Saturday, August 28, 2010

Omnicompetent, huh?

Can science answer every question there is? No! And no one thinks it will. Well other than Mary Midgley and her post over on the Guardian titled "Metaphysics and the limits of science". Here is the thing, scientists know this. Anyone with a working brain knows this. Science focuses on what happened, how it happened, what caused it, and what implications are there for the future. There are questions science will never be able to answer -- and we already know this. Can science tell me why I am here? That's a very popular philosophical question. Science can tell me how I got here. They can tell me what I am. They can even make lots of predictions like life expectancy, potential for catching certain diseases . . . lots of information. But they can't tell me why 'I' am here. The reason is simply, it's not an area that science addresses.

Here is the thing that Mary, and others, can't seem to understand. Science limits itself to nature, to the material world, to physical activities on the huge and tiny scale. I would go as far to say that if an occurrence -- no matter what it is -- happens in the material world, one day science will explain it. It's that limitation, if you want to call it that, that allows science to work, to produce results, to predict and be falsifiable. I prefer to think of that limitation as more of a framework of science. If it is within the framework, science will eventually address it. No, we don't have all the answers, but we answer more and more every day. That framework of science works out pretty well. Science is as tool, a process for providing explanations that we can reproduce and use. All of our engineering is based on science.

So along comes Mary and she raises a flag and builds a metaphysical strawman that she proceeds to tear apart because science does not address it. We already know this. This is not news, except maybe to Mary. There is no argument here. Let the philosophers go off and do what they do. Maybe someone can tell me why they think I am here. It makes little difference to me, since I think I make my own way and determine why I am here by my own actions. I know science will not be addressing it, and that works for me to. This is not a new idea, but maybe it is for Mary.

Now here is the real question that Mary fails to address is if not science, what else would do what science does for us? What other process would add to our knowledge of the world around us and provide us with results we can build on. She doesn't offer one. She doesn't even offer a process for addressing question science does not address. So there is no alternative in sight, what is she complaining about. Science doesn't address many things -- for example, the gorilla in the room -- Religion. Science does not address the issue of God.

Science will never prove or disprove the existence of God. What it will do is address specific natural phenomena that some people like to attribute to God. That is within the realm of science and that seems to be a really annoying point for some people. That particular question, as I see it, isn't science's issue -- but an issue for the people who claim to know what God may or may not have done. I mean look back in history. What is different about a Christian claiming God created Man and an ancient Greek claiming Zeus tosses around lightening bolts? At one time all natural phenomena has been attributed to one God or another. People still do this and then they get their feathers all ruffled when a scientist provides a better explanation. One that may not be philosophically acceptable to them, but one based on evidenciary support their philosophy is ill equipped to handle. It's not God's problem, it's not even a problem for scientists, it's a problem in how they insist on looking at the world.

Of course their insistence becomes our problem when they also insist that their philosophy is supposed to be ours. In other words current day Creationists and Intelligent Design proponents. I mean look at what happened in Dover PA, Kansas, Ohio, Texas, Florida, South Carolina, and other states. Look at what's going on in Louisiana. It isn't that science is wrong or has failed, it is one group of folks who are insisting their religious beliefs have to be everyone's religious beliefs and they keep trying to use science and scientific theories as their weapon of choice. The problem is their ideas are not scientific, so they have to resort to tactics their own religious beliefs claim are wrong to do so. Read the Dover testimony and you will see for yourself that self-professed Christians LIED under oath about their actions and the reasons for their actions. Read about the school board meeting in Livingston Parish La and listen how the members think Creationism can be taught as science legally, in spite of all the rulings against it. Read the Wedge Strategy document as see that while the Discovery Institute has been sounding so reasonable lately, they are not reasonable at all -- it's just another tactic.

Mary doesn't address this sort of stuff, she just seems to go on about stuff we already know. She describes science as 'omnicompetent', is that even a word? no, Mary, science cannot and will not answer every question. Some of us learned that in our first science class. I guess some of us never learn it.

(I caught the graphic off of Google Images and don't see a copyright or anything. I just liked it. Since I would rather not make you look at my own feeble artistic efforts, I thought that one was appropriate. If it is copyrighted, just pass me the word and I will remove it.)

1 comment:

  1. She doesn't even offer a process for addressing question science does not address.

    That's the rub, of course. While science cannot address all sentences phrased as interrogatives (e.g., "why am I here?"), many such sentences are nonsense questions that have no answers. Further, in the absence of an agreed way to find and evaluate answers to the questions science can't address, asking them is a futile exercise.