Can We Do Science Without Philosophy?

Lawrence M. Krauss, a well-known cosmologist and popular-science writer, wrote a new book titled A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing, in which he claims that the laws of quantum mechanics have in them the makings of a thoroughly scientific and adamantly secular explanation of why there is something rather than nothing.

Case closed? Hardly. In a New York Times article, philosopher David Albert raises the obvious question, “where did the laws of quantum mechanics come from?”

Krauss does indeed address the issue toward the end of the book, where he admits he hasn’t a clue. He simply takes them for granted.

Now, the post-modern reader could say, “why do you have to bring philosophy into the picture?  This isn’t a philosophical question; it’s a scientific one. If you’re wondering what the meaning of life is, it’s whatever you choose to assign to it. It takes a philosopher to take something very simple and make it ridiculously complicated.”

Now, is the question “where did the laws of quantum mechanics come from?” a complicated one? Or is Krauss not making an implied philosophical argument when he says that such laws have in them the makings of a thoroughly scientific and adamantly secular explanation of why there is something rather than nothing.

Biologist and vociferous advocate of scientism Richard Dawkins certainly thinks so in his afterword to the book, “Even the last remaining trump card of the theologian, ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?,’ shrivels up before your eyes as you read these pages. If ‘On the Origin of Species’ was biology’s deadliest blow to super­naturalism, we may come to see ‘A Universe From Nothing’ as the equivalent from cosmology. The title means exactly what it says. And what it says is ­devastating.”

People who think that scientists are able to disconnect their scientific endeavors from their philosophical outlook on life are deluded. Most scientists today, consciously or not, operate under the philosophical clout of materialistic scientism, as admitted by biologist Richard Lewontin:

We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism.
It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. –Billions and Billions of Demons’, The New York Review, January 9, 1997, p. 31.

Finally, who wakes up in the morning thinking about the laws of quantum mechanics (or gravity, or strong and weak nuclear force) per se? “Gee, I wonder how them laws are doin’ this fine morning?”

Noboby. Every single person in this world is not a bit concerned with the physical construct of our universe.

Do we think that the world’s reaction to the school bus incident in New York is in any way tied to how people feel about the laws of quantum mechanics?

Not a bit. We are concerned with life, emotions, fear, love, relationships, happiness, death. And meaning.

Above all, meaning.

Which is, in the end, a philosophical issue.

So, ca we do science without philosophy? If we could, would scientific answers matter? It was the Austrian-British philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein who once said: “Even if all possible scientific questions be answered, the problems of life have still not been touched at all.”

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