Well, at least we can all go home now!!
Hawking also said “Philosophy is dead. … Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.” (In The Grand Design, co-authored with Leonard Mlodinow.) … thereby revealing a profound ignorance about what philosophy and science are and what they are able to say. And giving another example of why we should remember that experts don’t necessarily know any better than the rest of us when they are speaking outside of their field.
I really think scientists ought to take a philosophy of science class somewhere in their education. (The one I took was one of my favorite classes in undergrad, actually.) Classes on epistemology and logic would not be remiss, either.
It is interesting that physicists tend to have a dim view of philosophers. I have enjoyed reading some of Steven Weinberg’s books, and he seems to share many views with the late Dr. Hawking.
I was surprised (though I probably shouldn’t have been) by the final statement of the Friendly Atheist article:
In any case, stay tuned for hot takes from Christian apologists who insist they know more than one of the
smartest people in history.
If one changes “Christian” to “atheist”, the childish taunt is virtually the same formula I’ve heard Ken Ham, Kent Hovind, Ray Comfort, and many others use—typically at the end of an article celebrating the superior genius of some famous Christian theist like Isaac Newton, Blaise Pascal, Rene Descartes, John Napier, Johannes Kepler, Marin Mersenne, Nicolas Steno, Robert Boyle, C. Linnaeus, James Clark Maxwell, Lord Kelvin, Robert Millikan, or Leonhard Euler.
Think about it:
In any case, stay tuned for hot takes from atheists who insist they know more than one of the
smartest people in history.
Obviously, it is a silly argument. And is any one particular physicist better qualified to render the definitive opinion on the existence of God than all of the philosophers (for example) who specialize in academic fields actually relevant to the topic? If “one of the smartest people in history” is the last word on a subject arguably well outside his field of professional study, should we thereby settle all great questions by determining who in the world has the highest IQ and asking their opinion?
As I observed similarly only yesterday, the “Friendly Atheist” website uses “reasoning” and tactics remarkably similar to those found in the articles at Answers in Genesis. This is yet another humorous example. It seems that sound arguments are not always high priorities when one is preaching to one’s choir—and that all too often can apply regardless of whether one is atheist or theist.
As a self proclaimed friendly atheist, I agree with your sentiments. I probably commit some of the crimes as the author at the website, but I hope they are less egregious and lower in concentration than those found at the website. He should focus more on the “friendly” part and less on the “condescension” part.
Is it just my imagination or selective memory when I vaguely recall much more sound reasoning in the early days of the “Friendly Atheist” website? I don’t read it much anymore but I get the impression it has gone down precipitously in quality over the years.
That’s the first article I have read from that source, and after reading it I don’t feel any need to go back to the site. I do enjoy reading Pharyngula, but I think that has more to do with the human need to slow down and stare as you pass a car crash.
I find it kind of absurd. Science - every field of study, really - is so dependent on philosophy, and physicists often seem especially unreflective about that fact. (On of the reasons, I think, there is so much confusion about what quantum mechanics has to say about reality.) Weinberg says in that chapter:
Physicists get so much help from subjective and often vague aesthetic judgments that it might be expected that we would be helped also by philosophy, out of which after all our science evolved.
Yet it is only philosophy that has a hope of justifying appeals to things like simplicity or beauty to adjudicate between competing theories. He says:
Physicists do of course carry around with them a working philosophy. For most of us, it is a rough-and-ready realism, a belief in the objective reality of the ingredients of our scientific theories. But this has been learned through the experience of scientific research and rarely from the teachings of philosophers.
But it is philosophy and not science that can rationally justify this “rough and ready realism”, even if that realism is learned from practice. (And maybe a little philosophy would help physicists be consistent, and not switch haphazardly between realism and anti-realism when they talk about quantum mechanics!)
The insights of philosophers have occasionally benefited physicists, but generally in a negative fashion—by protecting them from the preconceptions of other philosophers.
Ignoring how it can protect from the preconceptions of the physicists themselves!
I do not even mean to deny all value to the philosophy of science, which at its best seems to me a pleasing gloss on the history and discoveries of science.
Weinberg says here that he has some philosophy education, but he seems to have missed one of the major purposes of the philosophy of science, which is to define what science is and figure out why the scientific method works.
It’s philosophy, not science, that justifies the use of abductive and inductive reasoning that is so important in science.
Logic is arguably a branch of philosophy, not science, and it is logic which undergirds all of mathematics, which again is so important in science.
And of course, it is philosophy (ethics, specifically), not science, which tells us what is the right way to use the knowledge that we gain through science.
I must admit, this popular dismissal of philosophy by scientists irks me.
Another bizarre example of Hemant Mehta’s (the Friendly Atheist) strange views appeared in his October 18th (today’s) column at http://friendlyatheist.patheos.com/2018/10/18/theres-a-grueling-certification-exam-for-astrologers-seeking-fake-credibilitywhere where he said:
By the way, give some credit to the Times for the fantastic GIF accompanying the article. It features a woman who appears “smart” because random math symbols and equations are circling around her. Perfect.
I looked at that “fantastic GIF” reproduced in his article—and I didn’t see even one equation. Indeed, I had to do a lot of looking to see even a math symbol within that GIF. Mostly I see lots of old medieval astrologers’ symbols!
That seems especially perplexing when Mr. Mehta describes himself as a “former National Board Certified high school math teacher.” One would think he would be able to distinguish math symbols and equations from astrological symbols when the latter are by far in the majority.
(Can anyone find even one equation in the GIF? Is Mr. Mehta seeing something I’m not?)
This is a relatively new phenomenon! In the early 20th century, physicists were much more interested in philosophy. Einstein and Heisenberg were both very interested in philosophy, and I would argue that Einstein was both the most influential scientist and philosopher of physics in the early 20th century!
Yes. It is as if many such philosophy-hating scientists are totally unaware that the Scientific Method was developed by philosophers—and that modern science began as a subfield of philosophy known as Natural Philosophy.
I call science applied philosophy.
The justification is that theories work and you don’t need philosophy for that. All you need is experiments. It wasn’t philosophers who verified the existence of the Higg’s Boson. It was an experiment.
We use science because it works.
It irks scientists when philosophers feel the need to insert themselves into science. It would probably be more entertaining if we pit the sides against each other in a food fight.
I think that’s why I enjoy reading Sean Carroll. Loves philosophy and takes it seriously.
I was wondering the very same thing, so I look forward to Patrick’s reply.
In the late 1990’s I had a very short-lived blog entitled “The Friendly Theist” but got distracted by other priorities and only posted a few essays. So when I first saw “The Friendly Atheist”, I did a double-take.
What is science? How do you know it works? Does the fact that it works justify realism about scientific theories, or mere instrumentalism? What is the ontology of QFT - what does it actually mean to say that the Higgs boson exists? How do you know that some experiments at CERN have anything to do with the wider world? Why should we believe that because we found nature to conform to certain laws in the past, it will continue to conform to those laws in the future?
Some or all of those questions might sound silly or trivial, but they are actually difficult to answer in a thorough, rational way, and science itself can’t answer them. That is what philosophy is all about.
If philosophers feel the need to insert themselves into science, it is only because science is suffused with philosophy - and the scientists, not trained in philosophy side of things, can benefit from it. (They’re only trying to help!)
I look at about twenty sites for articles that I think may be of interest to this group. At first I had limited it to just science sites like science daily but I have since branched out. I now look at the AiG, RTB, DI, and Biologos sites for interesting items as well as the atheist sites like FFRF, Atheist Reliblic and the Friendly atheist. It is a pretty eclectic group including Coyne’s, Lents and Alices Bible Anthropology. It does reflect my value judgement but I try to find stuff that is of interest to a wide group of us. I really don’t mind the criticism or suggestions. Also I encourage other to post articles that they see and like. I think it adds a lot to the discussion as we get to see what the rest of the world is really thing about.
Because we can demonstrate that it works. They are called experiments.
What does it mean to say that the Higg’s boson exists? The same thing it means to say that cars exist or trees exist. Do we need philosophers to justify the existence of trees and cars? Do we need philosophers to tell us when it is safe to cross the street with their deep insights into the ontological truth of the existence of cars?
The constancy of laws through time and space have been confirmed through experimentation. If laws begin to change in the future or if they are not constant then science wouldn’t work and we would see that it wasn’t working.
Weinberg’s challenge still stands.
How have philosophers helped scientists develop the standard model in the post-war era?