I phind philosophy phascinating. (Sorry…I couldn’t help myself.) A phield, er…field of study that enables one to acquire and apprehend great and timeless truths from the comfort of one’s recliner. Just by thinking.
As I continue to pursue a greater understanding of reality, I’m increasingly seeing that my pursuit is illuminated all along the way by philosophy. So I’d like to share with you what intrigues me about it, explore why it may be the most profound of all the academic disciplines though something that we all can and should engage in, and suggest that some atheist scientists dismiss it because they recognize its power to give evidence of the divine.
A clear, concise, yet comprehensive definition of philosophy is a bit hard to come by…the field is so vast and its influence so ubiquitous. Merriam-Webster defines it as “the study of ideas about knowledge, truth, the nature and meaning of life, etc.” Etcetera…and so on. Truth, nature and meaning are all existential concepts that concern each one of us and, arguably, govern our lives, whether we’re actively thinking about them or not. We operate according to philosophical ideas and assumptions, like that truth is objective. Or that it is relative. That reality is knowable…or that it is all illusory. That a supernatural Creator of all reality exists…or that he doesn’t.
Many people never do think about these things, and live their whole lives on assumptions they have simply absorbed without conscious evaluation. But when one does evaluate one’s beliefs, it is a philosophical endeavor. Philosophy is characterized by conscious and deliberate thought about what one holds to be true about life and reality. Unfortunately, we are so bombarded with external stimuli these days…television, radio, internet, advertising everywhere…that consciously and deliberately thinking about existential matters requires consciously and deliberately removing ourselves from the cacophony. And many folks don’t even think to do that, or simply prefer not to. TV always on at home, radio always on in the car, checking the internet on their phones. Watching TV at the gym, at a restaurant, at work, in bed, even in the bathroom. If you never have time and opportunity to just ponder existential truths…you’re merely existing. I believe this has spiritual motivations and consequences, but I’ll leave that for another post.
In science, philosophy provides the logical and conceptual framework in which experiments and exploration can be confidently undertaken. First principles like the laws of causality, non-contradiction, and uniformity are assumed and relied upon by scientists everywhere, but they are philosophically discerned, not scientifically discovered. Other philosophical questions address the nuts and bolts of the scientific method, like, “What kind of data can be used to distinguish between real causes and accidental regularities?” And, “How much evidence and what kinds of evidence do we need before we accept hypotheses?”1
Still other philosophical questions demand attention by those engaged in the physical sciences. Is the observable, material world all there is? What are the qualifications of genuine science? How many dimensions are there? What’s the definition of “nothing”?
Yet, several high-profile atheist scientists have publicly derided the usefulness of philosophy, at least when it comes to its relationship to science. I’m thinking specifically of Stephen Hawking, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Lawrence Krauss. I don’t know, but I suspect that because they recognize the threat philosophy is to their naturalistic worldview, their dismissal of it is an attempt to cast doubt on its epistemological value.
But I would like to suggest that philosophy is the highest, most worthwhile truth-apprehending discipline because it deals with the most fundamental and important issues of life. And because, I believe, it probes the mind of God.
I’ll continue with that thought in my next post.
I would argue that the reason people like Tyson, Hawking, and Krauss have derided philosophy is almost certainly not due to a recognition of what philosophy can achieve. Quite the reverse, in fact. Their derision comes as a consequence of their ignorance of the field of philosophy.
There are plenty of physical scientists and philosophers who have respect for both fields of academia while still identifying as naturalists.
I think with those three it’s both. Though as I said…I don’t know. I do recognize that there are plenty of naturalist scientists and philosophers who respect each others’ fields, but I am always reminded that no matter what we do, none of us operates outside of our frail humanity and our personal worldview. So for some, biases and a desired reality lead them to do and say things that with full integrity and complete objectivity they otherwise would not.
Thanks for reading and commenting.
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