Thursday, July 16, 2009



PZ Myers points to Sean Carroll's article as if it is a good thing, demonstrating that Carroll is not alone among scientists who concurrently do not understand philosophy but, nonetheless, deride it -- much as Ray Comfort treats evolutionary biology. Interestingly, PZ also points to Daniel Dennett's article on the belief in belief. I'll leave it to the reader to judge how well he makes the case that belief in religious belief is not necessary (though, inevitably, he does better than Carroll did). What I find interesting is this:

"[B]elief in belief" is a common phenomenon not restricted to religions. Economists realise that a sound currency depends on people believing that the currency is sound, and scientists recognise that the actual objectivity of scientific studies on global warming is politically impotent unless people believe in that objectivity, so economists and scientists (among others) take steps to foster and protect such beliefs that they think are benign. That's acting on belief in belief.

A belief in the objectivity of science in general is necessary not only for its political effectiveness (including maintaining its own funding) but for it to be an effective force in the education of lay people about how the natural world works and the very real consequences those workings have, in turn, on social policy.

But if the public sees scientists asserting what are clearly their own metaphysical beliefs but labeling those beliefs as "science," will not that fact hurt the belief in the belief of science's objectivity?


If the only tool you have is a hammer, then everything begins to look like nail. Philosophy, metaphysics, and all.

Science is a powerful and useful thing, no doubt about it. But is not everything. For one thing, it can only comment on things practically amenable to its methodology, which excludes a vast range of potential topics and ontologies addressed by philosophy and the humanities. And since it maximizes objectivity, it has a very difficult (if not impossible) time dealing with the subjective. To ignore all those other topics or to say that science is the only source of truth, and the only thing that is real... well, that's just willful ignorance. It's also called scientism.
I wouldn't mind so much if they at least exhibited a modicum of understanding of the philosophical issues involved and just disagreed. Blithe ignorance coupled with contempt is no prettier in scientists than it is in creationists.
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