Thursday, January 23, 2014

Science as lifestyle.

A father grapples with his daughter losing faith in the "scientific view of life" ...

Science is the process of testing mathematical models using repeatable experiments. It is not a "view of life" or Weltanschauung. Even if you believe that science is the best way of knowing about the world/life, that is itself not a scientific belief. (It cannot be subjected to mathematical modeling and repeatable experiments.) It is a philosophical belief. (He could also be talking about the lifestyle of a professional scientist, but that doesn't seem as likely.)

Whether or not it is true is not really my concern here. (I don't believe that it is, but I do respect it and admit it makes a lot of sense when viewed from a certain angle.) My point is that many of our most vocal proponents of "science," in the pages of publications like the Guardian and the New York Times, fundamentally do not understand what science is. What they are actually advocating when they use the word is a larger set of beliefs, of which science proper is a subset, but which also includes such philosophical positions as naturalism, materialism, and empiricism.

Why are they apparently so hesitant to admit that they have a "philosophical view of life" rather than "scientific view of life?" I cannot read their minds, but I would hazard a guess that it is because science has more cultural cache than philosophy does. Science makes iPhones and solves world hunger. Philosophy is popularly understood as the domain of vaguely anarchist pot-smoking undergraduates or dead, white males like Plato. Science also involves mathematics, and if you know math that means you're a pretty smart dude.

The whole "knowing math" thing tends to trip some people up though.

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