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Is Science The Only Avenue To Truth?

Q: Can we really know anything apart from science? After all, philosophy and theology seem so speculative. Why should they be considered valid ways to know truth?

A: What you have described is itself a philosophical position called scientism or verificationism. This position holds that anything not accessible to the five senses (taste, touch, hearing, sight, and smell) cannot be known to be true. It was a position that was held by many in the past, but has been abandoned by many. It is still held to by some lay individuals.

As I stated above, this is itself a philosophical position. Therefore, if philosophy is not a valid way of knowing truth, how can you know that scientism is true? This view is thus self-defeating. Can you prove via the scientific method that nothing but what is provable via the scientific method can be known to be true? Of course not! At least, not without arguing in a circle. Yet this is not the only issue with the claim that the scientific method is the only way to know something to be true.

A second issue with verificationism is that there are several things that we are rational to believe that cannot be accessed by the scientific method. I have written about some of these here. Because I have touched on this elsewhere, I will be brief here. The scientific method cannot, for example, explain epistemological truths, or truths about how we understand truth. In fact, what you are assuming is related to epistemology more than it is to the scientific method! When you make a claim about how truth is known, you are making an epistemological claim, not a scientific claim. Again, if all philosophy is to be discarded, then you must discard your epistemological claim, as well. This truly is a double-edged sword!

Before I close this post, I would like to clear up what may be a misconception about philosophy. Philosophy does not just touch on areas that cannot be observed. Philosophy is both a first-order discipline and a second-order discipline. As a first-order discipline, philosophy deals with its own subject matter, such as epistemology and metaphysics. As a second-order discipline, philosophy touches on every other discipline. There is, for example, such a thing as the philosophy of science. When you study the philosophy of science, you are not studying science itself, but the philosophical background to the way science is done. The scientific method itself is an outgrowth of the philosophy of science. In that regard, science itself is dependent on philosophy!

In conclusion, yes, philosophy is a way in which truth can be known. No, science is not the only way to know truth. Not only is this view self-refuting, but it would require us to discard quite a bit of what we can rationally know to be true. I am not willing to give up rational beliefs because of an apriori assumption, and neither should you.

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