Metaphysics, Science, Metaphysics

Stanley Jaki, one of my favourite authors, says in almost every one of his books that one can go from philosophy to science, but not from science to philosophy. It’s a one-way street. To build a philosophy from science (assuming the common definitions of both) is a conceptual confusion – or is it? How often is it said that a given scientific area of research is answering questions previously reserved for philosophy only?

Think, for example, of determinism. Determinism is a metaphysical theory – that any given state of affairs is causally necessitated by preceding states of affairs. Now, if the road truly is one way, then a metaphysical theory cannot be falsified by empirical data. Two things come to mind, however, that would ‘disprove’ determinism: quantum mechanics and Ilya Prigogine’s work in the field of non-equilibrium thermodynamics ( Both of these scientific enterprises seem to show that determinism is a bankrupt idea.

How is this possible, though? How can empirical scientific discoveries falsify a metaphysical theory? I suspect that the answer can be found by looking closely at what I’ve argued is the intimate tie between science and metaphysics. If a scientific discovery appears to falsify a metaphysical theory, then that ought to be a sign that what we hold as a metaphysical theory is simply a scientific theory in disguise – by the same token, if a metaphysical theory is taken to falsify a scientific theory, then what we have isn’t a metaphysical theory but a scientific theory disguised as metaphysics. If the above scientific enterprises falsify determinism, then it merely serves to demonstrate the deep concord between metaphysics, science and language.

The extent to which (say) determinism is falsified by a given scientific discovery shows the extent to which science and metaphysics are bound up together – while the metaphysics of causality aren’t empirical (Hume), the empirical correlations we see in scientific research do give us insight into the realm of causality. T.F. Torrance actually goes into a bit of depth on causality in light of the resurrection of Jesus – see here:

If I could formulate a maxim of my own on this subject, in might be something along these lines: without metaphysics, there is nothing by which we can study the empirical, and without the empirical, there is nothing which we can study.

I wanted to say more, but my dog barked and I lost my train of thought.

4 thoughts on “Metaphysics, Science, Metaphysics

  1. Chris Falter May 24, 2014 / 11:12 pm

    I have delved a fair amount into the relationship of faith and science, so I must tip my hat to this very astute post! I think you are absolutely right that what appeared to be metaphysics might turn out to be science. It’s also the case that the boundary between the two has moved quite a bit in the past 500 years. But not all of it: the realm of metaphysic might be growing smaller, but it’s also becoming better defined, IMO


    • whitefrozen May 26, 2014 / 11:40 am

      The boundary has indeed moved a lot – you could almost argue that a boundary in itself is a pretty recent innovation. It is growing smaller, though, though I suspect that that’s part of the problem – can metaphysics truly said to be a well-defined kind of thing when it treats the most general of subjects?


  2. Michelle Joelle May 25, 2014 / 10:26 pm

    “…without metaphysics, there is nothing by which we can study the empirical, and without the empirical, there is nothing which we can study.”

    Very well put!


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