Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Nonsense about Science

In my opinion, the theories of Thomas Kuhn and Postmodernism have wrought a catastrophic anti-science mentality to elements of the modern left.

If we were to go through the endless, hare-brained rantings of Postmodernists about the natural sciences, it would take us ages (see here and here for just two examples).

But there is a more insidious assumption lying behind a lot of hatred of science.

It is this: (1) science never finds objective truths, but only “paradigms,” and (2) science will forever shift between different paradigms, which are mutually contradictory. Thomas Kuhn deserves the blame for this view of science.

The trouble with this view: it is lazy-minded stupidity.

The reasons are two-fold.

First, there are many propositions and theories in science that still stand today and have never been refuted. E.g., the view that the earth revolves around the sun; the view that the moon revolves around the earth; the view that ocean tides are mostly caused by the gravity of the moon and sun. The germ theory of certain diseases has never been refuted. The view that nuclear fusion occurs in the sun still stands. If we looked hard enough, the examples would quickly multiply and fill up page after page.

But there is also a powerful secondary argument: modern science is relatively young. It only really got going from the 16th century onwards, and we would expect it to make many mistakes and false steps in the first few centuries. Relative to the age of the human species and certainly to the thousands – possibly millions – of years in which the human species will persist into the future, natural science in the year 2015 is still like a toddler.

And yet it has become unbelievably powerful: it is like a 500-pound toddler with a record of success so mind-blowing that nothing else can compare with it.

The idea that science will never – not even a 1,000 or 10,000 years from now – arrive at, say, a physics so good that it can be regarded as a final theory of that discipline is just lazy, sloppy thinking from people who read too much Thomas Kuhn and take their ideas from the madhouse we call Postmodernism.

The science-hating Postmodernists and followers of Kuhn have a simple question to answer: what will science the wise old man look like? (to develop my metaphor).

How the hell do you know that 500,000 or 1 million years from now, physics, geology, biology and neuroscience won’t essentially be complete and that rational people will understand that, say, our scientific explanations of quantum mechanics, macroscopic physics, genetics, and human consciousness can’t be improved on in any substantive manner but only in trivial ways?


  1. This post is confused. Kuhn types argue that theories will be in a state of flux, not propositions.

    No one debates that the earth rotates around the sun. But since Copernicus astrophysics has changed a lot. And it keeps changing.

    Most "defences" of science against its "critics" are just misunderstandings of both science and those that raise questions (not critics per se). They are typically put forward by people who have little familiarity with scientific method and process and only know scientific theory through tertiary sources. They usually involve crude statements about Copernicus, Newton, Einstein or evolutionary theory.

    If you love science so much... study some science. Get to know it. Not from "promo" books like those pop books on physics or evolution. They're crap and usually biased and dogmatic. Rather immerse yourself in the debate itself. I guarantee that you'll come out the other side with a different, non-dogmatic and less deferential view of science. And you may even start talking science rather than shouting about Science. An entity that only exists in the minds of the uninitiated.

    1. I did specifically mention theories, e.g., the germ theory of certain diseases. We could add Mendelian genetics, etc. and others. These haven't been refuted and there is no reason to think some new paradigm will come along, nor generally to think that science will forever move to new paradigms.

      Also, your lecturing me to understand science is rich indeed coming from someone who apparently defends Foucault's bizarre conspiracy theory view of truth: that all truth is made by power and not by the hard test of empirical reality.

      Unless you're now a defender of the existence of objective empirical truth, we've got nothing much to debate.

  2. You're on a roll this week mon ami.