The Summit Lecture Series: Scientific Naturalism with JP Moreland, part 2

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I was once invited to a dinner party where I was asked to give a presentation regarding truth, God and philosophy.  I was warned that there would be a gentleman attending who may cause me some problems.  Apparently, he had a Ph.D. in physics from Johns Hopkins, had been an engineer for 30 years, and really hated Christianity.

So, right after exchanging pleasantries, before the meeting, he launched into me:  “I understand you are a philosopher.  Well, philosophy and theology – I used to be interested in that kind of stuff when I was a teenager.  But when I grew up to a mature adult, I gave it up because I began to realize that if you can’t test and quantify your data and measure it in the lab, it’s nothing but a bunch of hot air.  And that’s what philosophy is.”

Now, that is somebody who accepts Scientism.

One problem with his statement is that moral, political, and theological assertions, as well as assertions in art and the like are simply non-cognitive.  They’re just emotional.

Another problem with his statement is that Empiricism and Scientism are self-refuting; and there are things that we can know that Empiricism and Scientism falsely imply we cannot know.

What did I mean be self-refuting?

One example of self-refutation includes the statement, “No sentence is longer than three words.”  This very sentence is seven words long, so it is self-refuting.

The problem with Empiricism is that its claim that “we can only know things that we can test with our five senses” cannot itself be proven or known by anything you can sense with your five senses.  It’s impossible to use your senses of sight, hearing, taste, touch, or smell to present any clue whatsoever as to whether or not Empiricism is correct.  Therefore, it’s self-refuting by its own standards.

The same thing holds true for Scientism.  The claim, “Only what can be tested scientifically can be known” is not itself testable scientifically.  In fact, scientism is not a statement of science.  It’s a statement of philosophy about science.

A true statement of science would be something like: “Water is H20”, “Magnetic fields oscillate back and forth with electrical fields”, or “The world’s continents shift because they rest upon plates.”

These are scientific assertions.  Whether they are true or false doesn’t matter in regards to their nature of scientific assertions.

However, Scientism is not a scientific assertion.  It’s an assertion in a branch of philosophy.  It’s actually the philosophical claim that, “You can’t know whether philosophical claims are true – you can only know scientific claims.”  Therefore it, also, is self-refuting.

So, how is this all practical?

Going back to the dinner party I was invited to, the gentleman I met said that anything that can’t be tested in a lab is just hot air.  He continued for a few minutes before I interrupted him and said, “I’m having a few problems with some of your claims here.  You’re claiming that the only thing we can know is what can be quantified and empirically tested in a lab, and if you can’t do that, it’s simply hot air.”

He agreed with my understanding of his view.

I then replied, “Your very arguments don’t stand up to your own criteria for legitimacy.”  He thought about it and was stunned.

Another argument against Scientism is:  If scientism is true, it follows that there are certain things that we can’t know such as mental fortitude, Plutonic forms, God, angels, Satan and his demons, moral values, political assertions and the like.  But we can know these things.  Therefore Scientism is false.

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