There is an interesting post over at Parableman about the relationship between science and philosophy, in the context of the Intelligent Design debate. Jeremy claims that (1) ID is clearly not religious in nature, and (2) its philosophical nature is not a good reason to exclude it from science curriculum, because everything else in science is philosophical too. It's worth a read.
Personally I've been arguing for some time (not on this blog, in real life) that the vast majority of scientists don't have a sufficient grasp of the philosophical foundations of their fields to adequately pursue some of the deep questions they are coming up against. This is particularly true in physics. For instance, the physicists want to do cosmology now; they think they have a better grip of the problem than the philosophy department. Meanwhile, they literally don't know the meaning of the word. Brilliant minds like Steven Hawking go around talking about the "Big Bang Cosmology." A "cosmology" is, as the name implies, a theory of the cosmos, something like string theory. The Big Bang is not a theory of the cosmos, but an account of the origin of the cosmos. This is known as a "cosmogeny."
Now this is an issue of vocabulary, and I suppose they can use words however they want, provided they are consistent and understand one another, but then there are issue like so-called "quantum teleportation" and this very deep question of whether this process transports a particle from one location to another, or creates an entirely new particle at the new location: in short, the question of whether fundamental particles have what philosophers call "haeccity" or "thisness," and, if so, whether the two particles have the same haeccity. The problem of individuation is in many ways at the heart of metaphysics, and those desiring to give an answer to it should really pay attention to the last 3000 years of debate on the subject rather than starting over from scratch.
I believe that these issues show that the distinction between philosophy and science is ceasing to be useful, especially at the level of highly theoretical physics. This distinction was not drawn until the 19th century, but it has indeed served us well for the last hundred years. Science is usually viewed as being characterized by experiments and observations; philosophy simply by reasoning (although, for analytic philosophers and the British empiricists before them, this is still reasoning about the things we perceive in the phenomenal world around us). This division has never been that strict, as philosophy reaches over into essentially every academic discipline (we've got "a finger in every pie," as I like to say), but it has in some degree served us well, by allowing individuals to focus more intensely on fields like chemistry or biology that require very different knowledge and training than the mainstream of philosophy. However, today many realms of science are encroaching on issues that were traditionally the domain of philosophy and all too often recklessly ignoring millenia of thought on these issues. It is true, as Jeremy suggests, that much of science simply cannot be extricated from philosophy.
However, none of this means that the distinction between science and philosophy is quite so unreal as Jeremy claims. ID is not a claim about the workings of the physical world as such. It is a metaphysical claim about how those workings came to be, and an epistemological claim that we can know about that based on observation. Now a metaphysical claim about how the physical laws came to be is very different than a physical claim about it, such as Big Bang Theory. The Big Bang leaves the metaphysical question unanswered: it merely posits that the first moments of the universe looked a certain way. When physicists try to answer questions about what caused the Big Bang or what came before it, it is because they think that it had some physical, rather than metaphysical, origin. If the big bang began at the first instant of time, and there are no other physical universes like ours which could have spawned the creation of this universe, then physics has nothing to say about the origin of the Big Bang. If someone claims that God caused the Big Bang to occur, this is a metaphysical appeal, and has no place in physics.
Science makes important metaphysical assumptions, and scientists need to be aware of this, and they need to be able to think "outside the box," as it were, and ask occasionally whether a different set of metaphysical assumptions might be better able to explain the world. This requires scientists to have solid knowledge of metaphysics, and the available positions and the arguments for and against them. It does not, however, require that scientists become metaphysicians or otherwise collapse the boundary between science and philosophy. The position of ID, properly understood, is that there exists a sound teleological (design) argument for the existence of God. This is a meta-scientific observation: that is, it goes beyond science by examining the metaphysical consequences of what science has discovered, in much the same way that examinations of the impact of quantum mechanics for the issue of free will vs. determinism do. Neither of these debates need be taught in science classrooms, because science as such is agnostic about them. Note that this cuts both ways. As Alvin Plantinga once said:
[The idea that] human beings and other living creatures have come about by chance, rather than by God's design, is also not a proper part of empirical science. How could science show that God has not intentionally designed and created human beings and other creatures? How could it show that they have arisen merely by chance? That's not empirical science. That's metaphysics, or maybe theology. It's a theological add-on, not part of science itself. And, since it is a theological add-on, it shouldn't, of course, be taught in public schools.Posted by Kenny at December 24, 2005 1:44 PM
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