Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Science Has Its Limits

Moon over I-75

For Jesus-followers who are interested in the philosophy of science I recommend Del Ratzch's Science & Its Limits: The Natural Sciences in Christian Perspective. Even though it's 10+ years old it does a clear, excellent job in presenting the major issues.

Here's something from Ch. 6 - "The Limitations of Science: What Can It Not Tell Us?"

"One limitation of science is its inability to provide proof of its results. Although scientific theories are always less than absolutely certain, that limitation is not a limitation on the scope of science. But if any part of reality lies outside the boundaries imposed on science by its methods, that aprt of reality will be beyond the capacity of science; and if knowledge is artificially restricted to scientific knowledge, we will thus be sheltering ourselves and our beliefs from the relevant portions of reality." (92)

So what's one thing science cannot do? "To begin with, science cannot validate either scientific method or the presuppositions of that method." (93) Like: the uniformity of nature. The idea that nature is uniform is not a discovery of science, but rather is a presupposition employed by science. "Observations and data are interpreted in the light of that presupposition. That interpretive role is evidenced by the protected status the uniformity principle has." (93)

Like geometry, e.g., by which one cannot contruct proofs without axioms. From where come the axioms? "The axioms are not themselves results of the system. They are the pegs on which the system hangs and without which there would be no system at all." (93) It's the same with science. Science begins with some methodological presuppositions. These presuppositions are not discovered by science; they are not generated out of science itself.

If we are justified ("rational") in accepting science's foundational presuppositions, then those presuppositions must be justified by something other than science itself. If they are justifiable, then "there is some nonscientific, justifiable basis for accepting science." Ratzsch writes:

"This not only can science not validate its own foundations (implying that there are areas outside the competence of science), but if we do accept science, including its foundations, there must be some other sort of grounds for accepting at least some beliefs. This implies that science cannot be the only legitimate basis for believing something. Those who claim either that science is competent for dealing with all matters or that science is the only legitimate method for dealing with any matter are seriously confused." (93)

This kind of reasoning has the strong ring of a Reformed epistemology that argues for properly-basic-belief propositions as rationally held.