“Science is the only philosophical construct we have to determine TRUTH with any degree of reliability.” – Harry Kroto, Nobel Prize Winner (Chemistry)
This post is the beginning of a new segment at Neillology where I will share highlights of my debates on various topics of interest to my readers. Enjoy!
Is science the only way to know truth?
Many Atheists appeal to the methods of science as the only reliable way for human beings to discover truth…
This is an old and, I think, well defeated philosophy. In short, the position is self-defeating. I.E. The claim “all truths are scientific truths” is not itself a scientific truth! And, therefore, it must be false by the arguer’s own standard.
However, the notion that science is the only objective source of truth is still very common on the popular level (as we will see).
The following is my interaction with a recent entry on the blog “Escaping Christian Fundamentalism”. Read the full entry here.
Gary (atheist): when it comes to personal experiences, it is certainly possible that supernatural events occur in the lives of individuals, events which, by definition, defy the laws of science, thereby making it impossible to validate the veracity of these claims with the standard methods used by science.
However, atheists such as myself do not claim that it is impossible that events which cannot be measured and quantified by science do not occur. They very well may. What we state is that if one is going to make a universal truth claim; a claim that is true for every person, at all times, and in every location, then there must be verifiable evidence to support such a claim using universally accepted standards of evidence. Subjective preferences and personal experiences are not sufficient for universal truth claims.
So, if you as a Christian wish to believe that a first century Jewish baby was born of a virgin mother, fathered by a (holy) ghost, and given supernatural powers that give him the ability to grant you life after death, that is your certainly your choice. But don’t expect most modern, educated non-believers to accept these fantastical claims as fact without quality evidence!
The problem for Christians is: quality evidence does not exist for your 2,000 year old supernatural tale.
Taylor (Neillologist): Gary, I think these two quotes (both by you) are incompatible with one another.
- “it is certainly possible that supernatural events occur in the lives of individuals, events which, by definition, defy the laws of science, thereby making it impossible to validate the veracity of these claims with the standard methods used by science.”
- “if one is going to make a universal truth claim; a claim that is true for every person, at all times, and in every location, then there must be verifiable evidence to support such a claim using universally accepted standards of evidence.”
In the first quote you state that supernatural events are possible, but not scientifically testable because, by order of logic, science only explores the natural world, and the supernatural is, by definition, beyond the scope of nature.
In the second quote, you say that only scientifically verifiable truths can be universal.
BUT, if a supernatural event did occur, the reality of that event would be universally true by your own definition! Thus, in contradiction to your argument, this would be an example of a universal truth that is not scientifically verifiable.
Perhaps you mean that we should not CLAIM a universal truth unless it can be accessed by the methods of science? But that compounds the issue further!
To explain, the following statement
“if one is going to make a universal truth claim… then there must be verifiable evidence to support such a claim using universally accepted standards of evidence (science)”
is itself a universal truth claim that is NOT accessible by the methods of science!
So this whole interaction turns out to be an example of the self-refuting nature of the belief that all truth is scientific truth… Itself not a scientific truth.
What do YOU think? Did I get it right or does Gary have a point? What do you think about the debate format for Neillology? Let me know in the comments and click subscribe if you want to see new posts as soon as they’re published!
Have a topic that you would like to see addressed? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you want to see Gary’s response, the debate continues on page 2!