Does Science Over-reach?

Sunday, July 22, 2018

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.

Listening Notes

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.

Comments (7)

johnqeniac's picture


Sunday, July 22, 2018 -- 11:13 AM

you said, 'you have to

you said, 'you have to recognize the limits of science'. Since you are certain that science has limits (based on what evidence?) please state examples of phenomena which are intrinsically beyond the capacity of science to explain. And please give your evidence for that claim. Also, remember that the success of science is fundamentally measured by its power to predict outcomes based upon data and the models and equations developed to explain the measured data.

johnqeniac's picture


Sunday, July 22, 2018 -- 11:18 AM

remember that we should be

remember that we should be talking about the scientific method, not about scientists. both scientists and philosophers can be arrogant, misguided assholes because humans are all flawed, weak, and irrational. but the scientific method is designed to overcome (collectively and over time) precisely the pitifully foolish, limited, and irrational nature of weak-minded human beings. philosophy by its nature never makes progress. the scientific method realist in continuous expansion of knowledge and predictability. please address the real issue - not universal human weakness but the best methodology for understanding the nature of the world (of which, human minds are a part).

johnqeniac's picture


Sunday, July 22, 2018 -- 11:34 AM

sam harris tried to outline a

sam harris tried to outline a framework for studying morality and values, which he called 'the moral landscape'.

it was ridiculed and dismissed pre-emptively and reflexively by lots of scientists and all philosophers, but without actually examining his argument.

please discuss harris' moral landscape framework.


greg slater

johnqeniac's picture


Sunday, July 22, 2018 -- 11:41 AM

It is not clear that science

It is not clear that science can or cannot ever have a theory of moral value, or explain emergent phenomena, but we can say definitively that philosophy never can give a definitive theory.
so, we can give an endless list of the accomplishments of science in explaining the world, but can you give a single example of a definitive accomplishment of philosophy or religion in explaining the nature of the world? I don't think so. philosophy and religion are always reacting to the latest discoveries from science and desperately re-working their doctrines to keep up with science.
can it possibly be you and Pigliucci fail to recognize this?
- Greg Slater

johnqeniac's picture


Sunday, July 22, 2018 -- 11:48 AM

Pigliucci, without apparently

Pigliucci, without apparently realizing it, just made the case that philosophy (at best) is like mathematics in that you can have any number of mathematical theorems derived from certain postulates, but which say nothing predictable about the world, only that they have self-consistency (though, see godel, of course).

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Monday, July 23, 2018 -- 10:57 AM

I did not read the previous

I did not read the previous comments on this post. I shall try to keep my own brief. Firstly, I do not know that science has a lock on acquisition of genuine knowledge. There are many facts which are obtainable, without resorting to scientific method and inquiry. Those who are anti-science may argue the over-reach viewpoint. They may be doing so, however, based on some system of ethical or moral belief, arguably unrelated to a scientific approach. As a practical matter, any notion of curtailing science is passe in a modern world. There is too little to gain; too much to lose...

MJA's picture


Tuesday, July 24, 2018 -- 5:16 AM

I hope science One day finds

I hope science One day finds wisdom too. =



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Massimo Pigliucci, Professor of Philosophy, City University of New York


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