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Current Page: Opinion | Monday, April 25, 2016
Sen. Barbara Boxer Needs Philosophy to Think More Clearly

The Strange Standoff Between Science and Philosophy

Sen. Barbara Boxer Needs Philosophy to Think More Clearly

We all need help thinking more clearly — you, me, U.S. Senators like Barbara Boxer. And denying it sometimes proves the opposite.

A hearing that was held last week of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works consisted of Senator Barbara Boxer of California, Alex Epstein, the President for the Center for Industrial Progress, and Father Robert Sirico, a priest and president of the Acton Institute, among others.

The topic was how the president's climate policies had impacted economic opportunity, national security, and related issues. As Mr. Epstein finished his testimony by telling a story from his book A Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, Senator Boxer demanded: "Mr. Epstein, Are you a scientist?"

"No," he replied. "I'm a philosopher."

When Boxer sarcastically implied that he didn't belong in the hearing because he wasn't a scientist, Epstein pointed out that philosophy helps folks think more clearly.

Boxer snapped back, "I don't need help thinking more clearly."

Well, with all due respect to the good senator from California, the entire exchange demonstrated she does need help thinking more clearly, since hers was a classic example of a self-defeating set of statements.

First, if philosophers do not belong in such a hearing because they are not scientists, do politicians belong who are not scientists?

Second, the idea that science trumps philosophy is incoherent, since it is a philosophical statement. One could never prove empirically that science trumps philosophy; this is not an observable, repeatable truth about the universe concluded via scientific investigation. Her statement proposed a view of knowledge, or an epistemological assertion (to use the 50 cent word).

In other words, her statement that science trumps philosophy was a statement of philosophy.

It only became stranger when Sen. Boxer then turned her guns on Fr. Robert Sirico, and challenged how he, as a Catholic priest, could disagree with Pope Francis, who tweeted once that "inequality is the root of all evil." She then suggested that because the Acton Institute receives donations from corporations and philanthropists, Fr. Sirico couldn't be trusted to testify.

Now we won't even deal with the misunderstanding the Senator has about papal proclamations, because the logical fallacies here just continue to stack up: red herrings, poisoning the well, ad hominem, etc etc.

First, the Pope's tweet to which Sen Boxer appeals was not a scientific statement but, you guessed it, a philosophical one.

Second, the good Senator did not finance her own campaigns. If Fr. Sirico is disqualified because the Acton Institute receives donations from folks committed to certain political and moral ideas, she would be too, since she receives donations from folks committed to political and moral ideas.

Now I can't help but think here of Professor Diggory from the Chronicles of Narnia muttering under his breath: "Logic! Why don't they teach logic at these schools!"

Beyond that however, is something else worth remembering from C.S. Lewis. In his book The Abolition of Man, Lewis warned of the triumph of science over everything, especially over areas of philosophy and morality. The triumph of science, he warned, is really the mastery of scientists over nature. And the last thing conquered would be humanity itself. In other words, the triumph of science would be the mastery of some men — certain elites committed to a worldview — over other men.

If you've never read The Abolition of Man, it's one of those rare books that's never been more true than it is right now. I urge you to pick it up and read it. And we have it for you at our BreakPoint.org online bookstore.

And may God keep us from the sort of arrogance that would dare suggest that we need no help in thinking more clearly. We all do, don't we?

Originally posted at breakpoint.org.

From BreakPoint. Reprinted with the permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or distributed without the express written permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. "BreakPoint®" and "Prison Fellowship Ministries®" are registered trademarks of Prison Fellowship

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