• Peter Kupisz

Problem with Scientists who Reject Philosophy

Certain scientists, such as Stephen Hawking, Lawrence Krauss, and Neil deGrasse Tyson, have denigrated philosophy and rejected any role it can play in science. However, other scientists have strongly criticized them for this position. They point out that science is actually permeated with philosophical assumptions and therefore science is inextricably intertwined with philosophy. For example, George Ellis, a world-renowned scientist, and expert on the Big Bang theory makes the following points.

[Hawking and Tyson] should stop indulging in low-grade philosophy in their own writings. You cannot do physics or cosmology without an assumed philosophical basis. You can choose not to think about that basis: [but] it will still be there as an unexamined foundation of what you do. The fact you are unwilling to examine the philosophical foundations of what you do does not mean those foundations are not there; it just means they are unexamined.
Actually philosophical speculations have led to a great deal of good science. Einstein’s musings on Mach’s principle played a key role in developing general relativity. Einstein’s debate with Bohr and the EPR paper have led to a great of deal of good physics testing the foundations of quantum physics. My own examination of the Copernican principle in cosmology has led to exploration of some great observational tests of spatial homogeneity that have turned an untested philosophical assumption into a testable – and indeed tested – scientific hypothesis. That’s good science.

As Ellis points out, it is impossible to eliminate philosophy from science. Furthermore, philosophy has had a positive role in the development of science. So what explains the hostility to philosophy from the aforementioned scientists? One possible reason is that some Christian philosophers have been making arguments for the existence of God using scientific discoveries. Hawking, Krauss, and Tyson all reject theism and so they have been pushing back against these arguments. But they have been finding it difficult because philosophical arguments are outside their field of expertise. This frustration may result in hostility toward the whole discipline of philosophy.

Another possible reason for the hostility may stem from a desire to ensure that nothing threatens a (perceived) separation between religion and science. If science overlaps with philosophy, and philosophy overlaps with religion, then science can overlap with religion through the discipline of philosophy.

Are these the main reasons behind the hostility? It is difficult to say but they very well could be.


John Horgan, “Physicist George Ellis Knocks Physicists for Knocking Philosophy, Falsification, Free Will,” Scientific American Blog Network, July 22, 2014, https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/physicist-george-ellis-knocks-physicists-for-knocking-philosophy-falsification-free-will/.

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