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?