Don’t cross that line

Massimo Pigliucci is patrolling the borders again.

Take, for instance, my recurring argument that some (but not all!) of the “new atheists” engage in scientistic attitudes by overplaying the epistemological power of science while downplaying (or even simply negating) the notion that science fundamentally depends on non-empirical (i.e., philosophical) assumptions to even get started.

But if science depends on those assumptions why aren’t those assumptions simply part of science? Why aren’t the assumptions part of what is meant by the word ‘science’?

We already have science to help us solve scientific problems, philosophy does something else by using different tools, so why compare apples and oranges?

But if science rests on philosophical assumptions, then philosophy doesn’t (exclusively) do something else. If science rests on philosophical assumptions then the two are entangled to some extent.

Pigliucci goes on to say as much, in a way, but he also reverts to the border-patrolling.

So when some commentators for instance defend the Dawkins- and Coyne-style (scientistic) take on atheism, i.e., that science can mount an attack on all religious beliefs, they are granting too much to science and too little to philosophy. Yes, science can empirically test specific religious claims (intercessory prayer, age of the earth, etc.), but the best objections against the concept of, say, an omnibenevolent and onmnipowerful god, are philosophical in nature (e.g., the argument from evil).

But the argument from evil can be at least partly empirical – we wouldn’t know there was any ‘evil’ i.e. suffering apart from our own if it couldn’t.

Now why is it that so many people take sides on a debate that doesn’t make much sense, rather than rejoice in what the human mind can achieve through the joint efforts of two of its most illustrious intellectual traditions?

Well right – but if it’s a matter of joint efforts why worry so much about the borders?

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