In a review of Stephen Hawking’s book The Grand Design, Professor Christopher Norris of Cardiff University offers a riposte to Hawking’s contention that science makes philosophy redundant and philosophers a waste of space. Norris’ barbs strike deepest when he notes that Hawking takes up the tools of philosophy when the tools of science fail him.
Indeed, there is a sense in which the scientific enterprise stands or falls on the validity of counterfactual-conditional reasoning, that is to say, reasoning from what necessarily would be the case should certain conditions obtain or certain hypotheses hold. In its negative guise, this kind of thinking involves reasoning to what would have been the outcome if certain causally or materially relevant factors had not been operative in some given instance. Hawking constantly relies on such philosophical principles in order to present and justify his claims about the current and likely future course of developments in physics. Of course he is very welcome to them but he might do better to acknowledge their source in ways of thinking and protocols of valid argumentation that involve distinctly philosophical as well as scientific grounds.
Hawking and his fellow physicists declare philosophy dead, but in so doing have become philosophers, straying into a realm where science ceases to be a discipline, becoming instead systemic speculation detached from it’s own empirical foundations. The proposition has ceased to be hypothesis, and has become credo.
Hawking, in this, makes science into religion, albeit one without a deity. I suspect that what the eminent physicist finds wrong with religion and philosophy is not so much irrelevance (especially as he adopts their methods), but competitors for the hearts and minds of man. This is apparently something Hawking is unwilling to suffer. In the service of his beliefs, convinced that the ends justify him, he endeavors to de-legitimize the competition.
There is a term for such behavior when practiced among religions: jihad. How else can one describe the effort of one religion to condemn or purge opposing creeds?
It is time we follow Professor Norris’ lead and show the high priests of science that they have become the very thing they condemn.
- Stone Links: Scientism and the Future of Philosophy (opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com)
- Scientists and philosophers discuss morality and meaning (openparachute.wordpress.com)
- Describing Reality: Philosophy vs. Science (laughtersounds.wordpress.com)