Monday, December 12, 2011

Naturalism vs Science

I have recently entered a curious pseudo-argument with some people. The issue has been my contention that science is a subset of religion, to which I got a common reply usually summarised as, "No way!" Well, way.

I would have written this up earlier, except that I was too tired, and fell asleep. Besides, there was the sneaking suspicion that such a simple argument must have been promulgated by some more powerful philosopher than I, and the other sneaking suspicion that I might have read it somewhere else and thus could no longer distinguish between what my formulation was and what someone else's was.

So I did due diligence and came up with a little entry by Plantinga in the online Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy. Link to important section here.

Yep, it's as I remembered. "Naturalism is presumably not a religion. In one very important respect, however, it resembles religion: it can be said to perform the cognitive function of a religion."

Science as a cognitive endeavour claims to seek truth, but Darwin's concern (as expressed by Plantinga) goes this way:
What our minds are for (if anything) is not the production of true beliefs, but the production of adaptive behavior: that our species has survived and evolved at most guarantees that our behavior is adaptive; it does not guarantee or even make it likely that our belief-producing processes are for the most part reliable, or that our beliefs are for the most part true. That is because our behavior could perfectly well be adaptive, but our beliefs false as often as true.

Darwin himself apparently worried about this question: "With me," says Darwin, "the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man's mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey's mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?" (Darwin, 1887)
This is the issue of faith that underpins science as a religion. We have to be somewhat Cartesian, without knowing whether this is reliable; it is reliable only because we think it is — it is our thought that assesses our thought.

Naturalism (whether Dawkinsian or any other kind) thus militates against knowing whether science is truth or not. Eventually, scientism is forced to say things like, "Well, your computer works, so we know science is useful." Well, yes. In other words, the issue of faith is lost in works, just as it often is in religion.

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