Despite my repudiation of the claim, Jerry Coyne continues to argue that I think that there are “ways of knowing” other than science. I have said, and will say again, if it’s any use, that the locution ‘way(s) of knowing’ is not clear. The point of using it seems to be to rule out certain claims to know, or to be able to establish some things as items of knowledge, and others as mere subjective suppositions, but no one, so far at least, has proposed a definition of what a “way” of knowing might be. In fact, as earlier commenters have pointed out, we know all sorts of things which do not obviously come within the ambit of science, stretch the meaning of the word ‘science’ in whatever way you please. Indeed, the argument that knowledge is confined to what can be confirmed scientifically, broadly construed, is merely a way of settling the disagreement over scientism by fiat. Let’s take some of the uses of the word ‘know’ that Tim
Martin Harris suggested some weeks (or is it already months!) ago: knowing how to ride a bike, knowing how to play an instrument, knowing a language, knowing someone (as against not knowing them), knowing a character in a novel or in a play, knowing what it is like to be in an accident, or to have the special knowledge that only those who have been there can have, of fighting in a battle, say, or knowing what it is like to live in poverty, or being told that you have only two weeks to live. It does not seem to me that any of these describe “ways” of knowing, a such, though each of them, in a reasonable sense, may be said to delimit spheres or items or realms of knowledge that are very different and to the achievement of which very different types of experience are necessary. And nothing very useful regarding the nature or the limits of knowledge have been determined once we have done this.
First of all, it seems to me, we must try to understand why it is that some people want to restrict knowledge to the scientific “way of knowing,” whatever that is, and so far no one has given a very satisfactory definition of why people want to make this restriction, and what making it accomplishes. This is especially true if the qualification is added about the scientific way of knowing, broadly construed. This looks very much like an effort simply to stretch the meaning of the word ‘science’ in such a way that any claim to know will automatically be entered under the column labelled “Science.” And the advantage of doing so is presumably that science, given the remarkable and admirable achievements of science over the last four centuries or so, gives a special “cachet” to the claim to know. Thus, when neuroscientists bruit about the claim to have detected, in the brain, the moment of decision — as in the famous experiments by Libet (and successors), which have been taken to prove that we make decisions before we become conscious of them — it is taken as settling, once and for all, the very contested philosophical issue of free will, even though there is as yet no reason to identify brain events as detected by neuroscientists with conscious decision making. What would support this much desiderated identification? So far, the answer to that question is unclear, which hasn’t detained neuroscientists for very long in their rush to judgement. It’s a bit like those neuroscientific experiments designed to locate the centre of spirituality in the brain, by using nuns as experimental subjects, because they, it is apparently assumed, are — if anyone is — more likely to be having religious experiences than others who do not wear their religion on their sleeve. The presuppositions underlying these assumptions are obvious, but I have yet to see a justification for making them. This is not, to be frank, much more reliable than taking individuals’ introspective accounts of their experiences as somehow above question, but so long as the label “Scientific” can be applied to the results, we are somehow lulled into the questionable belief that the results are more reliable than asking people what their experiences are like.