Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Hasker on Scientific Naturalism

But science as a total worldview—the idea that science can tell us everything there is to know about what reality consists of, enjoys no such overwhelming support. This worldview, (often termed scientific naturalism) is just one theory amongst others and is no more capable of being “proved to all reasonable people” than are religious belief systems. To claim that the strong support enjoyed by, say, the periodic table of the elements transfers to scientific naturalism as a worldview is highly confused if not deliberately misleading.

From Peterson, Basinger, Reichenbach and Hasker, Reason and Religious Belief 4th ed., (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009) p. 57.

I happen to know that Hasker wrote this.


Gordon Knight said...

damn straight.

Perezoso said...

"""(scientific naturalism) is just one theory amongst others and is no more capable of being “proved to all reasonable people” than are religious belief systems."""""

Sounds about like a "Christian scientist" attempting to justify prayer as an alternative to calling his doctor when a family member becomes ill. In nearly all conceivable real-world cases, the knowledge provided by scientific naturalism (medicine, the periodic table, engineering, etc) applies, and religious faith doesn't really apply (is faith a belief system anyway? not really). Reasonable people call a doctor, not a priest, nor Rev. Billy Sunday when a family member becomes ill. Science works. Faith doesn't, except perhaps a type of psychological healing (not easily measurable).

Hasker seems rather unaware of say Wm James and Co as well: what provides more "cash value of Truth" to a college student? A year of Billy Sunday sermons or a year in organic chemistry? (hint: it's not Billy Sunday's sermons).

SE said...

Is there anything in any religious belief system that enjoys the same level of "strong support" as the periodic table of the elements?

Anonymous said...

Actually, Hasker is a philosopher. And considering nowadays scientists are saying they aren't in the business of truth (In fact, the most science-worshipping of philosophers, the Churchlands, have to argue that claims of truth are themselves nonsensical remnants of folk-psychology), the comparison doesn't go far. Faith and religious teaching 'work' in plenty of ways - even EO Wilson will argue as much.

As for if there's anything in any religious belief system that enjoys the same strong support.. absolutely. Moral teachings for one, unless one wants to reject all those across the board in favor of nihilism (In which case, what's all this talk of one being more valuable than the other?) Otherwise, the religious of any stripe can accept the periodic table of the elements and far more just as easily as adherents of scientism do. Hasker's point about that not being a support of scientism remains.

SE said...

Anonymous, is there anything specific to a particular religious belief system, e.g., the Roman Catholic belief in transubstantiation, that enjoys that level of support? Morality is a result of the interaction of humans with one another in societies, and can be accounted for without resorting to mumbo-jumbo.

Anonymous said...


Actually, it can't be accounted for under scientism. It can be utterly ignored and regarded as fundamentally unreal and illusory. Again, have a look at the Churchlands and eliminative materialism. Goodbye truth. Goodbye belief.

Now, trying to compare transubstantiation to the periodic table is kind of lopsided. Why not compare the phlogiston or ether theory to, say, the existence of the Kingdom of David while we're at it? Hey, which is better established: Multiverses, or the existence of Jesus? David and Jesus wins hands down, so I guess religious claims are more reasonable than scientific ones, right?

Well, obviously not. The question is whether scientism is a justified worldview, not whether one particular claim of science, past or present, is more reliable than one particular claim of religion or philosophy. Say scientific claims, on the whole, are more reliable than philosophical or religious claims on the whole. So what? Even that doesn't get you to scientism. The fact that you have to engage in some philosophy to arrive at scientism illustrates part of the very large problem in play.

Eric Koski said...

Christian apologists of a certain stripe argue that scientific naturalism dispenses with truth. On what basis? A handful of quotes. Always the same quotes. As if all scientific naturalists were named “Churchland”. As if one or two sentences represented their final word on the matter. I wouldn’t call it dishonest, exactly, but it does show a certain lack of seriousness.

It may be that the best science about brains and behavior won’t have a use for the term, “belief” – perhaps because the term has always been applied misleadingly to a diverse collection of phenomena. That’s not to say that there’s no subject matter there to investigate and explain. Science no longer has a use for the term “phlogiston”. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t advise you to start smoking in bed.

Anonymous said...

Eric, I'm just one anonymous poster on a blog. I haven't even said what my religious commitments are. Call me a 'christian apologist of a certain stripe' if that makes you feel better.

Not to mention, I haven't provided any quotes. Yes, I referenced the Churchlands - what can I say, those two are a great example of people who proclaim a completely consistent, scientific, naturalist worldview. As for the value of belief: Maybe scientific naturalism won't be able to account for belief, or for truth, or for otherwise. There are a number of good, solid, non-religious arguments that show that scientific naturalism simply won't be able to account for these things without compromise no matter how the science turns out. I'm sure some people will view that as meaning truth and belief are mistaken concepts. Others will view it as proof that scientific naturalism can't do the job people want it to.

The fact is that scientific naturalism - heck, just regular naturalism, or materialism - have a whole lot of problems. And as Hasker says, the scientific naturalist enterprise doesn't suddenly become justified (or, really, even that much more justifiable) just because, "Hey! Periodic table!"

John W. Loftus said...

Anyone who understands what a worldview is would not think science is one. In fact, I would think to say there are such people is probably a straw man, for once we explain to these scientists what a worldview is they would not claim science is anything like one.

Hasker said...To claim that the strong support enjoyed by, say, the periodic table of the elements transfers to scientific naturalism as a worldview is highly confused if not deliberately misleading.


But still it's a reasonable conclusion to make.

Anonymous said...

It's true to say that transferring the strong support the periodic table enjoys to scientific naturalism is highly confused if not deliberately misleading, but it's also a reasonable conclusion to make?

Anonymous said...

John, science wasn't called a worldview. Scientism was.

Perezoso said...

When El Papa Ratzinger, or one of his henchmen San Diego way, spins a Churchland- head around Linda Blair, then, maybe time for La Misa. Vaya Con Deeos

legodesi said...

"In nearly all conceivable real-world cases"

But it has nothing to do with prayer. If Hasker were a deist, his point would still follow. and this talk about "nearly all conceivable real-world cases" doesn't amount to much. there is a difference between methodological naturalism and naturalism.

Gordon Knight said...

Naturalism not only does not follow from the results of natural science, we have evidence that such naturalism is inconsistent with fairly well established facts, e.g that I am conscious right now the relationship of logical relationship of entailment. It also conflicts with other, controversial but still plausible claims about reality: that there are objective moral truths, that human beings have libertarian free will etc.

Note this list does not mention God or prayer or anything religious.

Perezoso said...

No. Hasker doesn't really specify what the alternative world views to "scientific naturalism" are. He seems similar to the naive believer who insists disbelief and skepticism are themselves types of faith. "Scientism," whatever it is, is not akin to catholicism.

This type of thinking is not new: many intellectuals have questioned the scientific establishment and opposed reductionism. Bertrand Russell, after WWII, suggested a return to wisdom along with the quantitative knowledge of science (the existentialists were a bit more extreme: Sartre reportedly had nothing but scorn for behaviorists and most scientists).

Opposing reductionism of various sorts does not mean, however, that we must agree to religious dogma (sort of a false dichotomy). Regardless, scientific knowledge obviously has many practical applications. It functions. One might agree that scientific knowledge is put to bad use, ala Nazi experiments, zyklon B etc, but it's also put to good use. The US Army for one needs engineers more than it does chaplains.

Gordon Knight said...

The denial of scientism does not imply any religious truth. But the denial does open up various metaphysical options, including, of course, the existence of God.

I don't think anyone thinks you can infer from "naturalism is false" to God exists!

Perezoso said...

Does the anti-naturalist mean by saying "naturalism is false" that, say, a soul exists? It's a subtle trick, methinx: instead of dealing with specific arguments, the anti-naturalists attack the generalizations, the -ism. That's one reason Carnap avoided any -ism, even "naturalism".

We can make statements which can be confirmed: Humans have a brain. Saying "you have a brain, but your mind is separate from that brain, and it is your immortal soul", however, that is not confirmable, so Verboten, except for like philosophy phans...

Gordon Knight said...

The anti-naturalist is providing a negative argument. The conclusion is simply that naturalism is a false metaphysical picture of the world.

What is the true view? well that is what we have been doing throughout the last 2600 years of philosophy~-most philosophers have not been naturalists

Naturalism is a current fad, which in my view is fading.

As for the soul, yes I think it exists, and yes there are arguments for it. Here is a sketch of one:

Consciousness has a unity, both at the moment and also through time.

This unity cannot be accounted for either by humean bundles or material minds. What is required is a unitary extended consciousness.

Just a sketch, but you might check out, e.g, the writings of Chisholm if you are serious.

Unity of consciousss provides one reason for supposing there is a soul, both diachronic and synchronic unity.

Reductive attempts to understand personal identity fail to capture the intuition of identity though time.

okay, that is just one place to go.

Perezoso said...

The uniqueness of human consciousness (if there is such a thing) does not by itself establish transcendence.

Hobbes made that point in his criticism of Descartes (points usually left out of the usual varsity boy curriculum): a Res Cogitans may hold, yet thinking, implies a thinker, and a thinker, implies corporeality,ie, physicality (in brief). Birds fly. Humans think (and eat, fight, blog, attend the church of Billy Sunday etc.). That they think does not mean they are ghosts.