Quote of the Day by Stephen Hawking: "Philosophy is Dead"

Yep, those are among the first words in his book, The Grand Design. He and Mlodinow continue: "Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics. Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge." I agree. This is never more true than when it comes to the failure of natural philosophy/theology.

48 comments:

Lvka said...

Breaking News from Stephen Hawking! -- three hotly-debated, amazing, and earth-shattering quotes from the world's leading scientist!

Anonymous said...

"Philosophy Is Dead"

What a philosophical statement made by Hawking.

Anonymous said...

Ray, the statement Hawking made is ABOUT Philosophy. Surely you can see the difference unless you want to make every statement a philosophical one, which would blur language to the point that if this is what we did with everything it would mean we couldn't communicate at all.

Anonymous said...

John,

It's a philosophical statement about philosophy and therefore self-defeating.

Rhacodactylus said...

Alright guys, hang it up, Ray says any thoughts concerning philosophy in any way are tautological and self defeating. I Guess philosophy is the one thing that can never be examined or questioned in any way.

Hey sweet, I just demonstrated how philosophy turns into religion =)

Anonymous said...

I didn't say that. I was refering to Hawkings philosophy that philosophy is dead. It's self-defeating.

Rhacodactylus said...

Yes, and I was involving myself in reductio ad absurdum for the sake of a silly little joke, this is going to be a long conversation if we both keep saying what we are doing =)

Anonymous said...

Ray, let's back up and try a different way of looking at this.

How does the word "dead" function in the statement by Hawking, that is, what does it mean?

Jonathan said...

I don't think Hawking is very familiar with contemporary philosophy. Much of what goes for philosophy these days does not need to take into consideration developments within physics. Having said that the philosophy of science is very current when it comes to science and it is often difficult to separate what's going on in theoretical physics departments from what's going on in philosophy of science departments (there are scholars that publish in the journals of both fields).

It is also the case that most scientists are not interested in doing the work that interests many philosophers. Epistemology is one such area that few scientists have an interest in dipping into and is more likely to appeal to philosophers and mathematicians.

The comment that Hawking is making a philosophical statement, while flippant, is a valid point, and one need not fall into a black hole of ambiguity to make sense of it. There are a number of approaches to this, but they all require lengthy explanations. It's easier to start with logic. What is logically problematic about his statement? You will probably grant me that there are problems with his statement, but that this has nothing to do with philosophy itself. I think this depends on how you view philosophy. Hawking is revealing some fundamental assumptions, and they're not new assumptions. These assumptions have often been the subject of philosophical inquiry, as the statement "Philosophy is dead" is not new--versions of it appeared in Ancient Greece.

Philosophers have been trying to kill philosophy for centuries and they have often been thought to have succeeded, but philosophy itself is a moving target. It is not just the trappings of academia. It is not just a subject. It's a method--an action, that is open to anyone, but it is a method which requires some rigor to do properly and not everyone who flirts with it really knows what they're doing.

Check out the articles submitted here: http://philreview.dukejournals.org/

Anonymous said...

John,

If philosophy is dead then Hawking can't go arround using it. When he says "Philosophy is Dead" that means all philosophy including the philosophy: "Philosophy is Dead"

It's self-defeating.

Jonathan said...

Ray,

I think he needs more than that. I agree with you, but to him it's a trivial observation.

Gandolf said...

Ray said...
I didn't say that. I was refering to Hawkings philosophy that philosophy is dead. It's self-defeating."

Maybe Hawkings sees it more as him just making another type of simple scientific observation.

Kel said...

I remember when I saw Lawrence Krauss give a talk about the physics of Star Trek, he was asked a question about how we know the laws of physics are the same elsewhere. He made a comment about being able to measure them elsewhere in the universe which meant no longer relying on philosophy. After the talk I heard a couple of people who were very dismissive (scientists hate philosophy) but I think they missed the point. When there's no scientific evidence all you have is philosophy, but when the science matures to a certain point then philosophy needs to move aside. This is hardly a controversial statement, Bertrand Russell put these sentiments in his book The Problems Of Philosophy almost 100 years ago.

Imagine a philosophy talking about the mind / body problem who has not kept up with modern day neuroscience. It would be downright laughable. Likewise those who pontificate philosophically about things like the first cause who aren't well versed in quantum mechanics are going to be seen as being irrelevant to the process.


I haven't yet read Hawkings' book (It's on request at the local library) so I really can't state it's context. But statements like this from what I've seen of other scientists usually are indicating that science is now at the point where it can answer the Big Questions™ where once those were purely in the philosophical realm.

Anonymous said...

Come on Ray, take a stab at it. Define the word "dead" as it appears in this context.

Define it.

Anonymous said...

Which of the following topics from the three major areas of philosophy can science address so thoroughly that we can say with confidence, "Philosophy is dead"?

Epistemology: contextualism, the epistemic norm of assertion, conceivability and the a priori,the value-of-knowledge question, the evidential status of intuitions, virtue epistemology, disagreement, transmission failure, the know how/know that distinction, the various internalism/externalism debates, etc.

Ethics: the various realism/anti realism issues, the various cognitivism/non-cognitivism issues, any number of issues in applied ethics, the various particularism/generalism issues, virtue ethics, the nature of moral reasons, reasons/rationality/normativity relations, etc.

Metaphysics: meta-ontology, fictionalism, counterfactuals, dispositions, essentialism, de re necessity, the nature of properties, realism/anti-realism, mereological considerations, persistence, etc.


None of them. Science can and should inform our philosophical reflections on any issue, but to say that science can answer the questions raised by the issues above is just plain stupid. Look, no one wants to say that Stephen Hawking has said something stupid, especially some more or less anonymous person posting on a blog, but I have to say it again -- the statement is *stupid*.

Anonymous said...

Here's Lennox on Hawking. Not bad.

Anonymous said...

Since Ray is an idiot who refuses to think about what the word "dead" means in this context I'll tell him. It means useless. Philosophy is useless when it comes to solving the questions that matter about who we are and how we got here.

Eric, I value philosophy so don't get me wrong, but in the context of his book I have been persuaded he's dead on.

Anonymous said...

"in the context of his book I have been persuaded he's dead on."

If you mean what I think you do, I actually agree. Here's Fr. Barron on the same issue:

"There is a line from one of the articles describing Hawking’s book that I found, actually, quite helpful and illuminating. The author said, “in his new book, The Grand Design…Hawking sets out a comprehensive thesis that the scientific framework leaves no room for a deity.” Quite right. Since the true God is not a being alongside other beings, not one thing in the universe among many, he is not circumscribable within a scientific frame of understanding. He should not, therefore, even in principle, be either affirmed or denied from a purely scientific perspective."

Rhacodactylus said...

I think the key with Philosophy or with Science is to make sure you render unto Cesar what it Cesar's (I know, silly way of putting it)

For instance, I have a friend who constantly wants to debate philosophically about whether there is a soul, when (at least to my mind) the existence of something is a clearly scientific question. If it exists, we should see signs of it.

On the contrary, philosophy (specifically ethics) seems to be the only way to debate many practical matters.

Science gives you facts, like why a nuclear bomb does what it does, philosophy lets you know how we should treat those facts.

OH, and btw John, there wasn't a comment option on your DW post, i support you in your campaign and will be letting blogger know. With your permission I may even repost on my blog untitledvanityproject.blogspot.com

Anonymous said...

Thanks Rhacodactylus, please do. I didn't want any more spam comments from DM but I'll open it up for comments.

Kel said...

"Science gives you facts, like why a nuclear bomb does what it does, philosophy lets you know how we should treat those facts."
At least in my experience, the science is only the science when it doesn't contradict one's philosophy. As soon as it does then the very validity of science is called into question and anyone who supports the scientific facts are accused of engaging in scientism.

Cole said...

I agree that philosophy is dead in answering the question of origins. I would have to say science hasn't answered those questions either though. Hawkings idea that we are the product of a quantum wave fluctuation has been refuted many times over.

Anonymous said...

"anyone who supports the scientific facts are accused of engaging in scientism."

That's not my experience at all. As far as I can see, people aren't charged with scientism when they support scientific facts -- again, in my experience, those who charge others with 'scientism' support the same scientific facts that those they charge support! -- but when they claim that scientific facts are the only facts there are, or something roughly along those lines (and *that's* an obviously self refuting claim).

Kel said...

"As far as I can see, people aren't charged with scientism when they support scientific facts"
It was more than that, it was when they support scientific facts that contradict someone's philosophical position. The other scenario I see where scientism is levelled is a rejection of other entomologies. So many make the error that if you don't see other valid epistemologies that all truths must be scientific and therefore scientism.

I see the word used quite a lot, but seldom where it's justified.

Anonymous said...

"I see the word used quite a lot, but seldom where it's justified."

Well, in my experience I wouldn't say "seldom," but I'll agree that it's often enough thrown about when it's unjustified. But I'd add that the charge is just as often blithely dismissed when it is justified.

Kel said...

I think the absurdity of the term was brought home to me when it was levelled against philosopher Antony Grayling. It's instances like that which highlight how frivolous the word has become, it's like putting -gate on every minor controversy. By overusing the word it's been rendered essentially meaningless. Recently I've seen it used in arguing against taking science beyond observation and theorising because it's not the scientist's place to make grand pronouncements. It's become a form of well-poisoning, and I'm really surprised you haven't come across that much. Especially when the knock-down argument after that is "you don't use science for love" which no-one was arguing for in the first place and doesn't actually address the demarcation problem or where the line has been crossed.

Though perhaps you could give me what you conceive scientism to be with some examples, because maybe I perceive what scientism entails differently to you. My issue is the extrapolation from science being the only valid discipline to explain X to all truths must be scientific. 1+1=2 is not a scientific truth, but that doesn't mean that when it comes to questions of birds that anything other than science is valid.

Rob R said...

Philosophy is useless when it comes to solving the questions that matter about who we are and how we got here.

And since science has replaced it, what experiment might we conceive to test human worth and dignity? What conceivable outcome might such an experiment have such that human worth and dignity is falsified? How might we set up an experiment to demonstrate that Steven Hawking is worthless? Most of us here, including myself would believe that he is of great worth, but Should human worth not be falsifiable if it is scientifically verifiable?

Kel said...

Eric, if you're looking for an example of what I'm talking about, check out Rob R's post. It's the shift from science being equipped to answer particular questions to science being expected to answer all questions.

GearHedEd said...

ROB r ASKED,

"...what experiment might we conceive to test human worth and dignity?

If you define your worth and dignity in the context of an invisible, unknowable and likely non-existent god, then there is no experiment that would (or could) ever suffice. So from the viewpoint of theism, you raise a valid point.

On the other hand, you demonstrate your own worth and dignity daily, without need for "experiments".

For example, if you spend your life drunk and in a gutter somewhere, does your life have as much "worth and dignity" as the researcher who finds a cure for cancer?

It has nothing to do with another;'s perception of you; it has everything to do with how you conduct yourself. And it's not set in stone for all time, either. A drunk can be rehabilitated.

District Supt. Harvey Burnett said...

Eric, thanks for that Lennox link.

Before I heard it I was thinking to myself, how can someone use philosophy, make a philosophical statement saying that philosophy is dead and have any credibility in doing so?...Further I wondered how can he be praised for using philosophy, that is supposedly dead to condemn philosophy???

Then I thought, how can gravity be nothing when we all hold that gravity is something? Further how can he basically say that gravity is the first cause, which is something that he calls nothing, and be praised by atheists as if he's saying something profound?

Well, Lennox answered the questions for me...I can't believe this...

david said...

John,

I don't know if you've finished the book or not, but his statement that "philosophy is dead" is ironic in the sense that the first 60 pages of that book are devoted to advancing a metaphysical theory about reality which the authors call "model dependent realism."

My only guess is that when he says "philosophy is dead" he means a certain kind of philosophy - presumably the kind that doesn't make use of any empirical premises. If that is the case then his statement is hardly controversial. If that is not the case, then he should re-examine his definition of philosophy.

Rob R said...

If you define your worth and dignity in the context of an invisible, unknowable and likely non-existent god, then there is no experiment that would (or could) ever suffice. So from the viewpoint of theism, you raise a valid point.

It needs to be defined does it? Okay, how have we scientifically defined human worth and dignity?

I have the problem though that I think human worth and dignity cannot be given a full definition. It is something that we can apprehend, but I don't think we can comprehend it. Of course much that is commonplace in life is also like this.

For example, if you spend your life drunk and in a gutter somewhere, does your life have as much "worth and dignity" as the researcher who finds a cure for cancer?

So drunks don't have full human worth? Why then should we spend dollars on rehab for them? If they don't have full human worth and dignity, why don't we just put them to sleep like pets?

What experiment might you design to test the theory that drunks don't have any human worth? what experiment might you design that could have the possible outcome of establishing that it is okay to put them to sleep.

Seems to me though, from discussions in the sciences on ethics, it isn't clear that we should even perform such experiments. Strange that ethics should stop us before getting us to the science that is supposed to establish ethics (if Hawking is to be believed, that physics is complete).

Camus Dude said...

I think biologist and philosopher Massimo Pigliucci might disagree! Check out his excellent blog at www.rationallyspeaking.org

GearHedEd said...

You missed the point Rob (and also ignored the last bit that I said:

"It has nothing to do with another's perception of you; it has everything to do with how you conduct yourself. And it's not set in stone for all time, either. A drunk can be rehabilitated."

You're trying to put ignorant words in my mouth by adjusting the context, and I don't appreciate that.

What it says is that "human worth and dignity" are not innate. Your worth is EARNED, not given.

Rob R said...

You're trying to put ignorant words in my mouth by adjusting the context, and I don't appreciate that.

I did no such thing. I take what you say to a reasonable consistent conlcusion which I hope you find profoundly wrong without the aid of science which cannot help you here but with the aid of your own God given moral intuition. I know you wouldn't think drunks should be put down like animal, or at least I hope you know that. If that is where your statement leads, you should abandon it.

What it says is that "human worth and dignity" are not innate. Your worth is EARNED, not given.

Now you miss the point. John said that he agrees with Steven Hawking that philosophy is dead with the purpose of telling us who we are but science has the answer to that. Human dignity and worth is the most important part of who we are. The question isn't how we get it. the question is why anyone would think that it could be established through scientific investigation. It cannot and you will never find a scientific paper published establishing human dignity and worth. It is huge category error from the misguided belief that science can tell us who we are.

And if human worth and dignity are only earned, then children and infants do not have it because they do not engage in activities that cause one to earn it.

The consequences remain for the drunk. If he has no human worth, there is no reason not to put him to sleep. And now, what's worse, children do not have a right to life. I am not putting words in your mouth. These are the consequences of your words followed consistently.

And sticking to the topic, you are making a claim without scientific backing.

GearHedEd said...

"And if human worth and dignity are only earned, then children and infants do not have it because they do not engage in activities that cause one to earn it."

Y'know, that's why babies are so darn cute.

And we also recognize that babies have untarnished potential. This is why children aren't turned loose to roam the streets when they learn to walk, why they are made to wait until they are of a certain age before we let them drink, vote, have sex, drop out of high school, drive cars, etc.

You're playing games.

GearHedEd said...

"And sticking to the topic, you are making a claim without scientific backing."

What? Are you suggesting that I must worship science if I don't worship your invisible friend? That everything I think must be in the context of science if my head isn't full of religious poop?

PFFFT!

Kel said...

"It cannot and you will never find a scientific paper published establishing human dignity and worth. It is huge category error from the misguided belief that science can tell us who we are."
You're misrepresenting what Hawking meant, he's talking about understanding the nature of reality through empirical enquiry, not about ideas such as worth.

It should be obvious what was meant really, it's not the denial of discipline and replacing it with science but for questions of the cosmos are now able to be understood through science and it's come to the point where one needs a scientific understanding to be able to contribute. This is to say nothing of human worth, only of the role of science and philosophy is questions of nature.

You're making the category error that you're claiming others to make!

Rob R said...

Gearhed

And we also recognize that babies have untarnished potential.

First human worth is earned, now it's based on potential? And what scientific expiriment demonstrates that human worth is based on potential?

You're playing games.

You're ignoring the topic, where John Loftus has taken it and thus why I have responded the way I did.

What? Are you suggesting that I must worship science if I don't worship your invisible friend?

I'm saying that if you think science should explain everything including why it is true that humans have worth, then let's see precisely that, a scientific explanation as to why it is true. And if you don't believe that, then you either don't agree with Hawking or you don't agree with what John Loftus has said here in the comment section to which I have explicitly responded.




Kel,

It should be obvious what was meant really... This is to say nothing of human worth,

I believe that Hawking was asked a slightly relevant question in the interview that John posted and he said something like "the scientific picture is complete". I'm too lazy to look it up, but supposing you are right, Hawking made a statement about the death of philosophy about a small (though important) area of philosophy. It just struck me as a poorly thought out statement.

But that doesn't matter anyway. John Loftus took Hawkings down this road when he said that philosophy is useless in telling us who we are. Human worth is the central question of who we are and our origins is most certainly not irrelevent to that. Philosophy and theology have a lot to say about that and science has nothing to say. As far as John's interpretation of Hawking is concerned, philosophy is certainly not dead and I insist that human worth is not something that we arive at through human reason but is a properly basic belief from which we are within our rights to connect other beliefs (such as pointing out it's strength for theistic claims).

Kel said...

I'm not going to defend what John said on his own blog, but again I don't see what the fuss about Hawking's comment is. Max Born once said "I am now convinced that theoretical physics is actual philosophy" - yet this wasn't to say that they had ended up on the wrong side of the demarcation problem but that the science they were doing came with its own metaphysics.

I view Hawking's comment in much the same light, so why is it when a statement is made like that suddenly people get on the defensive? "What about human dignity?" "Philosophy is dead is itself a philosophical statement". Is this deliberately being obtuse, or are people so afraid that science may actually be a valid epistemology beyond the narrow limits by which they wish it to be set that any expansion of the demarcation line as cause for alarm?

The comments about human dignity are quite irrelevant to this discussion. What about human dignity indeed? It's not something you find in the cosmos, it's something you find within yourself. It's not a scientific question, why would you expect science to be able to answer it other than to make an obtuse point?

Rob R said...

The comments about human dignity are quite irrelevant to this discussion.

You said above that you aren't going to defend what John said. The thing is we aren't discussing this with steven Hawking. We are discussing it with John Loftus. Perhaps Hawking wouldn't have taken his own comment where John did. But I have no confidence in that. Nevertheless, THAT is what is irrelevent to my reaction to John which is very very well withing the bounds of where the topic starter decided to take his discussion.

Is this deliberately being obtuse, or are people so afraid that science may actually be a valid epistemology beyond the narrow limits by which they wish it to be set that any expansion of the demarcation line as cause for alarm?

Science is not an epistemology. there are no scientific tests that tells us what knowledge is. You can have this procedure of observation, hypothesis, prediction, experiment, result, confirmation or revision of hypothesis and not answer the question of whether the result counts as knowledge. After all, if Hawking is right about M-theory, then relativity was wrong even though it can be said to have gone through the above process. In light of that, did science tell us that relativity was true when it really wasn't? Did the process towards knowledge fail? Is it even appropriate to call it a process that leads to knowledge? These just aren't scientific questions. They are epistemic ones.

Kel said...

"We are discussing it with John Loftus."Seems a very one-sided discussion right now. He's quoting Stephen Hawking so what is implied by Stephen Hawking (I have The Grand Design in front of me now if you want me to double-check it) is relevant. And what it seems Hawking meant is the same thing Max Born meant or Stephen Weinberg who expressed similar sentiments in Dreams Of A Final Theory where science is the frontier of knowledge of this nature. If John disagrees with this interpretation then on his blog he can clarify his own position.

"Is it even appropriate to call it a process that leads to knowledge?"
Computers don't work by magic blue smoke...

Honestly I can't see why anyone would try to deny the explanatory power of science, especially while on a computer. It sounds like you're conflating knowledge with absolute truth. The success of science is evident in the practical applications of those theories.

Rob R said...

Seems a very one-sided discussion right now. He's quoting Stephen Hawking so what is implied by Stephen Hawking (I have The Grand Design in front of me now if you want me to double-check it) is relevant.


Okay, so John Loftus is wrong about what Steven Hawking said (which I don't really believe, I just don't see the point). My comments are still aimed at what he said.

If you disagree with John and hold that science is inept at fully revealing who we are, GREAT! point proven.


If John disagrees with this interpretation then on his blog he can clarify his own position.

Yes he can, but I think he communicated just fine.

Computers don't work by magic blue smoke...

Honestly I can't see why anyone would try to deny the explanatory power of science,


I didn't say that science couldn't explain things. I only brought up the very real controversy that it isn't clear that science leads to knowledge. Why would anyone say this? You only need be a student of the history of science and see that what is established at one point turns out to be tentative and replaced. Physics is a huge example of this with newtonian physics replaced by quantum mechanics and relativity, and now, some versions of quantum gravity replace relativity while others replace qm. Here, we aren't sure that we've arived at truth. So some scientists hold instead to instrumentalism, where the theories they propose aren't necessarily true, they just have more explanatory power and will be adhered to until something else comes along with even more explanatory power. Does this count as knowledge. Now there's a question that science cannot deal with either.

It sounds like you're conflating knowledge with absolute truth.

Knowledge is by definition, true warranted belief. If it is not true, it is not knowable. Of course, by a more practical less precise definition of truth, we could call much of it true, but such a definition will not necessarily always serve what it is that scientists do with theories, make predictions through extrapolation.

Kel said...

"If you disagree with John and hold that science is inept at fully revealing who we are, GREAT! point proven."
You're seeing this in a very black and white way. Some questions are just not scientific to ask, but that doesn't make science inept. For example, I'd say science in principle could explain why we desire for dignity and worth. But that wouldn't give dignity itself. Where does that fit in your view? Science in one sense is very capable of explaining who we are, but in another sense it is not.

Perhaps a better example is love. Now there is much study on the science of love, everything from what we find attractive to how the brain functions when someone is "in love". In that sense again science can tell us who we are. But when it comes to the state of love itself, we aren't in the realm of science any more. I don't use science to tell me how to love, I just experience it. That science can (in principle) explain it is very different from my subjective experience of it. It's not that science is inept at explaining love, it's just that science isn't applied in certain ways.

In that sense, science can explain who we are is perfectly compatible with the statement that science can't explain human dignity. They're different kinds of questions!

"You only need be a student of the history of science and see that what is established at one point turns out to be tentative and replaced."
I've read The Structure Of Scientific Revolutions so I'm aware of the provisional nature of science.


"Knowledge is by definition, true warranted belief. If it is not true, it is not knowable."
That's why I used the word absolute as a qualifier in front of the word truth. I don't think science offers Absolute Truth™, nor can the enterprise by its nature. But to say that therefore it doesn't constitute knowledge is absurd because nowhere does true have to mean Absolute Truth™. Are you saying that the silicon wafers that conduct electricity in such a way aren't really there? Are you saying that because Newtonian physics has been superseded by Relativistic physics that apples hung in mid-air awaiting the outcome? In a sense, there has to be something there which is real otherwise science as an enterprise wouldn't work. In the sense of knowledge being justified true belief, the word to describe well-established scientific theories is perfectly reasonable. They're justified through repeated inquiry and empirical validation. They could be considered true because those theories have to correspond to outcomes of external verification and are subject to falsification. Knowledge is the most accurate word to describe scientific theories, there's no other word that could even come close.

Rob R said...

post 1 of 3



Kel,

You're seeing this in a very black and white way. Some questions are just not scientific to ask, but that doesn't make science inept. For example, I'd say science in principle could explain why we desire for dignity and worth. But that wouldn't give dignity itself. Where does that fit in your view? Science in one sense is very capable of explaining who we are, but in another sense it is not.

I actually don't. The lines are blurry. I grant that science can say some things about who we are. But where it can't, it is regarding the most profound aspects of our existence.

Yes, science can for example suggest that dignity and worth evolved because creatures with this sense had a survival advantage along the lines of Dawkin's self gene (yet, most of the animal kingdom get's along without it and survives quite well). But we don't value each other for their genes or for the survival value of their genes. We value them for their inneffable intrinsic worth.

This other sense, where science just hasn't gotten around to explaining, but is in fact just categorically inept is where philosophy and theology demonstrate their explanatory power (which and thus their epistemic worthiness). So with theology, this isn't merely a matter of a God of the scientific gaps, but a God of a gap in science which is there because science doesn't belong there.

and yes, there is overlap here. Since theology has so much explanatory power for who we are, it has explanatory power for the most important profoundly interesting entities in the universe that we have encountered in our immeadiate universally accessible experience... us! conscious passionate valuing beings. And nothing would be worth anything without the subjective beings from whence worth arises. And if theology explains the most important entities universally available to our experience in this universe, you can bet that the universe itself isn't out of the scope of what theology has to say.

But when it comes to the state of love itself, we aren't in the realm of science any more. I don't use science to tell me how to love, I just experience it.

Exactly, but interestingly, you don't even have to go to something as lofty as love to run out the aptitude of science. The mere experience of color is a problematic one. Try to explain to a person born blind from birth how to identify blue and distinguish it from other colors without relying on accidental associations (blue is the color of the sky, or your mother's eyes) if he were to be cured. It's not possible. This linguistic disconnect would even be problematic for hypotheses which are linguistic in nature, yet this aspect of our existence doesn't yield to analysis that can be expressed linguistically in and of itself, but only in how it is layered into our experiences. Associations with wavelengths eye structures and neurologically maps just aren't going to shed any light on that and make it any less non-linguistic. We can only refer to it and label it as experienced. It's not some equation that we can dissect further.

Rob R said...

post 2 of 3


That's why I used the word absolute as a qualifier in front of the word truth. I don't think science offers Absolute Truth™,

Hawking said it was complete.

I know what you are saying though and I had a similar discussion with gearheded. I came to the conclusion that science itself uses more than one notion of truth, in our understanding of different paradigms. Scientists do indeed say that newtonian physics is false, yet scientists and engineers will also do research and develope technologies and make predictions on the basis of Newtonian physics and they will not think of their conclusions thinking as wrong at all just because it isn't worked out for greater precision than many of our crude scientific devices (ones that don't have anything to do with quantum or relativistic measurements). And even in daily life, when I for example drive down the road, I don't even give it a thought that my speedometer is wrong just because it is not absolutely precise or that I couldn't even read it to such an absolute sense. I understand that there is a pragmatic notion, but when science advances, scientists are very much interested. And yet, when we want to advance science, we do regard some of these theories as false precisely because they fail to be absolute, because when we do with them what we need to do with physical forumulas, extrapolate and predict, they fail. It's because they are not absolutely true that we look for the next theory that succeeds where this one failed. It is very much a persuit towards absoluteness that scientists like Hawking are seeking a "theory for everything".

While we could say that low end sciences are looking for pragmatic truths, extending, high end physics are perhaps really after truths favorable to more of a correspondence theory.

Are you saying that the silicon wafers that conduct electricity in such a way aren't really there?

Whether they are really there is a metaphysical question. Whatever scientific methods you use in to determine that, pre-scientific beliefs are brought to the table.

I'm certainly not a radical skeptic like that. No, I just highlight that some of the things that atheists and modernists say would (and have) lead to radical skepticism.

Are you saying that because Newtonian physics has been superseded by Relativistic physics that apples hung in mid-air awaiting the outcome?

I actually don't know that relativity completely replaces everything Newtonian. It would motion wise, we just don't use it because the effects are imperceptible and impractical. Is gravity and general relativity the same way? I suppose. So either that part wasn't superceded or the description of apples falling to the ground can be described with far greater accuracy (albeit an unmeasurable and unpragmatic accuracy).

Rob R said...

post 3 of 3

They're justified through repeated inquiry and empirical validation.

until we run into the experiments where they fail to do what these theories are supposed to do, make predictions through extrapolation and then realize the need to do something more accurate. Well, they'er still useful, but again, for the purposes of high end physics, for the purpose of advancing science to explain the fundamentals of the universe, they turn out to be wrong.

FYI, I watched the discussion between Larry King and Stephen Hawking that John Loftus posted. It was to the suggestion that science describes the narrative of how the universe came to be, but theology tells us the meaning of the narrative to which Hawking said "The scientific account is complete, theology is unnecessary". That's for the "meaning of the narrative." It seems to me that John's interpretation of Hawking is correct. You could point out that he was speaking of theology and not philosophy, but given the question, I think that is hair splitting.

As far as the topic is concerned, it doesn't seem like we are that far apart at any rate. So you recognize that science is inept on some of the most important issues of human meaning. That you didn't agree with my interpretation or John's interpretation of Hawking doesn't invalidate the discussion that took place. I wish more skeptics (if that is your perspective) would get it that science isn't everything to our most important pressing questions.

Kel said...

Since this is getting really long, I left my reply here. If it's unacceptable that it's on my blog instead of at a neutral venue, I can split it over several comments on here if you like.