Scientific Realism by Alexandra Hilliard

Another post about my philosophy of science class :-p Last week in class, my professor posed the question “Are you a scientific realist?” and I have decided to start considering this a little more in depth than I had previously. Let me begin by defining scientific realism, according to the book “Theory and Reality” by Peter Godfrey-Smith. Godfrey-Smith says scientific realism is “common-sense realism naturalized” and one actualy and reasonable aim of science is to give us accurate descriptions (and other representations) of what reality is like. This project includes giving us accurate representations of aspects of reality that are unobservable. By the way, common-sense realism naturalized is defined as “We all inhabit a common reality, which has structure that exists independently of what people think any say about it, except insofar as reality is comprised of thoughts, theories, and other symbols, and except insofar as reality id dependent on thoughts, theories, and other symbols in ways that might be uncovered by science”. So pretty much, using certain tools, scientific realists aim to get a better understanding of what reality is like.

I’d like to use some examples in science to help me illustrate my perspective. Let’s take electrons. We’ll say electrons to be electrically charged particles which orbit around atoms and also are involved in binding one atom to another. Let’s say I learned about electrons in school and still learn about them in school. Theoretically they make sense to me, they are helpful for me to help understand the world around me. However, they are unobservable and I cannot prove that they are there. This poses a problem for me. I’d like to take a look at a larger problem, the theory of evolution, and relate it to my view. Let me begin by prescribing my view here… I have been learning about evolution since my junior high school science classes and I learn more about it in my college courses. However, I learned about Creation as a child in my church. What do I believe? I am faithful to my religious convictions and really feel emotionally bound to the theory of creation. However, I have been provided relevant examples for evolution and think it is a scientifically possible theory. I think evolution has provided scientists with many tools to help them understand the world, past, present, and future. I am not disputing its effectiveness and how valuable it is. I even like to use it as a tool! I think it’s most likely accurate, but I don’t believe it. When I say believe, I mean utterly convinced of it’s truthfulness and am loyal to it and would be willing to die for it. I can’t say I feel that way. I think it sounds good as a theory, but I don’t necessarily agree with it.

I feel this way about much of science. We spend so much time learning about certain things in science, can any of my fellow students of science comfortably say they could really explain anything with wholehearted conviction and belief? Do you really believe in Mendelian Inheritance? String/M-Theory? Cell Division? You can catch my gist I am sure… I guess it’s just that I think all of these things sound good to me, they’re useful to those who use them (oftentimes myself) but I can’t say I believe them….


What do you think?


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