Thursday, December 21, 2006

Faith in Science

I have just finished reading Thomas S. Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. I'm not sure I 'get' all of it and I need to read it a second time at some later stage. However, this quote caught my attention:
The man who embraces a new paradigm at an early stage must often do so in defiance of the evidence provided by problem-solving*. He must, that is, have faith that the new paradigm will succeed with the many large problems that confront it, knowing only that the older paradigm has failed with a few. A decision of that kind can only be made on faith.
(U. of Chicago Press, 3rd Ed., 1996, p.158)
Now, in the light of current discussion on the merits of Intelligent Design, it is tempting to try to make a lot of hay with this statement, but I must resist (if for no other reason than that I need to understand Kuhn better). Nevertheless, Kuhn hits on something which seems to me to be particularly important for the scientist to consider: faith (of a kind) is vital to making significant scientific progress. It seems to me that any scientist who genuinely believes that science is 'only based on data' is unlikely to be a scientist who will make an important impact in his field.

* 'Problem-solving' is what Kuhn regards as 'normal science' - the process of conducting science within an established paradigm to explore where the paradigm seems to fail.

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