences or that originated with the natural sciences, then the claim is just plainly false. If he merely means a method of academic inquiry that reflects the three specific criteria he mentions, then the claim is utterly without force, since these criteria are common to most if not all academic disciplines.
In fact, ten bucks says Moran can't name a single traditional academic discipline that a) doesn't appeal to evidence of some kind, b) doesn't employ any kind of rational inquiry in some form, or c) doesn't at least have some minimal level of critical standards that distinguish between the acceptable and unacceptable (and fake academic disciplines like "women's and gender studies" don't count) Their practitioners may employ these standards well or badly, but they are their standards nonetheless.
There may be epistemological procedures unique to the natural sciences; in fact, there most certainly are, but they are not of the broad kind that Moran includes in this absurd declaration. Nor did any of his criteria for scientific reasoning originate with the natural sciences. All of them originated in philosophy--just one respect in which science is dependent on that discipline. The philosopher Francis Bacon was one of the first champions of induction, followed by later philosophers who assisted in honing it, like John Stuart Mill. American philosopher C. S. Pierce pioneered the study of abduction (which, more so than induction, is what seems to drive the process of scientific discovery). There are many, many others.
Moran also seems oblivious to the fact that science didn't even exist as a distinct discipline until around the turn of the 20th century. What did it call itself before that? Natural philosophy. In fact Galileo, Kepler, Newton, and Darwin all thought of themselves as natural philosophers. Science itself was birthed in philosophy and continues to receive corrective criticism from it from the likes of Karl Popper (who, temporarily forgetting their animus toward philosophers, scientists are constantly appealing to as the arbiter of where science begins and ends), Thomas Kuhn (primarily a sociologist), and other philosophers of science.
Moran's claim is more than false; it's silly. There was really no successful way of knowing before the onset of science as we know it in the 17th and 18th centuries? Really?
A far better definition of science would be something like this: "Science is an activity that consists in the explanation, prediction, and control of empirical phenomena in a rational manner. By 'scientific reasoning' we mean the principles of reasoning relevant to the pursuit of this activity. They include principles governing experimental design, hypothesis testing, and the interpretation of data." Even here there are problems, like whether science actually explains things or whether it merely or describes and predicts them. But it's a whole lot more meaningful than Moran's.
Moran asks three questions at the end of his recent post:
1. "Has philosophy, by itself, solved any of these problems (the existence of God, morality and ethics, mind and body, and epistemology)?" The short answer is, "Yes." But what Moran really means, as is evident in other posts, is "Are any of the proffered solutions that are non-controversial?" The answer to that is, of course, "No." But that proves nothing. Can we criticize science in the same way? Has science solved the problem of gravity? What exactly is "dark matter"? How do gravity and the strong nuclear force work together, and what explains them both? Is there a unified field theory that is fully accepted by all scientists? And what's the deal with the relativity and quantum theory? These are theories that deal with the fundamental elements of the reality: space, time, and mass. Why don't they agree?
Scientists who live in glass houses ...
2. "What kind of true knowledge [sic] has philosophy discovered?" I answered this in the comments section of Moran's blog. So far, no word from Larry. Here's what I said: "The Law of Identity, the Law of Excluded Middle, the Law of Non-Contradiction, the existence and distinction between univocal, equivocal, and analogous terms, the distinction between contradictory, contrary, subcontrary and subalternate statements, and the rules for logical validity. And that's just one branch of philosophy.
3. Can anyone give us an example that will cause us to consider philosophy as another way of knowing? Yes. Plato's dialogues in which he employs the methodology of dialectic.
Moran scoffs at the whole idea that there is even such a thing as scientism, even as he engages in it with impunity. Moran says science is even fit to deal with "questions about the supernatural." As C. S. Lewis once asked, how can a discipline whose domain is the natural say anything about what is beyond nature? Science has no more business delving into religion than a shoe salesman has flying an airplane.
Here's the definition of scientism, given by John Wellmuth, a philosopher, in 1944: "the belief that science, in teh modern sense of that term, and the scientific method as described by modern scientists, afford the only reliable natural means of acquiring such knowledge as may be available about whatever is real." If that's not Moran's position, then he's doing a pretty good job making it look like it is.
Now that we've answer Moran's questions, let's ask him one:
If science can address questions outside the empirical, such as religious questions, what scientific experiment could confirm or disconfirm the existence of God? If you think you can, then aren't you assuming the existence of God is falsifiable? And if it is, then aren't you committing yourself to the position (if Popper, the scientist's favorite philosopher is right) that religion (or at least philosophical theology) is within the bounds of science? And if that is the case, then can we teach it in schools now?