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Logic & Scientific Philosophy

The Objectivity of Science

The Objectivity of Science

Science can produce true beliefs about the world. Science is also very helpful. Science, however, is done by scientists. Therefore, science is never a fully objective endeavor. That could probably be put into a syllogistic form.

The scientific method is notoriously difficult to define (and is in fact a philosophical question. Karl Popper probably fails b/c falsification isn’t enough to demarcate science from non-science).

Scientists, however, do try to explain the natural world and often do so quite successfully. In constructing, or testing a scientific hypothesis the scientist(s) has to consider the relevant facts. In considering the ‘relevant’  facts it would seem inevitable that subjectivity sneaks its way into the scientific enterprise.

In addition, even when scientists agree on the relevant facts other subjective factors influence how those facts are described and/or interpreted. Here is a fascinating example I once read about. Read Richard Dawkin’s description carefully:

 “Genes swarm in huge colonies, safe inside gigantic lumbering robots, sealed off from the outside world, communicating with it by torturous indirect routes, manipulating it by remote control. They are in you and me; they created us, body and mind; and their preservation is the ultimate rationale for our existence”. –  ‘The Selfish Gene’

Now listen to this description of the same scientific facts written by celebrated Physiologist and Systems Biologist Dennis Noble:

 “Genes are trapped in huge colonies, locked inside highly intelligent beings, moulded by the outside world, communicating with it by complex processes, through which, blindly, as if by magic, function emerges. They are in you and me; we are the system that allows their code to be read; and their preservation is totally dependent on the joy that we experience in reproducing ourselves. We are the ultimate rationale for their existence”.

To fully appreciate the significant differences you may want to read both descriptions again. Same facts. Very different interpretations. Strictly speaking both can’t be right but both statements are ‘empirically equivalent’. Both are grounded in observation & experimentation. The facts are the same – so what accounts for the deep differences between the two descriptions?

Simply stated, the interpretive grid of the authors.

I would guess that Dawkins’ description in particular smuggles in all kinds of metaphysical assumptions that are not strictly based on the phenomena he is describing in the above paragraph.

In conclusion, I think the scientific method does produce true, or approximately true descriptions of our world (at least at a macro level – i.e. realism) but science will never be a solely objective enterprise as long as human scientists are involved. But, in this instance, I certainly wouldn’t mind being wrong.




About Chris Price

Pastor at Calvarybaptist.ca



  1. Pingback: Scientific Philosophy Group Headings | Philosophy 12 - September 30, 2013

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