Saturday, August 25, 2012

Science Cannot Answer All the Questions Worth Asking

Downtown Monroe

Today I kindled John Lennox's book God and Stephen Hawking: Whose Design Is It Anyway? I got it for only $4.76. Not bad. Here is a great scholar debunking Hawking's philosophical inferences re. the non-existence of God. (Lennox is Prof. of Mathematics, and Philosophy of Science, at Oxford U.)

I remember reading Hawking's The Grand Design and getting only a few paragraphs into the book when he wrote that "philosophy is dead [because] it has not kept up with the modern developments in science." I thought - how absurd! I'm sure the University of Michigan's world-class philosophy department has begun to shut down as a result of reading Hawking!

Lennox points out that Hawking's claim that philosophy is dead is not itself a scientific claim but a philsoophical, viz. metaphysical, claim. Lennox writes: "Hawking himself, has not even kept up with philosophy sufficiently to realize that he himself is engaging in it throughout his book. The very first thing I notice is that Hawking’s statement about philosophy is itself a philosophical statement. It is manifestly not a statement of science: it is a metaphysical statement about science. Therefore, his statement that philosophy is dead contradicts itself. It is a classic example of logical incoherence." (Kindle Locations 145-149)

But of course. This sad beginning to Hawking's book put a lot of us on guard as we read through it. If Hawking was that casually non-scholarly in his pronouncement of the death of philosophy, we should be concerned should he pronounce the death of anything, to include God.

Lennox points out that Einstein understood the role of and need for and inextricable essentialness of philosophy. Einstein wrote:

"I fully agree with you about the significance and educational value of methodology as well as history and philosophy of science. So many people today, and even professional scientists, seem to me like someone who has seen thousands of trees but has never seen a forest. A knowledge of the historic and philosophical background gives that kind of independence from prejudices of his generation from which most scientists are suffering. This independence created by philosophical insight is, in my opinion, the mark of distinction between a mere artisan or specialist and a real seeker after truth." (In Lennox, Kindle Locations 154-156). 

Hawking's idea that science is the source of all truth is itself non-scientific, and "smacks of scientism." Lennox writes:

"For any scientist, let alone a science superstar, to disparage philosophy on the one hand, and then at once to adopt a self-contradictory philosophical stance on the other, is not the wisest thing to do – especially at the beginning of a book that is designed to be convincing." (Kindle Locations 160-162)

Lennox quotes Nobel Laureate Peter Medawar:

"There is no quicker way for a scientist to bring discredit upon himself and upon his profession than roundly to declare – particularly when no declaration of any kind is called for – that science knows, or soon will know, the answers to all questions worth asking, and that questions which do not admit a scientific answer are in some way non-questions or “pseudo-questions” that only simpletons ask and only the gullible profess to be able to answer." (Kindle Locations 164-167)