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Thomas Kuhn’s idea of science is problematic

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There is an important distinction to be made in how we should think about science.  There is the way we should think about scientific progress, whether in a contemporary or historical context, and there is the way we should think about science in and of itself. 

In the minds of many a brilliant thinker responsible for pushing scientific knowledge forward, have been housed conceptions of reality and truth that we should want to be divorced from science – namely the idea of faith – which I define as belief without evidence. 

In regards to scientific progress, many minds, both with and without faith, have contributed to it. Indeed, certain aspects of the individual scientist’s conception of reality may have little to no impact on whether or not she can contribute to scientific progress. 

In regards to science in and of itself however, what we allow and disallow to reside within it and how we conceive of the goal of science could not be of greater significance. 

The notion put forward by thinkers like Thomas Kuhn that what is and what is not scientific is determined by communities and not by strict definition is dangerous – both for the prospect of the continued capability of science – and for the safety of humanity itself.

In contemporary academic institutions, science has been put on a pedestal and allowed to exist separately from its counterparts. 

This is partly because of the pure profit and new possibilities that scientific advancement regularly lends to civilization, but it is also done in an effort to keep science uncontaminated. Unlike theology or literary studies, science possesses golden attributes – namely falsifiability, tentativeness, empiricism, experimental practice and demonstrability. 

As these qualities are so distinctive, we tend not to want references to Michel Foucault anywhere near our biology departments. With these attributes, we can eliminate much of what interests humanity from what can exist within the realm of science. Preferential opinions, like a favorite food, exist outside of the realm of science, and that which we can deem unfalsifiable, like a proposed God whose very nature is defined as being incomprehensible, falls outside of the realm of science. 

Now imagine that we resort to an understanding of science that is completely rooted in community rather than definition. With this understanding, we must acknowledge that Creation Science is scientific, and that the only reason we reject it is because of communal preference and, according to Kuhn, our ability to solve specific puzzles that Creation Science does not. 

This is where Kuhn’s conception of science falls apart. 

In truth, there is no puzzle that Creation Science cannot provide a solution for – or at least a solution that will satisfy its followers. 

If I were to ask a follower of Creation Science what created humanity, they could simply reply: “God.” 

If I were to ask them how exactly God went about creating humanity, they could simply reply: “God’s ability, methods and will are far beyond our understanding, and any attempt by humanity to understand God’s ways of creation will result in failure. In fact, a human should not even attempt to understand God’s methods of creation, lest she wish to be among the sinners.” 

In actuality, the Creation Scientist has a massive advantage over the evolutionist in accumulating a strong community – in that greater Christianity can solve just about every conceivable puzzle a human can endure. It can tell you who to marry, who to kill, who to love, who to stone, who to enslave, who to have sex with, how you should feel, what you should spend your money on and what to do with just about every other facet of your life.

The fan of Kuhn might try to retaliate on this point by staking the claim that eventually, communities will not be satisfied by the abstract answers provided by Creation Science and will instead demand concrete, demonstrable answers. 

Unfortunately, this is where history betrays Kuhn. How long have religious communities not only continued to exist but thrive without concrete, demonstrable answers? 

Faith has done them just fine. This problem does not just exist when considering Creation Science, but any movement, religious or otherwise, that supports its belief with faith and/or dogma rather than evidence. This problem gets even scarier when we use neo-nazism and other extremist claims to justify scientific authority.

Luckily, we don’t have to worry about any of this, so long as we continue to reject a communal, relativistic conception of science, and retain one founded on definition. 

Currently, the greatest threat to this mentality is Kuhn and those who have embraced his work. Let us guide them in the right direction, back to sanity.

Iain Carlos ’20 (irwin2@stolaf.edu) is from Chicago, Ill. He majors in music and religion.