The Philosophy of Science

I wrote this response to someone who questioned the assertion I made (on a different website) that science is not impartial. Let me know what you think.

I don’t really have room or time to get into a philosophical discussion; this is a discussion that takes months to talk about. As a note, I’m not just making things up, I’ve studied epistemology in college. One of the philosophical foundations of science (science is all based on philosophy, which is one reason in the U.S. all science doctorates are PhDs – Doctor of Philosophy) is empiricism. I’ll quote from Wikipedia because in this case it is accurate.

“Empiricism is one of several competing views about how we know things, part of the branch of philosophy called epistemology, or “theory of knowledge”. Empiricism emphasizes the role of experience and evidence, especially sensory perception, in the formation of ideas, while discounting the notion of innate ideas.”

“In the philosophy of science, empiricism emphasizes those aspects of scientific knowledge that are closely related to evidence, especially as discovered in experiments. It is a fundamental part of the scientific method that all hypotheses and theories must be tested against observations of the natural world, rather than resting solely on a priori reasoning, intuition, or revelation. Hence, science is considered to be methodologically empirical in nature.”

There are other competing philosophies to empiricism. Rationalism is one of those; although in our day some ideas of rationalism are combined with empiricism. Materialism (all entities are matter and reducible to smaller entities, e.g., atoms) is another foundation for most science.

Because modern science is based on specific philosophies with specific assumptions (e.g., that all is matter) it cannot be completely impartial because science (forgive the anthropomorphism) inherently disregards anything that is not based on its same assumptions and philosophies (e.g., religion). Science has one particular view of the world and states that everything else is false, or at least unknowable. That’s not impartial – that’s bias. That’s like Americans saying “Our world view is the only correct world view.” Now, maybe it is true but that does not make it less biased. Everything and everyone have biases, even the philosophies that form the foundation for science.

As I said, this is some pretty deep philosophy. People have been arguing over this for thousands of years and will be for thousands more.

One last example. We tend to believe that mathematics is perfect and unbiased. Kurt Godel showed that it isn’t. Now, not everyone agrees with his ideas but he convincingly showed that most math is flawed, or at least incomplete. Math does not equal science but most science is founded on mathematical principles.

I answered your question, hopefully without coming across as a troll. As I said in my original post, I’m not trying to discredit science (science is my job) but blindly accepting that science is perfect and completely unbiased and the only way to knowledge is demonstrating as much faith in science as many do in religion.”

After a reply back that expressed complete disbelief (that also insulted my intelligence) 🙂 here’s my final response:

“I did not say that philosophy and science are the same, I just said that science is based on specific philosophies. As I said, it’s some pretty heavy stuff that most people (rightly) don’t care about. Again, I didn’t say philosophy and science are the same. The relationship (and this isn’t a perfect example) is more like philosophy:science::arithmetic:calculus.”

Am I completely off base here? I haven’t had extensive epistemology but I’ve had a fair amount. I remember in one of my classes that some people just didn’t get it. They were very bright people, it’s just that philosophy requires a different way of thinking (not better, just different). It takes practice; I just happened to start having serious philosophical discussions with friends pretty early on in school.