Philosophy of Science,  Politics,  Science,  Worldview

Earth Day: When Earth and Rationality Part Company

In honor of earth day, here are three fallacious earth day arguments:

The first one suggests that scientific research strongly entails some particular government policy. It is used to suggest that any disagreement over government policy is directly related to one’s attitude toward science. Here is a formal version:

If you accept science, then you accept policy P.
You reject policy P
Therefore, you reject science

A good example of this sort of fallacy is provided by Bill Nye (a good source of silly fallacies, by the way). “All science is political” he said. And then he proceeded to bash the highly qualified scientist who disagreed with Nye’s position on the role of government in reducing emissions. The problem with the argument is that even if one accepts the most ‘alarmist’ conclusions about human damage of the environment, this does not entail any particular government policy.

The second sort of argument links a worldview with science such that to accept science you must accept a worldview. In most cases, the worldview in question is naturalism, the view that all that exists is knowable through natural science.

If you accept science, then you accept naturalism
You reject naturalism
Therefore, you reject science

This is just nonsense. Kepler, Einstein, Newton, Descartes, Bacon, and Copernicus were all non-naturalists. There are many theists who are scientists and a good many Christians.

A third kind of argument suggests that science is the only credible source of knowledge and so any claim not produced by science does not count as knowledge.

You believe X
If you have knowledge, then you gained it from science
X does not come from science
Therefore, X is not knowledge

This argument is often used against Christians who claim to know certain things because God has told them (in the Bible). But the argument suggests that there are no sources of knowledge outside of what is available through the scientific method. But this is not true. Consider our memories. I have a whole set of beliefs based on what I remember, but I do not arrive at any of them through the scientific method. Furthermore, the claim that X is knowledge only if it is gained from science itself is not gained from science. Thus, this argument is self-refuting.

The three arguments above turn quite easily into an agenda – (i) politicize science, (ii) make science the domain of one worldview, and (iii) make science the ultimate arbiter of any truth claim. All of these agendas are unhelpful to the scientific endeavor.

Assistant Professor of Philosophy and History of Ideas at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and The College at Southeastern.