Philosophy of Science: Scientific Investigation, Research, Methodology

What is the Philosophy of Science?

The Philosophy of Science is concerned with how science operates, what the goals of science should be, what relationship it should have with the rest of society, the differences between science and other activities, etc. Everything in science has some relationship with the Philosophy of Science and is predicated upon some philosophical position, even though that may be rarely evident.

A common disagreement between atheists and theists is whether science can or should address religious issues; atheists argue that no empirical claims are closed to science and that everything should be tested scientifically.


Philosophy of Science & Scientific Research:

The Philosophy of Science is divided into two areas of concern: the process of scientific research & discovery and the fruits of that process — the things we discover and the insights we gain. The first is concerned with the proper procedure for acquiring knowledge which can justifiably be called “scientific”; the second, is concerned with the ultimate use and purpose of that which is discovered. Disagreements between atheists and theists occur more often in the context of the first rather than the second, but even in the second there can be many debates — for example, whether stem-cell research should be allowed.


Why Should Atheists Care about the Philosophy of Science?

There are significant disagreements over the nature and process of scientific research which involve disputes between atheists and theists. There is a strong movement, for example, to undermine the methodological naturalism which constitutes a primary basis by which scientific investigation proceeds.

Some Christians see this methodology as antithetical to their theistic beliefs and a barrier to the introduction of those beliefs into school science classes. How science should be done and why are vital to the long-term health of science and its ability to continue providing us with reliable answers about our world.


Philosophy of Science & Philosophy:

Because so much of the Philosophy of Science is concerned with questions about knowledge and knowledge claims, it is often considered a subfield of Epistemology. The Philosophy of Science also raises important questions touching upon Ethics (should stem-cell research be allowed, should experiments be performed on embryos) and Metaphysics (it raises questions about whether or not and how the very substance of reality can be understood). It is thus impossible to get involved with the Philosophy of Science without dealing in some depth with several other branches of philosophy at the same time.


What is an Atheist Philosophy of Science?

Since the only thing all atheists all agree on is disbelief in the existence of gods, the only common point for all atheists' philosophy of science is the absence of any gods and probably anything supernatural.

Most atheists in the West, however, will also tend to agree that science proceeds best when it is done on the basis of methodological naturalism: the assumption, for the sake of research, that all phenomena are natural, that all have natural causes, and that these causes can be studied and understood by natural, scientific investigations. This is what has made science so successful.


Questions asked in the Philosophy of Science:

Is science based upon faith?
What is the scientific method?
How are new scientific discoveries treated?
Is everything reducible to physics and mathematics?
Is science a force for good or evil?


Important Texts in the Philosophy of Science:

Treatise on Human Nature, by David Hume
Structure of Scientific Revolutions, by Thomas Kuhn
Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge, by Imre Lakatos
The Logic of Scientific Discovery, by Karl Popper
Unweaving The Rainbow, by Richard Dawkins