Jerry Coyne and others may think it makes sense to reject knowledge for the sake of science. They’re wrong. Here’s a great case in point, though, from a transcription Coyne provided of a talk given by Michael Gazzaniga.
“If you think about it this way, if you are a Martian coming by earth and looking at all these humans and then looking at how they work you wouldn’t—it would never dawn on you to say, ‘Well, now, this thing needs free will!’ What are you talking about?[From Gazzaniga on free will « Why Evolution Is True]
Now there’s a fine question, but I have another one. Who needs Martians? I can look at you myself and say, “Well, now, this thing called ‘you’ needs no free will! It can function just fine as a machine!”
I don’t do that, though, because I don’t see you as a thing, as a machine. Jerry Coyne does, or says he does, though he prefers the term “meat computer.” I can’t regard you that way, though. It’s impossible, for I see something in you that reminds me far too much of me. I know that I am not a machine, a thing, and I know that you are like me, so I conclude that you are neither a machine nor a “thing” yourself.
Some will object that such a view is hopelessly unscientific: there’s no way to get confirm it objectively; there’s no third-person perspective from which to describe and analyze first-person knowledge of experiences like consciousness and choice. I agree. It’s not scientific. It’s also unscientific to complain that it has to be scientific. More specifically, it’s unscientific to say that where there is no third-person confirmation, there is no knowledge. That’s just wrong, and I think obviously so.
I know that I am not a thing or a machine. You know the same about yourself. I suppose if you tried really hard, and if you were convinced on metaphysical principles that everything is a thing or a machine, you might almost be able persuade yourself that’s what you are. That’s Coyne’s perspective. In order to reach that conclusion, though, he has to view himself as a Martian would: from the outside. He cannot allow himself to view himself as a human would. He cannot accept the information his own self provides his own self. He spurns his own self-knowledge. For the sake of science he discards all persons’ directly experienced knowledge of that sort.
But no. Emphatically no, and many times over again NO, this is not necessary for science. Science does not require that we reject knowledge. How could it? The very concept is contradictory (scientia means knowledge). We can be human, we can be persons, we can be free agents, and science can move forward. In fact for a lot of reasons I won’t take time to go into here, science absolutely requires that we have that freedom. I suppose I could at least give you the abbreviated explanation, though. It goes like this: Machines don’t do science. Not even computer-machines. People do science.