Some readers may recall me discussing a book manuscript that I have been working on, the title of which is THE GREAT PARADOX OF SCIENCE: Why its theories work so well without being true and may have been wondering what was happening concerning it. I am pleased to say that Oxford University Press will be publishing it and should appear at the usual retail outlets sometime in mid-2019, though early orders can be made some months before. I will keep readers posted because, as described below, the book deals with topics that should be of interest to many of you.
As the title suggests, the book deals with a key aspect of the nature of science that seems puzzling. It may seem obvious that the success of science in revolutionizing our lives is due to its theories getting inexorably better with time and steadily approaching the truth about the world. But paradoxically, scholarship in the history, philosophy, and sociology of science offers little support for such a view. Not only are we unable to prove that our scientific theories are true or approaching a greater correspondence with reality, we cannot prove them to be false either. Furthermore, scientific theories and experimental data are not distinct entities but inextricably intertwined, making the latter unable to serve as objective facts about the world. Scientific theories are also underdetermined in that no amount of data can uniquely determine a theory.
To explain the seemingly inexplicable success of science, a model is proposed that takes into account the actual practice of science, with its demands that scientific theories be naturalistic and testable, and its use of scientific logic that enables credible experts in any given field at any time to arrive at consensus judgments as to where the preponderance of evidence lies as to which theories are worth pursuing and which should be abandoned. Scientific revolutions are shown to have strong similarities with political revolutions, scientific evolution with biological evolution, and scientific consensus judgments with legal verdicts. This more sophisticated understanding of the nature of science can more effectively combat superstitious and paranormal beliefs and also those who seek to undermine the credibility of science in order to advance political, business, or religious agendas.
The book is aimed at the general reader who may know little or nothing about science but is interested in it and what it can tell us about all the controversies on issues such as climate change, vaccinations, intelligent design creationism, and the entire spectrum or paranormal and superstitious beliefs. I thoroughly enjoyed writing it and learned a lot from the process.