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“I do not believe in anything that is not physical–I only believe what science tells me is true,” is what a student of mine told me as he came into my office in the Spring of 2013. He was wrong. For this post, I will address ten things we cannot learn from science alone.
This short article rebuttals the idea that only what we can “prove” that is, physically using the scientific method, is true. As a philosopher, the question that raises its head almost every semester in my classes is, “There is no right answer in philosophy therefore, Professor we should focus on the sciences to give us ultimate truth, right?” This article is a response to this question and popular myth.
The view called naturalism, (aka scientism or materialism) holds that nothing but the physical world exists. This view is false on many accounts. See my article on the issue here where I address the problems of this worldview (you can also listen to the talk I gave on itunes here.) But for now, there are at least 10 things we cannot learn from science alone–there are more of course.
is a way of looking at and researching the world. I am not knocking science or scientific research! It is necessary and I could not write this article without it. But behind every scientific invention or theory there is a worldview or philosophy that is itself not scientific.
Daniel Dennett said it best,
“There is no such thing as philosophy-free science; there is only science whose philosophical baggage is taken on board without examination.” .Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, 1995
Science is a wonderful gift to make sense of creation and that we have used and are using to make our world a better place.
But science alone does not tell us everything. For now, I will list ten things we cannot prove with science alone.
- Logical Truths: These must be accepted as foundational presuppositions in order for us to engage in any scientific study, so we clearly can’t use science to prove logic. In fact it is the other way around. We need logic to make sense of science. My wife cannot be pregnant and not pregnant at the same time and same sense. A truth cannot be false at the same time as it is true. If all mothers are women, then every mother we meet must of necessity be a woman. There is no escape from this. These are logical truths that science relies upon.
- Metaphysical Truths: Some truths about the nature of the world (such as whether or not the external world is what we think it is, our freewill and ourselves) cannot be determined through the use of the hard sciences. Your personal identity, your sense of self and personhood is not found in your DNA alone.
- Moral and Ethical Truths: Science cannot tell us what is morally virtuous or vile. It tells us what “is.” But it does not tell us what “ought to be” (related to moral judgments). Science can tell you who died, how he died and what way he was killed. But it cannot tell you if he was murdered–it cannot tell you if it was wrong to kill him. Sam Harris and many others tried but failed to do this.
To read the full article on Logically Faithful, click here.