The Unity of Science and Philosophy

This is the third article in a new nine-part series entitled “Evidence for Agnostics.” New articles in the series will be published each Monday.

For many agnostics, any assertion outside of the realms of scientific investigation and its empirical methods are merely matters of perception or personal philosophy, not matters of fact or truth.  For what truths there are, are only the facts of science.  Everything else is simply a matter of philosophy, which science has proven is just a perceptual scheme, a mere personal paradigm of no authority or truth.

While this may seem a bit overstated, just think about the common understanding of two words: “science” and “philosophy.”  When we think about “science,” we think about rigorous research and proven or provable facts.  But when we think about “philosophy” we think about ideas and opinions, about beliefs and personal preferences.  All matters of opinion.  Never as matters of fact.

For in our modern world, any topic or field of study outside of the pure and applied sciences ultimately and inevitably boils down to matters of opinion and preference, to matters of philosophy and demographic trends based on collective and common preferences and perceptions.  Never as facts.  For matters of philosophy are never really factual.  They are just ideas and opinions.  Only matters of culture or demographics.  For that is how the modern scientific story goes.

But, this modern sharp distinction between science and philosophy is really a difference about how we know.  About how we know anything.  And, in philosophy, this field of study is called epistemology – the study of how anything is known.  And, in our modern world, as the preceding article explains in more detail, the only way for us to know any fact, any truth, any reality is with the rigorous application of the scientific method.  Anything else is just an opinion, a personal perception, a philosophical preference.

But suppose this scientific emphasis is wrong?  Suppose science does not have exclusive command of how we know facts or truths?  Suppose science actually isn’t a discrete way of knowing?  A way of knowing above any other way of knowing?  Wouldn’t that mean that science’s power and authority was actually limited to and confined to the realms of reality open to such scientific investigation?  Wouldn’t that mean science is the only legitimate method for knowing about the physical realities of the universe? 

But, knowledge of other facts and truths, philosophical facts and truths, could be found in and grounded on the implicit power resident in science’s methods?  A power actively applied in every step and stage of empirical research and review, in every replication and application of scientific laws and theories?

For science’s crucial power and foundational source of authority isn’t really science.  Science’s real source of its methods and its rigor, its facts and laws is the inherent power and veracity of reason, on reason’s inherent rationality and reason’s logical laws and methodology.  For science’s real power arises from its ubiquitous use of reason’s rigors and its critical use of inductive and deductive logical power in all the pure and applied sciences. 

It also rests on the logic of commonsense; on our, often intuitive, grasp of rationality that can be used and tested scientifically.  For science is really just a form of logic, reason and commonsense applied to the tangible world of matter and energy, in space and time. 

But, what happens when we look at subjects and ideas of an intangible nature?  Should not reason be our primary method of investigation in these areas too?  It should.  And, it was.  That was what philosophy was all about – the application of reason, logic and commonsense to all the areas we often attribute to philosophy, including how we know. 

For reason is the basis for both science and philosophy.  For reason is really the primary way of knowing in science and in philosophy.   For reason is the truly singular way of knowing anything.  For these two seemingly disparate ways of knowing, apply reason to questions of a tangible and of an intangible nature, to physical laws and mental ideas and truths.

But, this modern shift emphasizing science not only ignores, diminishes or denies reason’s requisite role in the conduct of science.  It also emphasizes the role of mathematics in science without recognizing the rational and logical nature of mathematics too.  And, all this is why, in modern times, we have come to see science as the standard for proving the existence of God, rather than understanding the very nature of science is evidence for not only God’s existence, but as evidence of God’s very nature and mind.   

For reason’s order and power is manifest in our minds when we use them properly.  And, reason is an intangible order of the first order.  A first fact, upon which we can conduct our science properly and rigorously.  For our true basis for knowing is not science.  Our true basis for knowing is reason.  We know scientific truths through reason properly applied through the rigors of empirical scientific investigations and critical reviews and replications.  And, we know philosophical truths through reason properly applied logically and rationally to the crucial and primary philosophical questions and ideas. 

That is why epistemology is so crucial to knowing anything.  Because our epistemology has to be right, if we want the truth.  Scientific truth and philosophical truth. Physical truth and metaphysical truth.  And, the right epistemology is rational, reliant  on reason’s rules and analyses. 

To make this point a bit clearer, can real science be done irrationally, without regard to logical criticism and rational laws?  Would science be science without reason?  Would mathematics be mathematics without reason?  No.  Clearly and irrefutably “no.”

So, reason is truly the fundamental way of all knowing.  Humanity’s essential and elementary epistemology.  And, it is this first primary and essential rational order and power that truly unites scientific inquiry and philosophical argumentation.  For they are both grounded in and guided by reason and its rules and rigors. 

Science and philosophy are tied together by their common use of reason guiding their research and thinking and by their common use of reason’s critical standards that reveal and remove faulty conclusions of a scientific nature and of a philosophical nature.  And so, science and philosophy are truly harmonic aspects by virtue of their common epistemology.  Yet, they are distinctive because they inquire about different, though not unrelated, fields of study and realities.

So, the first fundamental facts agnostics must confront is the epistemological commonality between science and philosophy.  For as agnostics, their particular problem is knowing.  And, the harmony of science and philosophy through reason eliminates the logical barriers of physical and mental evidence.  And, the real reality of rationality, of an intangible order to our minds removes the conflict between science and philosophy.  And, it seriously implies the possibility of an intangible order-er outside of the material of the universe. A maker and an order-er of minds.

For the realities of reason’s broader scope of applicability strongly suggests to agnostics both a way of knowing and the possibility of a Maker of this rational order and of our minds.  Now, knowing whether God exists is possible because of the harmony of science and philosophy.  Knowing what can be known about God’s nature, and knowing to what degree this knowledge is now possible and within our grasp. 

And, that’s why epistemology is so important to agnostics and to atheists, as well as to believers.

For it is reasonable to demand evidence for the existence of God.  And, it is a rational law that compels such a demand, such a necessity.  Or, at least it should.  And, that demand for evidence is evidence itself.  For it is a rational requirement for any assertion of truth.  A necessity for any assertion of truth, particularly of such a scale and scope.

And, this rational order and its requisite rigor is truly the primary proof of the existence of God.  For this order and rigor must have a cause, a creator, a maker.  Otherwise, rationality is reduced to mere biology, to mere neural activity.  And, in that instant, all knowing is lost.   All knowing, including science and mathematics, is lost.  For “if all we are is biochemistry, we have no way of knowing that all we are is biochemistry.”

That is why our first proof for the existence of God is the fact that we know rationally and logically that we need evidence.  For it is a rational and irrefutable rule that all claims of fact and truth require it.  And, that is why epistemology is everything.  For we have to know how to know before we can know.  And, that need for evidence is, in fact, evidence.  Evidence of a rational order.  A rational, but intangible, order that is inherent to our being and evident even in in our very anatomy.   

Photo by Alex Harmuth on Unsplash

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Mr. Cronin has studied on a graduate level in education at Harvard University and at the University of Connecticut, in leadership at Columbia University and in theology at Regent University and Holy Apostles College and Seminary. He also writes regularly for The National Catholic Register and appeared on EWTN’s The Journey Home with Marcus Grodi following his 2007 reversion to the Catholic faith from atheism and evangelical Protestantism.

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