internal inconsistencies of a purely scientific worldview
1/06/2007 09:44:00 AM
I just finished a book written by Alister McGrath called Science and Religion: An Introduction which describes the relationship between science and religion since the days of Copernicus and the planetary controversy which changed the way we view the planets. In that book, McGrath shows that one of primary axiom of science is empiricism. Empiricism is the idea that all one learns must first come through the senses. This stands in stark contrast to rationalism, which says that some things that are known are known a priori, or before sense experience. Empiricism, however, should not be confused with empirical learning. When one learns something empirically, he or she is learning trough experience. Such learning can coexist with the idea of rationalism. In fact, most if not all rationalists would say that most of what we know is indeed learned trough experience. However, there is a problem with pure empiricism, particularly in the form of science.

It is probably true that not all atheists are irreligious, but generally speaking, being atheist automatically makes one an empiricists because atheism denies any sort of transcendence. Transcendence is necessary of rationalism is to be true. If all that can be learned is from experience, then the sole arbiter of truth is essentially science. Science is the systemized approach that people use to test hypotheses based on observations.

Empiricism and its progeny science themselves are not inherently bad, but by virtue of what they can observe are limited in their scope, and for that reason can make some faulty claims or be used inappropriately when it steps outside that scope. The axiomatic base of empiricism as stated is that all that is knowable is what can be learned from the natural world through the senses. This statement sounds good, but how can it possibly be known to be true? The problem with this statement is that it is absolute; however it cannot be known to be absolutely true without assuming it to be true. In this case, it is a priori , and this something is known outside of sense experience, ultimately defeating empiricism. However, one could argue that it isn't known to be true axiomatically. Rather, it is known to be true based on how one has learned. In this case, it is not absolutely true. In the same manner, atheists cannot say that God does not absolutely exist. Even Richard Dawkins grants this, saying that one can no more prove the existence of God than they can Thor or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. He says that it is just a so remotely improbable that it is not true.

Another problem arises when one considers the implications of empiricism. If all that one can know is from the natural world, then how can anything ever be known about God? Atheists think that it is delusional to believe in God, because as Dawkins sees it, faith something that is not based on evidence. One could however turn that statement back on atheism and say how can they say anything about God without evidence or some sort of observational data? In an empiricist?s framework, any and all kinds of God talk are meaningless. Some empiricists have made this observation, but there are some who insists on taking on religion such as Dawkins. This seems to present a problem: if one wants to take on religion, then he or she really isn't committed to the pursuit of truth of science, but to something else. An empiricist would be like Spock in Star Trek IV when he is asked bay a computer, "How do you feel?" As a Vulcan, Spock has no feelings, and he does not understand the question. In the same manner, if one was truly an empiricist, when one mentions God, he or she should act confused rather than repulsed.

One question that begs an answer from empiricism is that if all that is knowable is that which can be learned through experience and the senses, how could a notion like God ever arise? The Freudian tradition thinks that God arose as a result of psychogenesis: a way of explaining things that were unexplainable at the time. While that may offer an explanation for the evolution of theology, it still doesn't answer the question. Why did things not remain a mystery? Apparently human beings are creative enough to invent a concept that had never been observed. If this is true, then it is possible to know about things apart from empirical observation, ultimately defeating pure empiricism. However if the concept of God was observed, then it only seems logical to conclude that God exists.

Even more fundamental to than the notion of God is self awareness. How can the natural world know anything about itself from within itself? If all that was ever known was light and never darkness, how would one know about light? Flying at 40,000 feet moving at 600+ mph in a 747 doesn't really feel any different than standing on the ground. One would never know he or she was flying on a 747 without having entered the 747 or looking out the window and seeing the ground below. Consciousness cannot arise from something without some point of reference outside of consciences. In relating that to empiricism, it only seems fair to say that one has to be at least aware of his or her senses before he or she can possibly learn from them. Otherwise, consciousness is a delusion.

While these four objections to empiricism are by no means exhaustive, they are certainly a starting point and have to be considered when one wants to reject transcendence. I for one cannot embrace this worldview based on the internal inconsistencies it has. It is true that theists do make some assumptions as axioms, but the difference is these axioms don't have the problems that one who reject such thinking.

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