Scott J. Simon / p. 1
Science and Metaphysics
The conflict between science and metaphysics may best be expressed by the twentieth
century philosophy know as positivism. The Positivists believe in an empirical (sensory) reality
that can be discovered scientifically, in which the observer can be completely objective and the
observer’s life histories, experiences, viewpoints, and interpretations do not influence the choice
of methodology, data analysis, and strategy of theoretical development. Truths can be discovered
in the lab that are timeless and eternal (universal) and are valid no matter what the particular
context. What is important to note is the Positivist rejection of a transcendent reality (or God) of
any kind, thus, positivists play the role of debunker of pseudo-science and spiritual myths.
The positivists propose the verifiability criterion of meaning. According to this, a statement
is meaningful only if there is the possibility that it can be verified through empirical evidence
(evidence derived solely from the senses). Valid statements are expressed with the rules of
formal logic. Symbolic logic (as used by logical positivists) reduces logical statements to
symbols, in which propositions are absolutely true or false. In addition, logical arguments are
valid or invalid. The validity of a logical argument does not guarantee that it is true, only
formally correct. The logical positivists believed all of reality could be express in the form of
logical statements, until challenged by Russell’s paradox and Gödel’s proof.
Yet, it is this very formal logic, or meta-mathematics, that ultimately calls into question the
positivist anti-metaphysical claims: are not such symbolic systems abstractions of the most
rarified form and as transcendent as the blessed Welt Geist of Hegelian Idealism? Do we find
Arabic numerals floating in space; and do symbolic formulas grow on trees? Positivism, and in
particular logical positivism, is fundamentally dependent on thoroughly abstract structures of the
mind; a mind that Immanuel Kant himself could not rescue from metaphysical speculations.