Thursday, December 01, 2016

Science Cannot Give Us Knowledge of Everything

Trees in our backyard, two winters ago

Can science give us knowledge of everything, in principle? Of course not.

Science qua science can say nothing about value. Value does not inhere in brute physical matter as something empirical to be discovered, tested, weighed, measured, dissected, and quantified. ("Let's gather some lab samples of beauty." "Truth weighs 3 ounces.")  

Nobel-winning physicist Erwin Schroedinger states:

"I am very astonished that the scientific picture of the real world around me is very deficient. It gives a lot of factual information, puts all our experiences in a magnificently consistent order, but is ghastly silent about all and sundry that is really near to our heart, that really matters to us. It cannot tell us a word about red and blue, bitter and sweet, physical pain and physical delight; it knows nothing of beautiful and ugly, good or bad, God and eternity." 

The logic text I use in my MCCC Logic class affirms the same. (Lewis Vaughn, The Power of Critical Thinking, Oxford University Press.) In Vaughn's discussion of logic and morality he states that any moral argument (any argument that concludes in a moral judgment) must have at least one non-moral premise (descriptive of a certain state of affairs), and one moral premise. For example:
  1. It is morally wrong to rape children for fun. (Moral premise)
2. X raped a child for fun. (Descriptive premise)
3. Therefore, X is morally wrong. (Moral judgment)

One cannot infer a moral judgment from a non-moral descriptive premise. Vaughn writes:

"In a moral argument, we simply cannot establish the conclusion (a moral statement) without a moral premise. A moral argument with only nonmoral premises does not work. To put it another way, we cannot infer what should be or ought to be (in the conclusion) from statements about what is." (Vaughn, 445)

Famously, one cannot infer "ought" from "is."

Because science cannot weigh, measure, or quantify value, science cannot tell us everything.