So, for the longest time I’ve thought that theology was basically philosophical, and didn’t really see the difference between them, despite a number of people saying that I was wrong and that theology wasn’t philosophy. So, now, let me clarify: I think that theology uses the philosophical method, and as such doesn’t use the scientific method. The philosphical method is quite different than the scientific method, which explains why a lot of scientist don’t really get either.
So, how does that differ from the scientific method? Let’s go through the points in order:
1) Science works with things, with objects. Philosophy works with concepts. Now, a lot of the time these are mostly interchangeable, which is why people don’t really notice this difference. But philosophy is conceptual analysis, while science is object analysis. They aim at two compeltely different types of ends.
2) Science has to be grounded in the empirical and empirical observations to achieve its end. Philosophy has to be grounded in reasoning to achieve its end. Both can use either, but philosophy accepts propositions that are not ultimately grounded in empirical observation and science doesn’t. Philosophy accepts that you can find out interesting things with pure reasoning and science doesn’t.
3) Philosophy deals with things that have to work in all cases, whether inside or outside of the real world; science doesn’t care about anything outside of the real world.
4) Philosophy uses thought experiments and modal logic that don’t have to be real world situations to do its work. Science always has to look at the real world to do its work. In fact, philosophy wants to take things out of the real world to effectively examine their concepts while science wants to situate things as much as possible in the relevant real-world situations to do its work.
Note that the philosophical method doesn’t have to ignore completely empirical data or the results of science. You can even naturalize – ie make scientific — parts of philosophy if it helps or if that’s the best way to do it. In fact, science was born from natural philosophy because people discovered that the scientific method really did work best there. But ultimately, philosophy has a different — though still important — goal than science, and thus has different methods. Thus, good philosophy will naturalize only as far as it needs to to be able to properly analyze the concepts.
This also doesn’t make philosophy necessarily impractical. All category judgements are philosophical because they involve determining what a category ought to contain regardless of what we think it does. This is determining, for example, the concept of a mammal as opposed to simply talking about mammals directly. Why are whales mammals and not fish? If we’re going to appeal to natural kinds, we have to know what properties make up the concept “mammal” and the concept “fish” to make that determination. Otherwise, all we’re left with is a pragmatic decision that’s subjectively determined by everyone based on what they think is the best way to classify. Thus, general classifications at least ought to be relying on conceptual analysis to work.