Scientific Theory Essay Example

Science aims to test theories and hypotheses against observations in order to understand and explain the natural world. To determine matters of scientific weight and responsibility, the following two legends about science seek to further distinguish science and “non-science”. The first legend states that theories that make no empirical predictions are not the concern of science. This means that if a hypothesis makes no observable predictions, and therefore cannot be tested empirically, the hypothesis is futile and not considered the business of science. These testable predictions may lead to inconsistent observations, but they are still considered an item of scientific inquiry. This leads to the second of the two legends dealing with falsification. The second legend states that scientific theories can never be proved true, but a theory that makes an empirical prediction that returns false is thereby proved false. Proof of a theory’s exact truth is only accomplished when the theory could not possibly be false under any given evidence or test. Considering the infinite possibility of evidence and the number of tests that could be performed, one could never achieve this measure of absolute certainty, therefore proof cannot be realized. Also, a false hypothesis or theory could still make accurate empirical predictions. Attempting to say that a hypothesis making a true empirical prediction proves the hypothesis true is a fallacy of affirming the consequent. Even though proof can never be demonstrated, a scientist can still be justified in accepting a theory because empirical evidence that repeatedly agrees with a theory confirms it, bringing the theory closer to being justified and giving a reason to support and embrace it. Falsification of a theory can be proved using a valid modus tollens argument, reasoning that a hypothesis that makes false empirical predictions must be false. However, problems arise with these two legends when examining how science operates in an inductive paradigm system.  

The Duhem-Quine Thesis offers conclusions that weaken the confidence of the two legends in defining matters of science and its structure of criteria. The first of these conclusions is the idea of holism. Holism refers to the occurrence that scientific theories are usually tested as a group in combination with other auxiliary hypotheses to generate an empirical prediction, not individually or isolated. Because of this, a false empirical prediction constituting the falsification of the theory can prove that at least one of these theories tested in the group is false but offers no aid in determining which of the particular theories is responsible for the false empirical prediction. This is the conclusion from the thesis called underdetermination of theory by observations. This also causes issues in matters of discerning theories of law-like merit and those of accidental success and “curve-fitting”. In these scenarios, where both theories may fit the available data and make predictions, the evidence cannot determine which theory is accidental or law because the evidence fits both hypotheses, and there is not enough evidence to decide which is false. Underdetermination of theory by observations cannot provide proof of which theories are false in the holism of testable theories, but the observable evidence may assist in the ability to justify the belief of which theory is false. This leads to the third conclusion, that no claim is intrinsically immune from revision. When scrutinizing the set of theoretical claims in a group, none are immune from the potential for rejection, but there are different degrees of justifying the rejection of each. For example, the likelihood of an observable claim, such as red pandas eat bamboo leaves and shoots, to be false is very low and therefore not justified in rejection. It is not immune from reexamination when combined with other claims that are all up for question, because no claim can be deemed true and immune by labeling it as an absolute definition, but the observable evidence can benefit in the “process of elimination” one now faces in trying to uphold falsificationism under the occurrences concluded in the Duhem-Quine thesis.



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