Friday, June 4, 2010

Philosophy-driven Science

Recently I continued a long-running conversation with my cousin concerning the philosophy of science. His emailed statement merits examination: “Philosophers of science typically understand the epistemological and philosophical dimensions of science--presuppositions, values, what kinds of knowledge claims are being made and how they are justified…” He claimed the philosophers may understand this better than the great majority of scientists.

Evolutionary scientists make claims with confident certainty. They tend to disparage honest questioners as if the questions have been settled long ago. Believers in creation and intelligent design, of course, also make claims with great certainty. My cousin has inquired whether I could ever change my mind about the claims of evolutionary theory. As an evidentialist, I responded in the affirmative. I also answered that I feel the evidence for design is becoming stronger in the face of weaker inferential evidence for evolution.

Philosophers ask “What are the underlying principles of our knowledge, our belief system?” Most people inside and outside the church do not think deeply enough about what they believe and why they believe it. Their logic and reasoning are weak or break down altogether. Underlying their belief systems are numerous preconceptions and presuppositions.

One of the most significant presuppositions is the belief that God does not exist; the natural world is all there is and perhaps, all there ever was. A natural outgrowth of this presupposition is the belief, now well-established by the science community, that science cannot investigate supernatural causation in any sphere. Even discussing the possibility of such a cause and effect is excluded in the science laboratory. Those topics, they say, belong in a religious setting.

Behind this scenario is a hidden agenda. Desire for discovering truth may be subsumed under the promotion of this agenda. Daniel Dennett, an atheist philosopher of science whose writings often focus on evolutionary biology, makes no secret of the predominance of philosophy-driven modern science. Dennett writes, “Here science and philosophy get completely intertwined. Scientists sometimes deceive themselves into thinking that philosophical ideas are only, at best, decorations or parasitic commentaries on the hard, objective triumphs of science, and that they themselves are immune to the confusions that philosophers devote their lives to dissolving. But there is no such thing as philosophy-free science; there is only science whose philosophical baggage is taken on board without examination.”

The Apostle Paul cautions us about the abuse of philosophy which may be in the same category as agenda-driven science. “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” (Col. 2:8 NIV) I advocate the study of philosophy to enhance our insights into truth acquisition and error avoidance. Science itself can be used in an abusive fashion or, as God’s gift, it can be used for the good of man.