Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A good post by Massimo Pigliucci:
Scott — who is an atheist — has repeatedly said that one cannot claim that science requires atheism because atheism is a philosophical position, not a scientific one. She leverages the standard distinction between philosophical and methodological naturalism: if you are a scientist you have to be a methodological naturalist (i.e., assume for operative purposes that nature and natural laws are all that there is); but this doesn’t commit you to the stronger position of philosophical naturalism (i.e., to the claim that there really isn’t anything outside of nature and its laws). Years ago, when I first met Genie Scott, I had a Dawkins-like problem with this. I saw the distinction as sophistic hair splitting, and told her so (she was my guest for one of the annual Darwin Day events at the University of Tennessee). Then I started taking philosophy courses, understood what she was saying, and found it irrefutable. I sent her an email apologizing for my earlier obtusity.

That said, both Genie and I do recognize that science is one of the strongest arguments for philosophical naturalism, and I suspect that in her case, as in mine, a pretty big reason for why we are atheists is because of our understanding of science. Still, the philosophical/methodological distinction is both philosophically valid and pragmatically useful, since it doesn’t serve the purposes of either science or education to fuel an antagonism between a small minority of atheistic scientists and 90% of the world's population (those taxpayers, on whose good will the existence of science and the stipends of most of said scientists depend).


Mike Flynn said...

Don't see the problem myself. You don't need auto mechanics in order to practice medicine; but that doesn't mean doctors don't believe in cars.

John Farrell said...

True, but to the degree that Dawkins and his fan base are now, it seems, trying to intimidate even agnostics and other atheists not disposed to reach for the smelling salts every time a clergyman opens his mouth, I'm encouraged. (Oh, those evil accommodationists!).

Lab Rat said...

I totally agree with this. There are some places science just does not belong, and peoples inner beliefs is definately one of those places.