The current discussion is an argumentative essay about scientific theories. It critically analyzes scientific theories and tries to argue whether the foundations on which such theories are based have a validity of truthfulness in them or whether they are false. Many researchers have over time debated whether such theories bear any significance of truth in the facts they represent. Philosophers have held philosophical discussions on the same topic and there has been some controversy in relation to whether certain theories are true or false (Brown 232).
Definition of a Scientific Theory
A scientific theory is basically a summary of a hypothesis or a group of interrelated hypotheses that have been postulated and the validity of which is supported with a continual process of testing and observation. Accumulation of a substantial amount of evidence validates significance of such a hypothesis rendering it to become a theory. In science, a theory is a model or explanation that has been put forward with its foundation being based on experimentation and critical reasoning and, more so, that has been tested and its confirmation is agreed generally as a principle, which is meant to explain and make a prediction about a natural phenomenon in existence. Generally, a theory is meant to refer to a collection of ideas put forward to explain a scientific topic. Scientific theories seek to strongly support evidence for something although they do not provide absolute proof for the truth of the conclusion. Creation of a scientific theory is usually predetermined by a series of hypotheses developed. These hypotheses are usually a proposition of explanations that have been created basing on the evidence, which is limited as a starting point meant for a prolonged investigation. A theory is reached upon a continued accumulation of substantial evidence, which in a consistent manner validates the hypothesis put forward.
Any scientific theory should be based on a keen examination of the postulated facts to bring out rationality of what is idealized. The scientific world majorly tries to distinguish between facts and theories. Whereas a fact is a phenomenon that can be observed or measured, a theory majorly focuses on explanations and interpretations of facts put forward by scientists (Weston 75). Different scientists have various interpretations of the outcomes of results of experiments and observations as opposed to facts that do not change.
According to Maxwell, there are arguments, which he put forward as a philosophy of realism of a scientific theory. According to Maxwell's argument on continuity, belief should be based on entities that can be observed. He argues that there is no sharp differentiating line between entities which can be identified and which cannot be identified. This drives to the proposition that people should also believe in entities which cannot be observed. The argument concerning observability in principle points out that people should believe in entities that can be observed and that are invoked by theories (Godfrey-Smith 185). In this context, 'observable' is meant to refer to what can be observed. He also puts forward the argument of inference for the best explanation. This argument says that people as individuals should believe in a theory that clearly gives solid evidence. It also states that unobservable entities are best invoked by evidence that is there.
When a scientific theory is said to be true, it means that the theory agrees with all known evidence, which has been experimented so far. However, the best theories have over time been shown to be incomplete in one way or another although they might explain a lot of phenomena utilizing the few basic principles that have been put forward. The theories may even make predictions and much more exciting results, which eventually lead to new experiments being carried out. This shows discrepancies between the workings and what has been predicted by the theory. This means the theory that has been put in place is not true after all although it has served to give a good approximation to truth in relation to the phenomena in question (Barnes, Bloor, and Henry 199).
Construction of a new theory is deemed necessary when an accepted theory is not able to give an explanation of some new data. Hence, researchers have to work on coming up with a new one. As knowledge also increases, the process of new development of a theory becomes more complicated. The new theory put forward should not only give a vivid explanation of the new data, but it should also account for the old one. Thus, a new theory has to devour and assimilate older theories that have been put forward.
A scientific theory is the end result of the scientific method. Theories can be proven or rejected. A theory can also be improved or modified to suit different scenarios as more information is gathered. This is meant to increase accuracy of the prediction of the theory so that it becomes greater and more valuable over time. Theories are basic foundations upon which further scientific knowledge can be applied and information gathered put into practical use.
Scientific Theories and Realism
Various scenarios determine whether a scientific theory is true or false. Scientific realism is the position concerning actual epistemic status of the theory in question and is described in various ways. Mostly, scientific realism is defined in terms of truth or closeness to truth of scientific theories with regard to certain aspects of theories. Some scientists define it in reference to what can be successfully observed or unobserved in the real world. Others define it in terms of believing in the ontology of scientific theories. All these approaches have one common thing, i.e. they are committed to theories giving out aspects of knowledge of the world with an inclusion of aspects that cannot be observed.
The truthfulness or reality of a scientific theory can also be approached on the basis of the epistemic aims or objectives of the scientific test in question. Some scientists approach it in the manner or position of what science aims to do or achieve. A scientific realist will always point out that a scientific theory is geared towards giving a true description of things that exist in the world. However, such an inference has a weak implication in relation to the postulation as if scientific realism aims to give out the truth and that the scientific practice is successfully achieved, then the characterization of scientific realism in reference to whether the aim is achieved may also be pegged on achievement. Most scientific realists who analyze the realism of scientific theories are committed to something in terms of achievement.
The truth in a scientific theory is inclined towards a position that endorses a belief in the reality of something in existence. For example, an individual may be a realist in terms of entities such as perception of mathematical entities of numbers and sets (Godfrey-Smith 20). The answer to the question is a scientific theory true or false is based on the realism of the theory. Thus, to be concise about the truth, it is of importance to understand it in reference to three dimensions that are metaphysical dimension, semantic dimension, and epistemological dimension.
With regard to the metaphysical dimensions, whether a scientific theory is true is independent of the worlds researched by the sciences (Godfrey-Smith 24). The clarification of metaphysical dimension is clearly manifested when it is contrasted with positions that do not support it. For instance, it is not supported by any idea that tries to point out that there is no idealism like phenomenology that points out that there is no world external to and independent of the mind. This means that the world that scientific research tries to investigate and that is termed different from “the world in itself” is thus dependent on ideas and opinions that one points out during scientific investigation, which in some instances may be comprised of perceptual training and theoretical assumptions. This dimension requires integrating the idea that the convention of human in the scientific world matches with the independence of what is in the mind.
Semantic dimension of truth and reality of scientific theories is aligned to a literal interpretation of scientific claims concerning the world people live in. Realists in terms of scientific propositions base their arguments on the face value of theoretical statements. As per this dimension, any scientific theory component, i.e. entities, processes, traits, and any relationships should be founded on the basis that they have certain values regardless of them being true or false. These scientific components do not matter whether they are observable or unobservable. In the ancient philosophy, instruments for prediction of phenomenon that could be observed held claims that unobservable things had no literal meaning. Critics of this idea hold the position that claims on observable things should not be rendered based on literal interpretations, but they rather should be elliptical in line with claims put forward on observable things.
Epistemological dimension holds the idea of those theoretical claims in a constituent of the knowledge of the world. In this case, theoretical claims usually denote reality that is mind independent (Godfrey-Smith 78). Many realists of scientific theories agree to the truth of theories while others are for the deflationary basis of truth of theories. Most realists also subscribe to the unobservable entities, processes, traits, and relation sips of theories although some do not agree with this. This dimension ultimately points out those scientific theories that are termed as the best reflection of a true or close to truth description of aspects that can be observed or that cannot be observed in a mind-independent world.
The maturity of a theory is thought in terms of how well nature and field of a theory is developed, for how long the theory has been valid, its chance of still surviving in case of significance testing, and chances of the theory still remaining in position if a cooked up theory is brought up. Theories are true if they make novel predictions that are successful over time. If a theory is able to depict genuine empirical success, then it makes scientific realists more committed to it as a true theory.
With the positive progress of science over time, it has rendered scientific theories to becoming closer in converging their truth at one point. What has been of much debate is on definition and quantification of approximate truth. It has been highly contested by scientific realists in conceptualizing the approximation of truth as something that can be quantified. This has triggered formalizations to coming up with precise definitions. This touches the convergalist claim postulating that scientific theories increase their approximation to truth over time.
Explanationist, Entity, and Structural Realism
Categorization of whether a scientific theory is true or false is also determined by a number of variations in the model. The variation aspect falls under three views, which are explanationist realism, entity realism, and structural realism of scientific theories. The explanationist aspect of a scientific theory being true or false focuses on the realist's commitment in line with parts of the best theories. This is usually in regard to entities that cannot be observed, as well as processes and laws in regard to their inseparable aspect of trying to explain empirical success of theories. These may include components of theories that are important in helping come up with novel predictions, which can garner much success.
Entity realism in relation to truthfulness or falseness of a scientific theory is the view that under conditions in which one can show impressive causal know-how of an entity, such as knowledge that helps to manipulate the entity and its use with an aim of bringing up an intervention in a certain phenomenon, an individual has a valid reason for realism (Longino 90) With regard to structural realism, it holds that one should be a realist. The realisms in an individual should not come either in any connection with description of the nature of things such as observable entities and processes, but it should come in connection with their structure.
Whether a scientific theory is true or false is motivated by corroboration (Godfrey-Smith 68). This is whereby its validity is more motivated by some observables that are described by the theory. The basis of a defensible argument for realism of a scientific theory may be accelerated by existence and detection of an unobservable entity or trait by means of a scientific instrument or through carrying out an experiment. A significantly enhanced argument for realism of a scientific theory is enhanced if the same entity or property can be detected not only by one, but rather by two or more means of detection. The detection of the same thing by different modes of detection renders a higher chance of those revelations of a theory existing in the real world. Thus, the greater the extent to which detections can be corroborated by the use of different modes of detection, the stronger the basis for arguments becomes for realism or truth of the theory.
The miracle argument by Putnam says that realism is the only one philosophy that does not present the success of science as a miracle and it is an argument used to validate whether a scientific theory is true or false. The sole base argument of the proposition is that the best theories are extraordinary successful as they facilitate empirical predictions and concise explanations of the matter of scientific predictions (Ben-Menahem 134). These predictions are backed up by strong accuracy and key causal manipulations of the phenomenon of importance in relation to the subject matter. Realists agree that the best scientific theories are true or approximately true in that they describe correctness of a mind-independent world of entities, traits, laws, and structures. Thus, if such theories were far much from what is true or real, the fact that they have been successful would be a miracle.
Underdetermination of Theory by Data
The determination of whether a scientific theory is true or false is subject to the underdetermination of theory by data. A theory is false if subsequent observation and experiments give out data that conflict with those that have already been predicted. A true theory will hold if all sets of the scientific theories are consistent with the available data obtained. If two or more theories differ in what they predict about the unobservable, this brings out a challenge on which choice of theory to believe is not determined by the data. Every scientific theory is subject to rivals that usually go hand in hand with what is observable, but follow different directions pertaining to what is unobservable. These rivals then form the basis for which an argument arises as to which theory should be regarded as true and which should be regarded as false, giving the realist a chance to select which theory to endorse. Skeptics of the theory of realism suppose that hypotheses and theories that involve unobservable entities are given accreditation not on the basis of evidence that is related to what is true, but on the basis of other factors that are indicative of truth.
The predictive success of a scientific theory yields sound evidence for the truth of the theory in question. Such evidence may sometimes make it reasonable to assume that a certain theory is true and that its entities really exist. Realists are philosophers who value predictive success and who also value it most. An instrumentalist will always argue that predictive success yields a reason to think there is sufficient theoretical instrument of prediction.
Validity of theory on the basis of indetermination of data may be contented on two grounds, which are underdetermination in principle and underdetermination in practice. In case of underdetermination in practice, it arises as a result of the data supporting one theory of hypothesis at the expense of what is not available at this moment, what is pending, or of foreseeable developments in the technique of the experiment. The idea of underdetermination in principle is whereby a theory is nullified so that there are empirically similar rivals regardless of any evidence being brought up.
Skepticism of a Theory
Scientific theory validity is also determined by skepticism about inference to the best explanation given. In most theories, explanatory considerations are key players in making scientific inferences. For one to make a judgment on whether a theory is true or false, one must put into consideration the judgment made. Realists propose simplicity, coherence and consistency, scope and unity of a model to infer that a theory is true. The disadvantage with the use of such qualities in ranking the theory is that it is difficult to precisely define them to facilitate rankings of explanatory goodness of the theory in question. Such virtues may also not favor any particular theory rendering those virtues useless. Whether such virtues should be termed as evidence or merely pragmatic is also a point of concern.
The pessimistic induction argument is used to determine a true or a false theory. Pessimistic induction gives a relation of the ground level inductive references that yield scientific theories and laws. As scientific knowledge develops, there is a regular turnover of older theories in favor of the newly developed news in pursuit of evaluating the history of scientific theories. From such reasoning, most past theories are considered as false, which is true from the point of view of most times. Hence, through enumerative induction, theories at any given point in time will be replaced and rendered invalid with regard to some future perspective. Thus, from such a perspective, theories in place currently are also false.
Skepticism about theories approximate to truth is of concern when determining which theory is true or false. In theory development, there is a widespread utilization of abstraction and idealization. Abstraction comes when there is incorporation of some, but not all relevant parameters in describing the scientific process. Idealizations are captured in the manner that there is distortion of the nature of certain parameters. Hence, abstraction and idealization in theory development suggest that the best theories and models put across are not strictly correct. Theories gradually aim at bringing together the truth of scientific inquiry. Some realists suggest that a theory is on the upper hand of being termed as more approximate to truth than another model if the preceding is a limiting case of the later one. Theories that have been developed later are a clearer account of the success of the ancient theories that have been put forward. Current theories degenerate the older ones in the domains in which the former ones are well versed. Hence, later theories are approximately close to what is true since they illuminate limiting cases of the theories that preceded them.
Social Construction of a Theory
Social construction is a major issue in the realism of scientific theories (Godfrey-Smith 27). It generally refers to any knowledge generating process in which what is regarded as a fact is determined by social factors. Such social factors would give up facts that are not in accordance with what is actually produced. There are many ways in which social determinants may be in line with realism. For example, social factors may be of much importance in determining the method
of research required, encouraged, and funded. Feminist approaches emphasize the role of social factors as a key factor in scientific facts with an extension of analysis to concerned issues like gender, ethnicity, socio-economic factors, and political status. Most feminist approaches are nearly normative. They offer prescriptions for revising both scientific practices and concepts such as the objective of a theory and knowledge that has a direct translation in the realism of those theories. Feminist approach majorly focuses on the possibility of warranted belief within scientific societies with regard to transparency and consideration of biases in relation to scientific works (Godfrey-Smith 137).
Sometimes, experiments may come up with results that do not align and cannot be explained by the theories already in existence. Thus, in such a case, scientists have to offer new theories in order to replace the old ones. Current theories put forward should be in a position to concisely give an account of the older theories and in addition also give an account of a new set of facts that have led to their development. When an old theory cannot be able to account for a certain scientific query, it does not automatically render it invalid or means that it was untrue or wrong. It means that the old theory had some limitations in its applicability and was not in a position to explain all the current data. Currently accepted scientific theories give an account of current available data, but this does not automatically mean that they will remain valid and will explain futile explanations.
Development of new theories at times not only extends the working of the older theories, but also gives a limelight to a completely new working of nature. Development of a new theory must give an explanation of the older theory. A major allegation towards the scientific world is that scientists see what they want to see. When they are afraid to test fringe ideas, they ultimately miss out ideas that could be valuable in giving insight to scientific inquiries (Wylie 288).
The most powerful scientific theories are predictive. Such theories may predict what will be measured in future through an experiment. For example, scientific theories like the theory of evolution and the atomic theory are not proven. These theories have been in existence and have been used to predict values that have been later measured. With such an analogy, people have strong confidence in those theories. However, none of these two theories is known with absolute truth to be completely right.
The above argumentative discussion clearly elaborates on the topic of scientific theories and whether they are true or false. It concisely focuses on different arguments stipulating that such theories are true in the real world. Other arguments focus on the opposing side that scientific theories are false. It is a world of controversy as to whether such theories are true or false. Different philosophers have put have different opinions with regard to this issue. It is a world of critics in terms of many scientific theories being developed. The older ones are being rendered obsolete at some point with introduction and development of new theories