Has science ever refuted philosophical theories

To the March for Science : Science - an expedition into the unknown

The truth is in jeopardy. It threatens to drown in the multitude of truths that are offered to us, "alternative facts", "perceived truths", "post truth" and other truths like that. The strategy is: where everything can be true, nothing is true any more. Apparently she's successful. According to the Institute for Demoscopy in Allensbach, almost two thirds of the people surveyed no longer consider experts to be trustworthy. Even the natural sciences are increasingly falling victim to attacks on the truth. The term “science of lies” is already making the rounds.

Amazing: Aren't the natural sciences the epitome of the capacity for knowledge with which we separate the chaff of untruth from the truth? “Truth” is also a colorful concept within the natural sciences. Again, even the hardest facts have a hard time. Do they even exist, the bare facts? The history of philosophy is full of skeptics of fact. Immanuel Kant, for example. Our senses, the philosopher explained, only give us an image of the world. They don't show us the world itself. How true is our perception of the world then? Can there be a method of knowledge that creates knowledge about the world as it actually is? Questions as old as humanity itself.

"Have the courage to use your own understanding."

Thousands of years ago, the Greek philosopher Aristotle described two tools for understanding the world: induction and deduction. Induction leads from individual observations to overarching theories. And deduction derives further knowledge from this through logical thinking.

But almost two millennia should pass before the insight began to take hold that thinking deduction alone can be hugely misleading. For example, since Aristotle it has been taken for granted that a heavy stone falls faster than a light one. It was not until 1586 that the Flemish physicist Simon Stevin came up with the idea that this could also be checked. Lo and behold: it was wrong! From a height of ten meters, two stones of different weights slammed onto the ground at the same time.

Only a little later, the English philosopher Francis Bacon drew the lesson from it and formulated the instructions for the coming success story of the natural sciences: “Man only knows as much as he has recognized the order of nature through experiments or observation; beyond that he knows and can do nothing. "

Henceforth, researchers should no longer blindly rely on the claims of Aristotle or other authorities. Rather, the description of the world should be based on facts that, in principle, can be checked by anyone and every woman. The Age of Enlightenment had begun. 200 years later, Kant formulated her anti-authoritarian guiding principle: "Have the courage to use your own understanding."

Refute the theory

Facts are one thing. But how does our mind develop a theory from facts? More with logic or more with creativity? Researchers still argue about this to this day. And once you have a theory, how do you check whether it is true? The empiricist Bacon already described an amazing method: The most promising test of the truth of a theory is to try to show that it is false.

In modern times, the philosopher Karl Popper was the most determined and influential advocate of this method of knowledge. According to Popper, falsifiability is the most important criterion of a good scientific theory. Because only when a theory is empirically refuted do we start looking for a better one. So natural science is a process of continually approaching the truth, but without ever being able to finally reach it.

One of the most famous falsifications in the history of science took place from 1881 on the Telegrafenberg near Potsdam. The German-American physicist Albert Michelson wanted to prove the "ether". According to the theory, the ether was the invisible medium in which light waves propagated through the cosmos like water waves in water or sound waves in air. But Michelson's experiments showed irrevocably: light does not need ether to fly through the vastness of space. The falsification of the ether theory turned out to be extremely fruitful. Because it led Albert Einstein in 1905 to his special theory of relativity. And it has withstood every attempt at falsification to this day. So there is a high probability that it is true, or at least a good approximation of the truth.

The Big Bang has not yet been falsified

Another famous example of all failed attempts to falsify it is the Big Bang theory. It was set up in 1927 by the Belgian priest George Lemaitre, who also dealt scientifically with the sky: The cosmos emerged from a very hot, dense beginning. But which prediction from this theory could be checked for right or wrong? In 1948 the physicist George Gamov proposed a testable deduction. If the Big Bang actually did exist, then residual heat from those hot times of youth in the cosmos must have survived to this day. This deduction could only be verified 16 years later. And coincidentally. Two American radio astronomers were annoyed by a noise that they picked up with their antenna from all directions. At first they believed that the noise would indicate the body heat of two pigeons that had nested in their horn antenna. The pigeons have been removed. But the noise remained. It did not come from the warmth of the nest of two pigeons, but from the predicted residual heat of the cosmos.

Does that prove the big bang? No way. The verification of the theory-derived existence of cosmic background radiation strengthened the astronomers' confidence that they were on the right track. Yes, it was like that back then 13.7 billion years ago.

Now new: We give you 4 weeks of Tagesspiegel Plus! To home page