Science, Religion, and Philosophy

Posted on Posted in Ethics, Philosophy of Religion, Science, Uncategorized

The relationship between science and religion is an important topic, which professional philosophers have ignored for the most part and left amateur philosophers (usually scientists and often religious preachers) to address.

However, more properly speaking the appropriately philosophical question is the relationship between science and philosophy.

And there also an very interesting relationship, although generally not of interest to non-thestic mainstream of academic philosophy, which is the relationship between religion and philosophy.

This is just a blog post so I’m not going to address every aspect of the relationship between these different disciplines but rather just make a comment on how philosophy, in a sense, exercises a kind of authority over both science and religion.

Philosophy and Science

In one sense philosophy has nothing to say to scientists. The famous quote from Richard Feynman about says it all, “Philosophy of science is about as useful to scientists as ornithology is to birds.”

Scientists can and do do science in complete independence and without permission or sanction from philosophers. However philosophy raises basic questions about the entirety of all our scientific knowledge and even about our perception of the world. Philosophy leads one to wonder even about the existence of the physical world we see and perceive, which obviously casts a shadow of doubt over all possible claims that any scientist could ever make.

Philosophy and Religion

In a similar way philosophy as a discipline has nothing to say to religion, which means that many of the basic claims of religion are what are often referred to as “pre-philosophical commitments.” And the job of philosopher is not to criticize pre-philosophical commitments. However, philosophy does exercise a certain power of judgement over religion even despite not necessarily being able to challenge its pre-philosophical commitments. Philosophy has much the same relationship to religion as it does to ethics. Many of our ethical beliefs are pre-philosophical, however what philosophy can show is inconsistency between certain pre-philosophical commitments whether religious or moral.

So, although philosophy cannot critique the pre-philosophical commitments of many religious traditions it can show an inconsistency between them, or more often an inconsistency between some commitment and actual practice. Like philosophy could show a prima facie inconsistency between a religious commitment to values like compassion and caring for the poor and laissez-faire capitalism, you know like just for example.

So, while a religious believer may not accept as a higher authority than revelation they must, if they don’t want to be disingenuous, accept that reason has a certain kind of authority over religious teachings and practice. And in point of fact all religious people, although they are not trained to do so i.e. they are not professional philosophers, use reason, mostly not very well, in applying their religious teachings to everyday life.

5 thoughts on “Science, Religion, and Philosophy

  1. Hi Gaura! Can you explain to me more about the idea of pre-philosophical commitments and why philosophy cannot challenge these commitments?

  2. Kyle, did you have something specific in mind or any particular reason to doubt this claim? Just trying to get more information and understand where you are coming from.

  3. I don’t understand the claim because I’m not familiar with the terms and a quick search of the SEP didn’t lend any clarity to the matter. I’m suspending judgment on the claim until I know more about it, though if pressed I have to say I’d find it strange if there were any claims that philosophy could not challenge.

  4. Gotcha, the view that there are some things that count as “pre-philosophical” is certainly a philosophical view :). Although I think it would be pretty tough row to hoe to deny the existence of pre-philosophical commitments just what would count as a pre-philosophical commitment is definitely up for grabs. Give me a couple of days and I’ll do a post on it in more detail. Some examples of something I would a pre-philosophical commitments are a belief in the existence of the external world, belief that other people are conscious and not merely philosophical zombies, belief in the existence or non-existence of God or the soul. In general these are going to be questions that science or reason cannot adjudicate the answer to. More later.

  5. I look forward to the additional info! Especially since most of the examples you gave definitely seem worthy of philosophical critique in my opinion 🙂 Even when science and reason cannot give us definitive answers they can often point us in the most likely direction, which seems better than adopting a view without scrutiny. I think I’d have to agree that the belief in the existence of the outside world is a pre-philosophical commitment as I understand the use of the term, since there’s nothing we can do to show it to be true, false, likely, or unlikely.

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