Thursday, October 22, 2009
[L]et us turn to atheism. Once again: it is a philosophical, not a scientific position. Now, I have argued of course that any intelligent philosopher ought to allow her ideas to be informed by science, but philosophical inquiry is broader than science because it includes non-evidence based approaches, such as logic or more broadly reason-based arguments. This is both the strength and the weakness of philosophy when compared to science: it is both broader and yet of course less prone to incremental discovery and precise answers. When someone, therefore, wants to make a scientific argument in favor of atheism — like Dawkins and Jerry Coyne seem to do — he is stepping outside of the epistemological boundaries of science, thereby doing a disservice both to science and to intellectual inquiry.
- Massimo Pigliucci, "On the scope of skeptical inquiry," Rationally Speaking
That is, a non interventionist god is not the aim of Dawkins, but a god that made the world 6000 years ago, is contradicted by science.
So I think it is correct that you cannot use science against the concept of gods, but it is often possible to use it against specific gods.
This is still a controversial position, but I would claim that is not so silly as to not be taken seriously.
I know that some theologians claim that if we invented a time machine and went back to the crucifixion we would not be able to witness the resurrection of Christ, since they believe that science cannot decide on theological matters.
Dawkins, in a strange twist, agrees more with the creationists, who think that science indeed can be used to gauge the likelihood of specific deities.
I'll mention a favorite of mine, from the (apocryphal) additions to the book of Daniel known as "Bel and the Dragon".
This could be counted as a use of detective work (science of a sort) against "specific gods".
Sure. We can say "the scientific method strongly refutes any claim that the Earth is only 6,000 years old." But what do you do when the creationists deny the truth-value of the scientific method? YECs, like AiG, routinely do that by arguing that they and scientists are considering the same facts but exercising different assumptions.
The response is either to say: "your assumptions are not scientific," which is true but merely affirms the epistemological boundaries of science Pigliucci was talking about, or make a philosophical argument about the truth-value of science which, itself, is not subject to scientific confirmation.
Either way the claim is only open to scientific investigation to a limited extent.
... examples in the Bible where evidence is brought forward to demonstrate that the false gods don't exist.
It's safe to say that theists are at least as confused as atheists about the boundaries of science. ;-)
Hasn't anyone told Massimo that logic is an essential element of science, too?
I don't think he was saying it wasn't ... just that logic that is not tied to empiricism in any way exists and, therefore, can have a broader application than the logic used in science. You can logically discuss the attributes of a god, for example, based on stated premises but science would simply dismiss such discussion if not based on empirically testable premises.