I am always bemused to see religionists trying to lecture the rest of the world on matters of science and philosophy. Very often, they try to assert the primacy of philosophy over science. Joe Hinman does exactly that in a recent post titled Philosophy Still Owns Science. This can be a tough case to prosecute if you are not well-acquainted with one ot both of those enterprises. Very often, when Joe tries to expound on the concepts and ideas of scientists or philosophers, he fails to understand what they say, and then misinterprets their meaning, usually to fit with some theistic notion he has. And that's why it is difficult for me to swallow an argument like the one he makes here.
Joe starts with "Popper's Verisimilitude". He is asserting that science is dependent on the philosopher's view, and that bad atheist scientists like Dawkins and Stenger don't adhere to the dictates and guidance offered by philosophy. But supports this assertion by creating a straw man view of scientists' way of thinking. He seems to think that these scientists live in a little bubble he calls the "fortress of facts", and that they think science establishes absolute truth based on these facts.
we see [from larger article] that Dawkins, Stenger and company place their faith in the probability engineered by scientific facts. The problem is probability is not the basis upon which one chooses one theory over another, at least according to Popper. This insight forms the basis of this notion that science can give us verisimilitude not “facts.” Popper never uses the phrase “fortress of facts,” we could add that, science is not a fortress of facts. Science is not giving us “truth,” its’ giving something in place of truth, “verisimilitude.”Joe is here to school those dumb scientists on how science should really work. The problem is that these scientists are not nearly as far removed from Popper's philosophical views as Hinman supposes. You don't hear scientists go around saying that their theories have been "proven" by scientific facts, or that they have arrived at the truth that underlies reality. That is just the the straw man he constructs so that he can say "They are wrong, and the smart ones agree with me and Popper." The fact is that Joe simply doesn't understand how scientists actually work, or what they think about scientific knowledge. He has his own misguided view of it that doesn't comport with reality, and that's what he argues against. Popper's philosophy of science is an after-the-fact distillation of what science does and how it proceeds, and it comes from being scientifically informed. Scientists do not generally look to Popper for guidance on how to proceed or what they can investigate. Science was practiced successfully before Popper's philosophy.
Joe then moves on to a discussion of reductionism. He seems to be confused about the distinction between the philosophical view known as reductionism and actual scientific method. And once again, he establishes a straw man that depicts scientists as "methodological reductionists". He seems to be making the case that scientists (especially materialist ones) insist that everything bust be broken down to its fundamental components in order to be understood scientifically. He quotes from a science website that contains a page describing the philosophical concept of methodological reductionism:
"... The only way to comprehend fully the sheer complexity of the human brain is to look at the individual pieces."What he doesn't seem to realize is that this is a philosophical concept, and real scientists, who actually try to understand how things work in our world, generally don't subscribe to methodological reductionism as a guiding principle in the practice of their work. Yes, they may believe that everything is composed of fundamental elements, and yes, there are certain classes of problems that can best be tackled with a reductionist approach. But there are different levels of understanding and knowledge about complex things. At one level, we may understand the interactions between particles, and we agree that the brain is composed of such particles. But it is absurd to think that we can have a scientific understanding of social interactions between brains defined in terms of particle interactions. That is a completely different level of interaction that requires a different level of scientific investigation and understanding. But Joe seems to think that there are certain levels of understanding that are inaccessible to materialist scientists who, in his straw man view, are ideologically restricted by their reductionism.
Here we can definitely see the ideological aspects of science at work. These advocates of this certain type of reductionism believe that “everything can be explained through science.” Obviously for this to be true science has to be the most valid from of knowledge if not the only form of knowledge. Materialists, who tend to philosophical reductionists, and this includes phyisicalists, go step further and just refuse to accept as knowledge anything that can’t be quantified and pinned down by their methods. God can’t be apprehended by their methods so there must not be a God. This notion of science as the most or only valid form of knowledge is clearly ideological and stems form philosophical concerns.Again I think this straw-man view of science arises from the fact that Joe just doesn't understand real science, doesn't know how it proceeds in practice, and has a limited concept of what kind of knowledge it encompasses. But here we can see the real reason for his scorn against atheist scientists. It's because their materialism leaves no room for a philosophy that includes God. And without that theistic philosophy, their access to knowledge is severely restricted, in Joe's view.
I think Hinman has it exactly backwards. Science need not be informed by philosophy, and much scientific progress has been made without any specific guidance from philosophy. Science is based on logic, to be sure. But logic is not philosophy. Logic is an aspect of our physical world, and we come to understand it by observing our world, not by learning philosophy. But philosophy absolutely must be informed by science to be useful. Just as science may be pursued independent of philosophy, philosophy may be pursued independent of science. But when that is the case, it is divorced from reality. Science is what keeps philosophy grounded in reality. Without being informed by science, philosophy tends to go off into the weeds. Non-theistic metaphysics, for example, is informed by, and moves in lock-step with scientific advances. But non-scientific metaphysical views are hopelessly out of touch with the real world. Think of Thomism, with its teleology, and act and potency.
And this is the kind of scientifically uninformed philosophy that Joe wants to see as a guiding light for science. It is theistic philosophy that he wants all scientists to incorporate into their practice. By adopting theistic philosophical views, scientists would gain access to a whole different kind of knowledge - the knowledge of God. The trouble is that philosophy doesn't really create knowledge. It allows us to structure our thinking, and to justify what we believe. It doesn't lead to discovery of new information. Discovery what science does. But bad philosophy can lead to speculation about reality and false justification for belief in things that don't exist. In Joe's view, philosophical understanding implies theistic belief. There is good philosophy, which is scientifically informed, and there is bad philosophy, which enables belief in things that are not part of any observable reality. The marriage of science and philosophy is ideal. The marriage of science and theism leads only to pseudo-science.
Theists think there is a schism between science and philosophy. True, some scientists are philosophically uninformed. That does not make them bad scientists. The only real schism is between science and theism. Because science seeks to discover that which is observable, and to postulate what can be reasonably believed about reality based on what is observed. Theism postulate things that have no basis in observable facts. But there is no schism between genuine science and genuine, scientifically informed philosophy.