One of the primary tools in the arsenal of the relativist is to question scientific integrity. Since the physical universe is stubbornly resistant to subjective modification, relativists and irrational believers of all stripes continue to construct philosophical objections to what most of us consider to be self-evident.
Belief can only exist within a narrow realm of limited inquiry. If you start examining ‘faith-based’ claims, you will quickly reach the point where the claim cannot be supported. Faith proponents will then use a variety of rhetorical devices to weasel out of the contradiction or lack of evidence: argument from authority (the Bible or other scripture), argument from result (morality arguments), argument from ignorance (how did the universe get here, then?), argument from lack of purpose, etc., etc. None of these arguments have any bearing on the facts at hand or the claims made based on faith–which remain stubbornly out of line with observable reality.
The next step in the ‘believer’s dodge’ is to question the nature of reality, possibly citing popular fantasies such as the Matrix films, or “What the Bleep…?” In any case, all these dodges involve reduction in significance of what the believer themselves can see, hear, feel, touch, and taste. The believer tries desperately to disbelieve their own senses. They often fall prey to the fallacy of “quantum uncertainty”, which has been shown to completely cancel out when applied to large numbers of particles.
The common thread is to place heightened importance on internal mental imagery or subjective experiences. To declare that through these experiences or mental states, one can “create their own reality.” These internal experiences may seem perfectly real and concrete, but in practice don’t differ from a hallucination. They cannot be seen or verified by others, and therefore cannot be distinguished from fantasy. If you want to “create your own reality,” you’ll have to use your arms and legs and brain and voice, and make it happen.
The final “believer’s dodge” is the attempt to cast philosophical aspersions on empiricism itself. Commenter David Tame has fired off a salvo in this regard, claiming erroneously that science itself requires some sort of ‘faith’:
It’s a huge subject and you appear to not know of it. Science is a ‘construction’ based upon career-dependence, going with the flow, filtering out awkward data and not looking at it. It’s simply a construction. Science in the West is in fact a form of faith. Faith in science. It’s a very ill-founded faith since the philosophy of science shows how flawed its supposed ‘reasoning’ is.
My response to him in the comments was as follows: “[You have confused] human error in the conducting of the scientific enterprise with flaws in the method. Plenty of people play politics with science. And I’ll grant you that it is not possible for people to be entirely objective. But the goal of any honest scientist is to try. Don’t confuse the machinations of industry and government with pure science. They are two completely different realms.”
Tame also cites two books. One of these is extremely opinionated and problematic: Entitled “Science, The Very Idea” by Steve Woolgar, the book is a polemic against the very process through which we have gained our knowledge about the world. Woolgar is a social constructivist, the type who might argue that if enough people agree or perceive it, 2+2 just might equal 5. (Constructivists would of course deny they are saying this, because it makes them appear to be fools. But when they question empiricism, this is what they–in effect–are saying.)
Woolgar portrays the claims of science and the boundary between science and non-science as ‘rhetorical accomplishments.'” This is a terrible example of argument from authority, or popularity.
From a paper by P. Slezak
US philosopher Larry Laudan (1990, p.x) characterized the “rampant relativism” as “the most prominent and pernicious manifestation of anti-intellectualism in our time”. Australian David Stove (1991) wrote of these doctrines as so absurd, that they elude the force of all argument (1991, p. 31), “a stupid and discreditable business” whose authors are “beneath philosophical notice and unlikely to benefit from it”. Stove described such ideas as an illustration of the “fatal affliction” and “corruption of thought” in which people say things which are bizarre and which even they must know to be false.
Many relativists also cite Godel, whose work on the incompleteness theorem cast doubt on aspects of mathematics.
You’ll also hear a lot of pop epistemology claiming things like “Questioning science, is science.” Yes, and no. Yes, another scientist with equal or greater knowledge who offers a scientifically sound critique of a scientific paper is doing science. A scientist trying earnestly to replicate another scientist’s experiment (and failing) is doing science.
However, a person without the requisite knowledge or skill in a given field who simply says “I don’t believe that,” or “that doesn’t sound right,” is not doing science. Nor is a person who cites generalized “corruption,” or claims that there is a “replication crisis.” To do science by questioning science, you have to come up with better science and show, in detail, why a particular theory, or set of data is wrong. And why your work is better. Then someone else with a credible objection gets to come and critique your work. And on it goes. A self-correcting system.
But I digress. All these arguments are easily trumped by one simple fact: science works. You are reading this sentence! I can type this sentence on a computer that is connected to billions of other computers via a web so complex that no human can fully comprehend its structure. Every component in that web, every wire, every router, literally every electron–is governed by the principles of science. Without every discovery that has been made, without the scientific method, in an unbroken chain back to Newton, Copernicus and beyond, you would not be reading this sentence!
The tools of the modern world themselves form an irrefutable and entirely objective proof of the scientific method. And they work no matter what a person believes on a given day, where they live, or how they may be feeling. And they are so good that we all rush out to buy them, no matter what our beliefs–even if we oppose technology itself!
It is the height of irony when those very tools are used to promote ignorance. I am stymied. Perhaps we humans are so buoyed by our own easy mastery over the physical world, that we take our discoveries and tools for granted.