“We know these things through introspection!”
So the claim will go
Ignoring what the science says
On how it is we know.
Ideas are “self-evident”–
Thus science may be spurned–
A statement made by someone
Who’s forgotten how he learned.
Our senses can be faulty, and
Our brains a little rusted;
The science shows us, logically,
That science can’t be trusted!
We need the immaterial,
The stuff we cannot know–
And only by admitting this
Will science have room to grow.
We find the truth in many ways
Though science isn’t one
Without the need for evidence,
Discovery is fun!
So now, the things that I believe,
I simply label “True”.
(More dependable than science,
And much easier to do!)
I know the things that can’t be known–
That science cannot touch!
With high degrees of certainty…
Validity? Not much.
There’s a new story making the rounds (here via charisma news) of the atheist and the metal detector. The thing about metal detectors, you see, is that they detect metal. And an atheist doing science is like a person using a metal detector to then tell us there is no plastic on this stretch of beach. Such a person is, as the kids say, doing it wrong.
That’s what Dr. Edward Feser, who thought of this illustration, thinks about atheists who insist that all truth comes from science. The atheists are like metal-detector man, and science is their metal detector. Because their chosen tool—science—has been so successful in discovering material causes in the natural world, atheists mistakenly assume that nothing but material things exist. Just like metal-detector man doesn’t realize that plastic and rubber are part of his metal detector—in fact, it couldn’t work without them— some atheists don’t seem to realize that immaterial realities are part of science, and science couldn’t work without them.
Now, I don’t know a lot of straw-atheists, so I don’t know any who claim science can answer all questions. We are kinda limited to empirical questions, and know it. And most of us know that there are axiomatic assumptions behind our science, and that we need those in order to progress. Oh, and that those assumptions did not come from religion.
Anyway, Frank Turek, author of the article, thinks atheist scientists are doing it wrong.
You don’t need to be a scientist to learn basic truths through your senses either (call me crazy, but you don’t need to run a scientific experiment to learn if there’s a screen in front of you right now!). And certain truths you know directly through introspection (like whether you are hungry, tired, interested, bored, “in love,” convinced, doubtful, and so on). The testimony of others is still another way you can learn truth about historical events or those in the present day. And the list goes on.
If fact, if atheism were true, we wouldn’t be able to learn anything reliably, even from science itself. Atheists assert that only molecules exist. But if that’s the case, then human beings don’t have free will or the ability to reason. We are merely moist robots whose actions are completely determined by the laws of physics. So why should we believe anything atheists say, including any of their scientific conclusions or their reasons for believing atheistic materialism is true? They arrived at their conclusions not by reason, but because the laws of physics determined they would arrive at their conclusions.
I love it when someone asserts that some things are self-evidently true, when the very examples they presumably had plenty of time to consider are empirically untrue. Anyone who thinks we know we are hungry or tired through direct introspection has never paid attention to a toddler. As adults, we may well have forgotten that we had to learn about hunger and fatigue from our parents (who are altogether too eager to remind us of the time we screamed “I’M NOT SLEEPY!!! with eyes half-closed, moments from falling asleep on the floor). As for our senses, science can show us many examples where our senses are demonstrably not as reliable as we confidently assert they are (attentional blindness being one of the most vivid examples).
As for “only molecules exist”… again, I don’t know a lot of straw-atheists, so most of the ones I know would accept the existence of organisms, too. Yes, they are made of molecules, but there are neat things that happen when molecules get together, and the laws that describe their behavior are different than the laws of physics. Selection, for instance, at the level of both biology and behavior, works by a different set of principles than Newton sussed.
Why believe the atheist scientists? Perhaps because they don’t speak in terms of knowing “immaterial realities”, but rather limit their conclusions to what they can back up with evidence (that is, when acting as scientists. When acting as, say, Yankees fans, all bets are off). More crucially, because when they don’t limit their conclusions, and speak beyond their evidence (they are, after all, human), the scientific community acts as a scaffold, with plenty of other writers ready, willing and able to call them out on it. As such, despite our human limitations, we converge on agreement. Mind you, we still consider our strongly-held views as provisional, and always subject to further refinement, or even rejection, contingent on additional evidence.
Turek appears to think science is a search for absolute certainty. It is not, and cannot be. But it does provide very strong evidence suggesting that his own search for certainty is using the wrong tools.