Do Worldviews Play Any Role in Science? (Part 2)
The first thinker we’ll take a look at is Thomas Kuhn. Kuhn rightly noted that we shouldn’t think of science as something separated from the individual scientists in the field. In fact, I think Kuhn has some valuable things to say regarding both the individual and communal aspects of the discipline of science. The scientific enterprise, notes Kuhn, is not the upward progression and accumulation of facts as it is so often presented. Instead, scientific studies and progress occurs in the context of what Kuhn called “paradigms.”
A paradigm is a set of metaphysical, epistemological, and methodological assumptions shared by a particular interpretive community (in this case, scientists), that act of boundary markers for identifying “legitimate” discourse in a particular field. That is, once the scientific community agrees (or comes to a consensus) on a particular paradigm (like the Big Bang theory, for example), it determines what types of studies are to be considered legitimate (those that work from within the assumptions started by the community) and those that aren’t (“maverick” scientists who challenge or work outside the accepted scientific framework).
Once a paradigm is settled, which according to Kuhn can take a long time because it must pass through “proving” stage, then we enter the stage of “normal science.” Normal science consists of puzzle fixing, answering questions that the reigning paradigm raises. The paradigm establishes the types of “holes “ that must be plugged. It also determines the manner in which these holes must be plugged. So, for instance, if we’re using the reigning paradigm of evolutionary naturalism (ala Dawkins and Dennett), a “hole” to be plugged in is how did the first “stuff” of the universe get here. But, if the scientist is to be considered “legit” in their field, the one thing they must not do is appeal to something outside of the paradigm itself (in this case God or a supernatural agent).
Anomalies, things that the paradigm cannot quickly explain within it’s system, according to Kuhn, do not automatically falsify a paradigm. Unanswered questions may easily be attributed to lack of information and left for future generations to solve. But, when anomalies arise that the system has no answer for, with no apparent answers forthcoming, things begin to look bad. Only till these “holes” in the system pile up, and paradigmatic torch bearers take notice, do we begin to enter into the stage of “extra ordinary” science.
Paradigms often hold sway for long periods of time, because shifts are not “all of a sudden” incidents. It is through the slow accumulation of unexplainable data that devotees of a particular paradigm start looking for answers from other sources (“Maybe the quacks are unto something!”). The newer model may solve more “problems” and explain more data. Perhaps the newer framework is less complicated. Eventually, as in the case of the geocentrism , the newer paradigm wins the day, and the consensus, of the scientific community. When this happens, this is what Kuhn called a scientific revolution, a paradigm shift.
The point here is that science doesn’t simply record “just the facts.” Rather, facts are always interpreted within an overarching grid, a paradigm. This paradigm is something very close to a worldview. It describes the nature of reality, the possible and impossible, etc. It is then fostered by the community of scientists who agree with it. So, why do we now believe that the Earth orbits the Sun and not the other way around? Is it simply because the “facts” are straightforward and tell of this, apart from interpretation? The fact is that the older geocentric system had ways of mathematical demonstrating the “soundness” of it’s conclusions (with it’s many epicycles, etc.). It wasn’t simply because believed that humans are the center of the universe (value-wise). They had reasons for believing what they did. The reason we are heliocentrists (believing that the Earth orbits the Sun, and not vice versa) is because the scientific community came to a consensus on (and taught us through the dissemination of books, videos and various educational materials) that the mathematical formulas where simpler and the problems with geocentricism are insurmountable.
Now, that’s all well and good. I’m not saying that I’m a geocentrist. But we need to be honest and say that this means we accept the belief that simpler formulas are truer, or at least more desirable, formulas (a principle known as Ockham’s razor). A belief that is itself all for debate and is by no means self-verifying.