Science is typically not construed as a form of intellectual arrogance. After all, the scientific method is about making sure your beliefs are regulated by observations and experiments rather than by personal biases, subjective preferences, or mere stubborn pride. But science has the tendency to believe that it is the measure of all things.
What Is It
We've all heard the phrase, "You can't argue with science." Appealing to scientific fact as a way to settle a question makes sense given the amazing advancements science has brought us in understanding how the world works. But should we take the accomplishments of science as evidence for scientism—the view that science is the best and only way to acquire genuine knowledge? Does faith in science require that we disregard all non-scientific viewpoints? Are there important questions that science cannot answer? Josh and Ken collect their data with Massimo Pugliucci from the CUNY Graduate Center, editor of Science Unlimited?: The Challenges of Scientism.
Part of a six-part series on Intellectual Humility.
Can science explain everything? Josh argues that science cannot measure beauty or significance or tell us what is right or wrong, while Ken holds that if those things are objective, we can be sure that a science to evaluate them can be developed. Ken asks: humans are products of the nature world, so can’t there be a “science of meaning-making”? Josh answers no, for science has its limitations. Even the best science, he says, cannot answer the questions that humans most care about.
The philosophers welcome Massimo Pigliucci, professor of philosophy at City University of New York and co-editor of Science Unlimited? The Challenges of Scientism, to the show. Massimo explains how he became interested in philosophy of science, after studying and working as a biologist for 20 years. Ken asks Massimo to make several distinctions: between pseudoscience and science, and that which is in the business of scientific understanding and that which is not. Next, the philosophers discuss Wilfrid Sellars’ contrast between manifest and scientific images, and how the latter often does not help us to understand the former. Discussing various topics such as the biology of gender, reason’s place in science, and literature as delivery of phenomenological experience, the philosophers debate whether numbers and calculations can capture the human experience itself.
One caller offers that science is an ongoing process that has rigor to it, but is constantly self-correcting and evolving. Ken likes this idea, and the philosophers further discuss how scientific theories and philosophical accounts differ. Massimo suggests that scientific findings sometimes do not matter, taking the question of whether gender is biological or not as an example. Ken pushes back on this, and the philosophers conclude by emphasizing the importance of interdisciplinary conversations among philosophers and scientists alike.
Roving Philosophical Report (seek to 3:55) → Roving Philosophical Reporter Liza Veale endeavors to answer the question: is gender more than a social construct? She interviews philosopher Helen Longino and poet Andrea Gibson on their thoughts.
Sixty-Second Philosopher (seek to 46:45) → Ian Shoales discusses how pseudo-science seems to be rampant as ever in society today.
Are there questions that science is powerless to answer?
Or is science the measure of all things?
Science may tell us what is. But can it tell us what ought to be?