Saturday, August 25, 2012

More On the Limits of Science

Downtown Monroe
I was introduced to the philsosophy of science in 1971. Harold I. Brown was my teacher. Dr. Brown was a brilliant philosopher who was thoroughly familiar with the history of science, scientific issues, and logical extensions or the lack thereof re. scientific discoveries and theories. (See here, and here.) I was interested in science (I'd begun as an undergraduate majoring in engineering, and on my conversion to Christian theism changed my major to philosophy). Dr. Brown had a major influence on me.

One of the things I learned was how to distinguish scientific claims from metaphysical claims, especially concerning the limits of science. Science, Dr. Brown (and a bazillion other scholars) know, has its limits! Unfortunately, there are today a bazillion bazillion "Google scholars" who don't understand this. So...  one more time.

Oxford mathematician and philosopher of science John Lennox cites Nobel Laureate Peter Medawar and biologist Francis Collins (former head of the Human Genome Project).

Medawar says: “The existence of a limit to science is, however, made clear by its inability to answer childlike elementary questions having to do with first and last things – questions such as: ‘How did everything begin?’ ‘What are we all here for?’ ‘What is the point of living?’” Medawar adds that we must turn to imaginative literature and religion for the answers to such questions. John Lennox, God and Stephen Hawking, Kindle Locations 168-171)

Collins writes: “Science is powerless to answer questions such as ‘Why did the universe come into being?’ ‘What is the meaning of human existence?’ ‘What happens after we die?’” (In Ib.)

Einstein knew, for example, that one cannot get morality out of science. He said: "You are right in speaking of the moral foundations of science, but you cannot turn round and speak of the scientific foundations of morality.” (Ib.) “Every attempt to reduce ethics to scientific formulae must fail”. (Ib., Kindle Locations 181-183)

Outrageously famous and brilliant Nobel-winning physicist Richard Feynman writes: “Even the greatest forces and abilities don’t seem to carry any clear instructions on how to use them. As an example, the great accumulation of understanding as to how the physical world behaves only convinces one that this behaviour has a kind of meaninglessness about it. The sciences do not directly teach good or bad....  [E]thical values lie outside the scientific realm”. (Ib., Kindle Locations 184-188)

Let all scientistic Googlers take note: "ought" cannot be inferred from "is."