While talking with non-believers about the beginning of the universe and what caused the universe to begin, they will sometimes say something along the lines of, “Science doesn’t tell us anything about what is beyond the universe and therefore you can’t possibly know anything about it.” I would agree with the first half of that statement. Science indeed does not tell us if there is anything beyond the universe. The view that we can only obtain knowledge via science is known as scientism. Ironically, those who hold to this view arrive at their conclusions using philosophical reasoning (not science), but anyway the question is: Is science the only way to know something?
“There is no reason to suppose that science cannot deal with every aspect of existence.” – Peter Atkins
The physical sciences grant us wonderful explanations about the universe we live in. They offer us great incites on how to manipulate nature to our advantage. Advances in medicine and technology come to mind. Obtaining empirical knowledge through the sciences has greatly benefited humankind. I don’t think anyone would argue otherwise. I don’t think anyone would argue that science is not a very powerful tool. This much is obvious. The problem lies in claiming science has all explanatory power, or is the only reliable source of gaining knowledge.
In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins gives an illustration: “Isn’t it enough to believe that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it?” His point is that science can explain things just fine without any philosophical or religious intervention. However, his illustration gives itself away. I would agree that believing fairies are at the bottom of the garden is silly. But is it silly to believe there is a Gardener behind the garden? Of course not. In fact, I would say this is an obvious inference.
Science clearly has its limits, as my atheistic friends are gladly willing to admit. Inherent in the statement Science doesn’t tell us anything about what is beyond the universe and therefore you can’t possibly know anything about it is that science is limited. It follows that if there actually is something to be known about what is beyond the universe, science wouldn’t be the route at discovering it.
A short definition of Philosophy would be: the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence. Philosophy uses logic and reason to arrive at truth. Let’s look at a few statements made by men who apparently hold to what I have defined as scientism and, using philosophy, we will show why their statements are illogical although they are claiming superior knowledge via science.
“The universe can and will create itself from nothing.” -Stephen Hawking
We could divulge on this statement for eternity, but let’s make a few points using philosophical reasoning.
- Hawking confuses two views into one. He seems to simultaneously say that the universe created itself and that the universe came from nothing (probably he doesn’t mean absolutely nothing).
- Something cannot come from (absolutely) nothing.
- Something cannot create itself because it already exists and therefore doesn’t need to be created.
Hawking could have saved himself a lot of time. But of course Hawking made another ridiculous claim: “Philosophy is dead.” Ironically, how does he arrive at such a conclusion? Science cannot tell you that philosophy is dead. One must use philosophy in order to disprove it. Self-defeating.
“Whatever knowledge is attainable, must be attained by scientific methods; and what science cannot discover, mankind cannot know.” -Bertrand Russel
One simple question shows the folly of this statement. How does Russel know that statement is true? Did science tell him? Did he discover this truth using the scientific method? According to the statement itself, the statement is false because it wasn’t “attained by scientific methods”. This is called a self-defeating statement. Ironically, Russel was a Philosopher.
Science is a wonderful tool. Philosophy is a wonderful tool. The two are not mutually exclusive. In fact, empirical evidence coupled with sound philosophical reasoning is our best bet at arriving at what is true. Science tells us that the universe began. Philosophy tells us things that begin have causes. Why be afraid of using philosophy? If our goal is to arrive at truth, we should use all the tools available.
Is science the only way to know something? Is philosophy dead?
12 thoughts on “Is Science the Only Way to Know Something?”
And then, there is the problem of a little thing called Confirmation Bias…
Great questions and conclusion. From my perspective, there is so much more beyond the five senses that one can experience and intuit their own personal conclusions from. Perception, perspective, apprehension, and sensitivities all play a part for me.
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The universe was caused by a Big Bang, so it is finite and temporal. What was there before physical reality and what will be there after the universe dissolves?
Matter spontaneously manifests in a perfect vacuum at absolute zero. This is called the Zero Point Field. An electron and an anti electron might flicker into and out of existence in this condition. There is no violation in the conservation of energy laws when this happens because the two opposites exist because of separation, but when combined they disappear!
The whole universe was likely established from something out of nothing. In this way no energy input was required to create everything.
But the obvious question remaining is that there is a greater reality than the physical temporal one of existence of this universe. This is a subset of a greater reality where matter, time, space and energy are not involved.
Science deals with matter, energy, space and time but it does not recognize the greater truth where even time does not exist!
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It always amazes me that science refuses to be inclusive with any other discipline’ It stands fast on the idea that science and everything else is mutually exclusive. That is a silly and limiting view. Religion and science are not mutually exclusive and as you point out neither is philosophy and science. Neither is psychology and science but science has fought hard and long to deny psychology a place in the scientific world. And in striving to be taken more seriously psychology dissociated itself from religion for many years. Thankfully that streak is coming to an end and psychology is better for it. Just as science would be better if it would join with these other disciplines and see what we could learn cooperatively.
The universe if finite by the definition of the Big Bang. Something existed before and will exist after it and the matter, energy, time and space did and will not apply.
Science explains matter, time, space and energy but ignores the greater reality that is timeless, space less, massless and energyless!
Physical reality is just a subset of an even greater reality, but Jesus is a joke in that context!
Man chose knowledge before eternal life. The truth is the bible promotes slavery and ignorance before knowledge! Be a sheep, be a sheep be an ignorant mindless sheep and don’t fight the fleecing and slaughter! Christianity is as much a slave religion as much as it promotes stupidity!
Science and religion each reflect a certain degree of a Greater Truth, which, in its entirety, is far greater then anything Man can devise. When we try to extrapolate fro what we can observe, odds are that we get a fair amount of it wrong. Always keep an open mind, towards both science and philosophy- and investigate truth for yourself!
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Being willing to search and consider is the basis for finding truth. Of course we have other ways of knowing things than through scientific research. You or I cannot know for sure that Paris exists except through witnesses. Well, you may have been there, but I have not. So I have to believe the witnesses who have seen it. Also, we cannot prove history by the scientific method. That too is learned through witnesses.
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I haven’t died yet so I haven’t experienced death either, so I reject that I will die! I haven’t sailed around the world either so I believe the truth is that the world is flat!
I certainly have found a tremendous amount of science in the scriptures.
The science of the scriptures has reinforced my beliefs as to the truth found there.
Thanks for posting and thank you for liking and following my blog.
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Regarding your question, “Where did the universe come from” , ahh, there’s only one answer to that very easy question. The universe came from my Dad, God!
Ahh, love the easy questions. Smiles.
It is interesting that whenever we are discussing science or its philosophy we end up using some form of circular reasoning. It seems that “scientific method” has become totally irrelevant when it comes to publishing “scientific” fact. Those with a modicum of common sense are calling this Scientism. I capitalized it because a religion should be. A scientist might use proper scientific method and arrive at conclusions that are contrary to established “facts”. He will be ostracized by the scientific community he will be prevented from publishing those findings and any funding he may have will mysteriously disappear. No one will take his findings and endeavor to duplicate and confirm his results as fear and the desire not to raise the ire of the “clergy” is of paramount concern. I’m afraid that we operate on many facts of science that are in fact unproven theory. Many such theories were established as ‘fact’ hundreds of years ago using very primitive methods. To not allow any of these theories to be even challenged is far from even resembling science. To those who love conspiracy theories: Is it possible that a lie is being covered up? A very big lie?