A. F. Chalmers has a popular book on the nature of science, What Is This Thing Called Science? In the book, Chalmers discusses all the essential views on the philosophy of science and explores how we should interpret the work of the greatest scientific minds in history. Chalmers first shows that observation alone is insufficient to determine objective facts, for an educated preconceived framework is essential for making meaning out of observed facts. A smudge on an x-ray is meaningless to the untrained eye, but very telling to the trained physician.
After successfully throwing doubt on the popular views of how science gains knowledge, Chalmers then has a chapter on Thomas Kuhn’s theory of how science progresses. Kuhn’s theory involves paradigms, where one scientific viewpoint becomes dominant and useful, allowing the individual scientist to work within a known framework and progress theories. The paradigm must defend itself against competing paradigms, and does so until sufficient doubt is raised against the prevailing paradigm.
Interesting is how Chalmers describes Kuhn’s theory:
The way scientists view a particualr aspect of the world will be guided by a paradigm in which they are working. Kuhn argues that there is a sense in which proponents of rival paradigms are ‘living in a different worlds’. He cites as evidence the fact that changes in the heavens were first noted, recorded and discussed by Western astronomers after the proposal of the Copernican theory. Before that, the Aristotelian paradigm had dictated that there could be no change in the super-lunar region and, accordingly, no change was observed. Those changes that were noticed were explained away as disturbances in the upper atmosphere.
The change of allegiances ont he part of individual scientists from on paradigm to an incompatible alternative is likened by Kuhn to a ‘gestalt switch’ or ‘religious conversion.’ There will be no purely logical argument that demonstrates the superiority of one paradigm over another and that thereby compels a rational scientist to make the change. (p.115)
So Kuhn is saying, and Chalmers rightly summarizing, that at any given point in history the prevailing scientific paradigm will hold the day and make progress until a competing viewpoint compels the scientific community to switch. What will cause them to hold on to one viewpoint or make the switch to another? Not the rational arguments which they hold so dear, but rather an emotional conversion, an experience Kuhn describes as religious.
What is interesting is that Chalmers critiques most every view, including Kuhn’s, but when it comes to Kuhn’s view, Chalmers’ critique merely disagrees but does not refute Kuhn logically.
Kuhn’s viewpoint undermines the prevailing modern teaching that science is totally objective and religion totally subjective. That so many established scientific theories have been changed over the centuries shows that modern gradualistic evolution is very possibly just another paradigm, held by scientists that, like their Aristotelian forefathers, assume it is true from the start, and do not observe the contrary data points that could refute the theory. When people with contradictory paradigms question evolution, those holding to the theory respond with emotional, even religious zeal, just as Kuhn’s theory predicts.
That so notable and widely-read text as Chalmers does not logically refute Kuhn’s paradigm theory is striking, and lends support to those who point to the emotional responses of modern scientists and cry foul.