314Lecture7-ScientificRealism1Online - Lecture Seven...

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Lecture Seven: Scientific Realism Although our scientific knowledge may be incomplete (we do not know everything about the world around us), fallible (we are sometimes wrong), and perhaps approximate, still it appears that scientific knowledge is reliable in terms of predicting the behavior of phenomena. Science provides us with more knowledge than just predictions. Science is reputed to make claims about what nature is actually like. Thus, science is sometimes regarded as a replacement for metaphysics. It can discover the fundamental reality underlying appearances. Modern science offers us seemingly detailed pictures of reality--its composition, its internal structure, and even the life-cycle of stars. However, the problem with this claim (about discovering the nature of ultimate reality) is that it makes claims about unobservables. Genetics, neuroscience, cosmology, theoretical physics and so on, all postulate unobservables such as genes, viruses, atoms, black holes, electromagnetic radiation, etc. . With respect to unobservables, scientific realism (the view that science actually describes the ultimate nature of things) claims that we should believe in the existence of unobservables postulated by our best scientific theories. In other words, things like atoms, electrons, genes and so on accurately depict what actually exists. They are true descriptions of the world. Those who criticize scientific realism generally agree that science is a rational endeavor. Over the years science has accumulated much empirical knowledge. But the critics want to limit what can be justified by science. So it is not a disagreement over whether or not science involves rational inquiry. That is not the issue. Rather the concern is over the limits that ought to be imposed on what science can justifiably claim. For some people, this may seem like an uninteresting question. After all, scientists can manipulate atoms and invisible radiation. Does it really make sense to describe atoms as unobservables? Is it reasonable at this juncture to doubt the existence of atoms? Or even going further, should we doubt the existence of the particles that make-up the atom? We are told that an atom is composed of protons, neutrons and electrons. Protons and neutrons are in turn composed of quarks that are held together by gluons. Protons consist of 2 up quarks and 1 down quark, and neutrons are composed of 1 up quark and 2 down quarks. Particle physicists certainly seem to have a good handle on what exists within their discipline. Why should we doubt the existence of subatomic particles? Another example of an unobservable is the hypothetical dark matter and dark energy postulated by cosmologists. The following is an article that illustrates the problematic status of an “observable unobservable”: Scientists Offer Proof of 'Dark Matter' Analysis of Galactic Collision Said to Reveal Mysterious Substance By Marc Kaufman 1
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Washington Post Staff Writer Tuesday, August 22, 2006; Page A01
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This note was uploaded on 06/05/2011 for the course PHI 314 taught by Professor Creath during the Spring '08 term at ASU.

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314Lecture7-ScientificRealism1Online - Lecture Seven...

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