Friday, March 21, 2014

Science Isn't Philosophy, and Vice Versa

The new version of the television series Cosmos hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson has predictably attracted the ire of Creationists who feel that their beliefs are not being adequately represented. This complaint reminds me of a comment I made as a follow-up to one of my previous articles, that Creationists confuse philosophy with science. Believing that the universe was created by a deity who resides outside the realms of time and space is a philosophical claim, not a scientific one. Any scientific claim must be testable, and the hypothetical actions of a supernatural, omnipotent being fall completely outside that scope.

“Creationists aren’t even on the radar screen for them, they wouldn’t even consider us plausible at all,” said Danny Falkner, of Answers In Genesis, which has previously complained about the show. Falkner appeared Thursday on “The Janet Mefford Show” to complain the Fox television series and its host, Neil deGrasse Tyson, had marginalized those with dissenting views on accepted scientific truths, reported Right Wing Watch.

“I don’t recall seeing any interviews with people – that may yet come – but it’s based upon the narration from the host and then various types of little video clips of various things, cartoons and things like that,” Falkner said. Mefferd said the show should at least offer viewers a false compromise.

“Boy, but when you have so many scientists who simply do not accept Darwinian evolution, it seems to me that that might be something to throw in there, you know, the old, ‘some scientists say this, others disagree and think this,’ but that’s not even allowed,” she said. Tyson recently said science reporting should not be balanced with nonscientific claims, so that seems unlikely he would offer that sort of fallacious argument on his own show.

There's an enormous difference between proposing and testing an alternative hypothesis that contradicts the established theory of evolution on the one hand, and arguing that any challenge to evolutionary theory automatically means "God did it, full stop" on the other. The first is science and the second is not, so any attempt to "explore the controversy" just means bringing up one apples to oranges comparison after the other. That's why science educators just don't do it. Nor should they.

There's no physical evidence whatsoever that the world is not billions of years old, and tons of evidence that it is. Even so, Christianity does not require anyone to be a scriptural literalist, and therefore there's nothing contradictory about believing (A) that God created the universe and (B) that the world is billions of years old, except in the minds of fundamentalists. The first is a philosophical belief, whereas the second is a scientific claim that has been demonstrated by actual research.

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Wallum said...

I've seen a few posts on your blog now regarding profoundly religious people, and must only assume that it's an American thing. It's quite possible, and I have heard fourth-hand stories, that such creeds of people exist in our way-back backwaters, but I am yet to meet any in great numbers.

Occasionally I answer my door to some well meaning, yet I must assume simple, person who wishes to inform me of their poorly considered philosophical bent. However, when I wish to reciprocate in kind they are offended and shut down communications. That is always fun :) but a rare event. (They are usually of the jehovah's witness or mormon persuasion).

I think that it must be difficult to live in a country that seems rife with people who vehemently believe things without actually thinking about those things for themselves, and attempt to thrust those things on everyone else, declaring them to be the only truth. That would aggravate me greatly.

Although having said that, that is unfortunately the attitude that the majority of Australians have regarding life in general. They simply accept what was taught to them by parents/school, and blindly refuse to consider any alternatives. At least they're not (in general) religious zealots to boot.

I enjoy reading your posts, thank you for writing them!

Scott Stenwick said...

It's true that most of the religious groups I wind up criticizing have roots in the Second Great Awakening, which was mostly an American movement. But at the same time people with such extreme beliefs are by no means representative of American Christianity as a whole. The Westboro Baptist Church, for example, has about twenty members, and while a lot of Evangelicals are creationists of one variety or another, most of those aren't of the "Answers in Genesis" sort who think Jesus rode dinosaurs or something like that.

I suppose in my own way I'm a little like the major news media here, in that I highlight the extreme cases because they're more interesting than what most mainstream Christians do - that is, just minding their own business and practicing their beliefs. I can't say that I run into many of the extreme folks in the course of my daily life, though I live in Minnesota and there are other parts of the country where they apparently are more common.

Thanks! I'm glad to hear that you're enjoying my posts.

Nerd said...

I do regard empirical science as a branch of philosophy, a dead end in philosophy, actually. It is one line of epistemological enquiry. I regard it as having ended with Hume's Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, although Popper's Logic of Scientific Discovery is generally regarded as the nail in the coffin.

I regard what these crazies are doing as NOT philosophy though. lol

Scott Stenwick said...

I've also studied Hume and Popper, and come away with the opposite conclusion. Science is not epistemology, or at least it shouldn't be. That doesn't mean there aren't skeptics out there who desperately want it to be, though.

The contention that only phenomena which can be authenticated by the formal scientific method exist is be epistemology, but that's so fundamentally flawed I can't take it seriously. As Hume points out, science can never be 100% accurate, since there's always another layer of inquiry that can be explored. Therefore, as epistemology it's no good - in philosophy "always close" bears no resemblance to "true." From the standpoint of pure logic "close" doesn't count.

Hume doesn't even address weak or subjective phenomena that are difficult or impossible to test in a formal setting, but those are out there too and any epistemological model that denies their existence is likewise of little use.