Uncommon Sense

May 16, 2023

Attackers to the Right of Me, Attackers to the Left of Me (Science)

There are widespread attacks on science going on stretching from bizarre conspiracy theories along with legitimate philosophic enquiries.

Some philosophers have questioned science because science has not established where physical laws come from. Sean Carroll, a science popularizer, responded with “Why do the laws of physics take the form they do? It sounds like a reasonable question, if you don’t think about it very hard.” This, of course, was attacked as an arrogant attitude. I think not. (Full Disclosure—I am a fan of Dr. Carroll’s popularizing works. Oh, and Dr. Carroll holds a university chair in the philosophy of science.)

This question is loaded with philosophical detritus. Philosophers historically were always searching for the ultimate causes of what they observed because they were looking for gods. Today we find ultimate causes and absolutes to be nonexistent in nature.

This question is basically asking why things are the way they are. Good question, for a philosophy class in which students are being taught to think by being asked questions for which no answers exist. One might as well ask “Why is God such an asshole?” for all the good it will do you.

There is also some fundamental misunderstandings about physical laws. The general public from time to time confuses them with social laws. They ask, “Well if there are laws, there must be a law giver, no?” A physical law is merely a natural behavior that is so trustworthy that no (or sometimes very few) exceptions are known to exist. It is a physical behavior we can trust and even make predictions based upon them. For example, the orbit of the Moon around the Earth is fairly consistent. It does vary a little, but just a little and these variances are quite well known. As a consequence we can predict the location of the Moon in the night sky 20 years or even 200 years from now with accuracy. And sending spaceships to Mars requires us to have it attempting to land where the planet will be after the months it takes for the ship to travel there, not where it happens to be now.

So, why do these physical regularities exist? This is not a question that scientists ask; it is a question that Philosophers of Science ask, however. So, not knowing the source of physical laws is not a failing of science, it is a failing of the philosophy of science.

Scientists are criticized for having the attitude that when science provides no answer to a question, there is no reason to believe that any answer is possible or even necessary. This criticism is stupid, in the extreme. Here are some reasons science hasn’t answered a question (yet):
a. no one has tried to answer the question
b. the funding needed to answer the question is not available
c. the technology needed to answer the question hasn’t been invented yet
d. the question is not a scientific one (that is about the behaviors of nature)
e. the question is incoherent
f. etc.

And whether an answer is possible can only be answered by trying to answer the question over and over and over, and failing over and over and over, but then the question of possibility has still not been answered because some new technology might be invented enabling the question to be answered. This is why the criticism “well, science can’t answer that question, now can it?” in incoherent because all questions are open. Because of this all scientific answers are provisional because we do not know what data will be discovered in the future.

There are no absolutes in science . . . but there are some very good bets. For example, if you want to bet me the Sun will not come up tomorrow, I will empty my bank accounts to take that bet. There is no physical law ensuring the Sun will come up tomorrow (We’ll call it the Annie Law: The Sun will comer up tomorrow!) but it has every day for millions of years and so the odds are very much that it will tomorrow, also.

Finally science has been criticized for not having the answers to the “Big Questions,” like: “Why is there something rather than nothing?” This is not a Big Question in the first place, but it is prominent in philosophy circles because they have no answer. Please note that if there were nothing, the question could not exist because there would be no one to ask it. This question can only arise in universes that are made of somethings. So, the question is moot. But, there are some hints we are garnering from Nature that “nothing” does not exist. So, one possible answer is that “nothing” is impossible. This is another absolute so favored by philosophers and churchmen.

Other stupid questions like “Where did the universe come from?” show the ignorance of the asker. The universe is everything. It can’t come from some other place without there being a section of the universe walled off from us it could some from. And, if it did exist then it would be part of the universe and the question would still be unanswered.

One of my favorites is “What is our purpose, what are we doing here?” Who said we have a purpose? Again, these are god-believers who desperately want such things to exist, all evidence to the contrary. Purposes are things we invent, for ourselves, that give direction to our efforts. They come from within; stop looking for them from without.



  1. Who would have thought, all those kids, over all these years, asking their parents, “but why?” Were practicing philosophers.

    I’m of the opinion, philosophy is more in the business of asking questions, than answering any. And I mean ANY!

    I get, that to get to the bottom of a logical reasoning, one has to ask questions, weigh options, and make choices in life. Philosophers however, IMO, are still children, asking “but why?” Then they spend 3 hours deciding what the words “but,” and “why,” mean. Come the morrow, they are still asking the same question, and riding the, let’s define simple words most of us already understand, merry-go-round.

    Liked by 2 people

    Comment by shelldigger — May 16, 2023 @ 6:35 pm | Reply

    • I have an undergraduate minor in philosophy and have been a philosophy buff my entire life. Philosophy exists as an academic subject as a tool to teach the young how to think by asking questions, many of which have no answer and are unlikely to be answered any time soon. Questions like “what is the purpose of life” should be addressed with “All life or my life?” and “Who said life has a purpose, what is their evidence?” I haven’t seen that skeptical approach taken in academia, even given that skepticism is a long tradition on philosophy.


      Comment by Steve Ruis — May 17, 2023 @ 10:22 am | Reply

      • I can see its uselfulness as a teaching how to think aid.

        My personal opinion is learning what logical fallacies are is important. I don’t think a person who uses them has learned to think yet.

        Plus, what are fallacies? If not philosphical?

        But IMO, when philosophy devolves into defining words like “definition” for hours on end, it has reached the end of its usefulness.

        Liked by 1 person

        Comment by shelldigger — May 19, 2023 @ 5:27 am | Reply

        • This is the depth to which academic philosophy has sunk. Instead of exploring how ordinary people can lead good lives (and sharing the good news), they bicker over points so fine they wouldn’t fall off of the point of a pin.


          Comment by Steve Ruis — May 19, 2023 @ 10:41 am | Reply

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