Abstract It is an unfortunate fact of academic life that there is a sharp divide between science and philosophy, with scientists often being openly dismissive of philosophy, and philosophers being equally contemptuous of the naivete of scientists when it comes to the philosophical underpinnings of their own discipline. In this paper I explore the possibility of reducing the distance between the two sides by introducing science students to some interesting philosophical aspects of research in evolutionary biology, using biological theories of the origin of religion as an example. I show that philosophy is both a discipline in its own right as well as one that has interesting implications for the understanding and practice of science. While the goal is certainly not to turn science students into philosophers, the idea is that both disciplines cannot but benefit from a mutual dialogue that starts as soon as possible, in the classroom.
From the Conclusion:
In the particular example of scientific studies of religion, we have appreciated a number of things that may not have been obvious to the student who comes across the scientific literature but has no background in philosophy. First and foremost, that to study religion scientifically is not the same as refuting the existence of gods, for the simple reason that the supernatural is too vague a concept to qualify as a scientific hypothesis. Second, we have appreciated the distinction between proximate and ultimate causation, and therefore understood exactly why neurobiological and evolutionary explanations of religion are in no meaningful sense competing with each other. Third, we have examined the advantages of doing science by multiple hypotheses, which has also led us into an examination of multi-level causality and of the concept of causality itself—a primitive concept in science, but one that has been characterized by a rich philosophical tradition. Fourth, we have used memetics to examine both the limits and intelligent application of reductionism in science and the nature of ‘‘unobservables’’ in scientific theory, which in turn has provided us with an entry into the complex philosophical discussions between realists and anti-realists. Finally, we have began to better appreciate the nature of historical sciences and how they compare to experimental ones, which is particularly relevant to the study of evolutionary biology, a discipline characterized by a rich interaction between historical and experimental methods. I have shown by example how easy it is to introduce philosophical concepts in the study of science, and the reason for this ease is that science itself, as Dennett observed, is imbued with philosophical assumptions that should—at least from time to time—be considered by those who practice science as well as by those who teach it
Feel you learned anything? Us neither. If this is the best evo psych can do (and it is), go back to despising philosophy.
A serious philosopher might come along one day and chage your mind, but wait forthat.
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