Is Science The Only Path To Truth ?

The provocative title of a discussion event by Intelligence Squared held last Thursday at the Science Museum, Dana Centre, which I managed to attend after all.

Chaired by Jack Klaff, featuring Ian Angell, Ray Tallis, Jane O’Grady, and David Papineau as the panel, with Lewis Wolpert and others in the audience of around 100(?).

If there were any theists present they kept their heads down, and would probably have chuckled at the shambolic “non-debate” as far as fitting the available resources to the agenda. Very interesting to see the level of “talking past each other” amongst scientists and philosophers, as well as the arts and humanities represented.

Ray Tallis was closest to any middle ground, but even he appeared to be an unreconstructed dualist, seeing two clearly distinct objective and subjective domains of reality. The subjective humanities simply denied any scientific contribution to such things as love or art – the classic battleground being the “neural correlates of consciousness”. The scientists were frankly embarassingly arrogant in seeing no alternatives to scientism, despite significant definitional debate around narrow and broad conceptions of objectivity, empiricism and methods of science in “the view from nowhere” and truth defined anywhere from “objective fact” to pragmatism. Embarassing that they see only scale and complexity of detail in the ultimate tractability of everything falling under science, ignoring the paradoxes (eg in the zombie thought experiment) and non-linearity in the position of game-changing intentional consciousness in the game of life as we know it.

Ian Angell of course took the combative and extreme line of branding all objectivity and causation of as delusional, practically wearing his Nietzschean transendental nihilism on his sleeve. Strength of feeling was never going to win any arguments on this night or any other.

Other than those, I have to say it was mostly trading well rehearsed rhetorical arguments and smart-ass put-downs, that were simply not being listened to, let alone appreciated or understood, by their “targets” on either side. Wittgenstein’s take on language games got creditable recognition, but if you want a battle of words, don’t surprised if you get a war.

The answers lie somewhere in the “path” – that is the constructive processes of progress – and in raising the consciousness / free-will / intentionality / psychology / ethics / justice debate as THE core subject, above the “scientism vs love & emotion” tit-for-tat. Pragmatic objectivist convention that need not be greedy reductionist; determinism that does not deny free-will. It’s all there for the taking, in the quality of wisdom and values that fall between subject and object.

2 thoughts on “Is Science The Only Path To Truth ?”

  1. I wish I could have heard this discussion. Thanks very much for your fascinating and provocative summary of it. It doesn’t appear there will be a web version available any time soon?

  2. Hi Marde,

    The event was filmed. I understand Intelligence Squared will be putting it up on their web site, but I’ve not checked.

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