When Science Masquerades as Philosophy

In Alex Rosenberg’s The Atheist’s Guide to Reality, he attempts to demonstrate why science is “our exclusive guide to reality.” Here, Rosenberg attempts to provide a neat synopsis of life’s big questions, along with what he considers to be scientifically reliable answers. Here are some of life’s big questions that he thinks science can answer:

Is there a God? No. What is the nature of reality? What physics says it is. What is the purpose of the universe? There is none. What is the meaning of life? Ditto. Why am I here? Just dumb luck . . . Is there free will? Not a chance. What is the difference between right and wrong, good and bad? There is no moral difference between them. Why should I be moral? Because it makes you feel better than being immoral. Is abortion, euthanasia, suicide, paying taxes, foreign aid, or anything else you don’t like forbidden, permissible, or something obligatory? Anything goes.[1]

Here, Rosenberg makes the assumption that what science reveals to us is all that is real. But as Edward Feser points out, Rosenberg is guilty of a reductionist view of reality. Feser illustrates:

  1. Metal detectors have had far greater success in finding coins and other metallic objects in more places than any other method has.
  2. Therefore, what metal detectors reveal to us (coins and other metallic objects) is probably all that is real.[2]

Anyone who came to this conclusion about metal detectors should visit a doctor, of course. The point is, Rosenberg and others who follow his lead should allow for additional ways besides science to explain reality along with life’s big questions. Metal detectors will always find metal and science will always find material/physical explanations to reality. We must  ask what kinds of questions science can legitimately answer.  Can science can answer the “why” questions?  Yes, it is true science can say why the universe exists. In other words, they can say the universe exists because of the Big Bang or some other scientific explanation. But, science is generally restricted to study how the mechanisms work behind several features of the natural or physical world. But once science attempts to answer whether or why the universe and several features of reality may have a deeper purpose, design, or an end goal, it enters the realm of philosophy.

 [1]. Alexander Rosenberg, The Atheist’s Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life without Illusions (New York: W.W. Norton. 2012), 2-3.

[2].  Feser, Five Proofs for The Existence of God, 281.

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