Critical Thinking

A Skeptatic Dialogue, Part 2

Quentis and Firmatio: A Skeptatic Dialogue, Part 2

Continued from Part 1.

 

Quentis: Sure, but science doesn’t know everything. There’s a lot of things that western science doesn’t understand. Being able to fly if you jump three times is one of those things. Scientists don’t even know how bees can fly so it must be beyond scientific understanding. This could be beyond science too.

Firmatio: I think you’re just messing with me now.

Quentis: I’m really not. I’ve heard this hundreds of times. “Science doesn’t know everything.” There’s some people I’d like to quote about that. First is Dara O’Briain, “Science knows it doesn’t know everything; otherwise, it’d stop. But just because science doesn’t know everything doesn’t mean you can fill in the gaps with whatever fairy tale most appeals to you.” Did anyone ever claim that science knew everything?

Firmatio: Well, no.

Quentis: So why try to use that as an argument? If no one is claiming that “science knows everything,” why would I fall back on that?

Firmatio: Because science doesn’t know everything.

Quentis: Of course not, science isn’t a belief system, it’s a method for figuring out how things work and what is actually real. Lets’s go with Steven Novella, “What do you think science is? There’s nothing magical about science. It is simply a systematic way for carefully and thoroughly observing nature and using consistent logic to evaluate results. Which part of that exactly do you disagree with? Do you disagree with being thorough? Using careful observation? Being systematic? Or using consistent logic?”

Firmatio: There’s more to life than just science.

Quentis: And what does that mean? There’s more to reality than what is real? That is a self-contradiction. Is it really what you are saying?

Firmatio: No, just that there are things science can’t understand.

Quentis: Can’t or doesn’t?

Firmatio: Both.

Quentis: I said before that science doesn’t know how bees can fly, therefore their flight must be beyond scientific understanding and my own belief could be true because of that. As you’ve just affirmed, science doesn’t know everything. So I am right. If you jump three times you will be able to fly. This is beyond science.

Firmatio: That’s not how it works.

Quentis: How can you know how it works? Just because you tested it scientifically with 10,000 people doesn’t mean it’s not true. You just said that there are things science can’t know.

Firmatio: Yeah, but we know that you can’t fly.

Quentis: Because we have tested it and it goes against everything we’ve observed about people so far?

Firmatio: Yes.

Quentis: That’s science: observe the evidence and conclude that something is or isn’t probably true. But conclusions are always provisional, new evidence can come along and change what we know. Science is about evidence, not faith. As Tim Minchin says, “Science adjusts its views based on what’s observed; Faith is the denial of observation so that belief can be preserved.”

Firmatio: That doesn’t mean science knows everything.

Quentis: I never said it does. It’s a straw-man argument to argue against a position that the other person didn’t actually take. Anyway, we seem to have reached the circular part of this discussion. Let’s break free and look at what we’re really talking about. This is the argument from ignorance. We’re confusing the idea of something that is currently unexplained with the view that it is unexplainable. Science doesn’t know, therefore science can’t know. That’s rather prideful, isn’t it?

Firmatio: What do you mean?

Quentis: Assuming that just because people don’t know something now, that means they never will. For a long time many scientists didn’t know how bumblebees could fly because their bodies were so fat compared to their wings and the physics didn’t seem to work. If scientists just gave up and said “it’s unknowable” they never would have figured out the real mechanics of how they actually do fly. (http://www.physics.org/featuredetail.asp?id=32)

Firmatio: So what? Why are we talking about bees?

Quentis: We’re talking about flying. I said I could fly because it was beyond science and your evidence didn’t matter. But really, I’m arguing from ignorance. Just because science doesn’t know how something works doesn’t mean I can insert my own beliefs into that. It’s not a very sensible argument to say “I don’t know, therefore I do know.”

Firmatio: No one is saying that.

Quentis: I am. I’ve decided that I can fly, but I don’t know how that it works so I conclude that it must be beyond all of your evidence. Science doesn’t know about this, therefore it must be true for some other reason. Based on my ignorance of what could cause it, I concluded that it must be beyond science and used that to justify my belief. I don’t know how it works, therefore I do know that it is “beyond science.” My argument is not sound.

 

Continued in Part 3.

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Jay

Jay

Jay teaches English in Asia and loves skepticism and teaching above all else.

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