According to philosopher William Lane Craig “recently, however, postmodern relativism has invaded science as well, threatening to undermine the objectivity of the scientific enterprise. Old-line historical relativists prized the objectivity of science because it served them well as a foil for exposing what they considered to be the comparative non-objectivity of historical constructions. But during the 1960s proponents of so-called Weltanschauung analyses of scientific theories, such as Thomas Kuhn and Paul Feyerabend, radically challenged the old, positivistic view of science” (1).
According to Kuhn and Feyerabend scientific work takes place within the context of one’s own all-embracing worldview that they call the Weltanschauung or paradigm. Their argument is that for scientists working within the paradigm of their worldview, their observations are not neutral but theory-laden. Thus the very meanings of terms used by them are determined by the theory, so that scientists working within a different paradigm aren’t even talking about the same things. What counts as a fact is therefore determined by a scientist’s Weltanschauung, so that there are no neutral facts available for assessing the adequacy of two rival theories. Craig explains that, “On this analysis, scientific change from one theory to another becomes fundamentally arational and is to be explained sociologically. On Weltanschauung analyses, scientists find themselves in the same boat with historical relativists, for scientific theories are constructions which are not based on objective facts and cannot claim to describe the world as it actually is” (2).
In this way, the relativist may argue, that the scientist’s understanding of the present is just as much a theoretical construction as is the historian’s understanding of the past. Both constructions cannot be checked for its correspondence with objective facts, since one’s Weltanschauung determines what the facts are. Theologian Tina Beattie explains that “Some radical postmodernists would argue that all science is socially constructed: that is, it is a way of relating to the material world which is entirely determined by its cultural and intellectual environment, and which lacks any grounding in objective reality and facts. I think that’s going too far…” (3). However, Beattie urges us to be aware of our own assumptions: “As Thomas Kuhn argues, the scientific community operates with a set of ‘received beliefs’ about the way the world is, which conditions its research. Scientists, like religious believers, need to be attentive to the ways in which their received prejudices and unchallenged assumptions can obscure their openness to new ideas” (4).
But, as one may point out, doesn’t the scientist possess direct accessibility to the objects of scientific study? To an extent, but not always. Philosopher Craig argues that “it is naïve to think that the scientist always has direct access to his objects of study. Not only is the scientist largely dependent on the reports of others’ research for his own work, but furthermore, the objects of the scientist’s research are often only indirectly accessible, especially in the highly theoretical fields like physics. Such theoretical entities as black holes, quarks, and neutrinos are postulated as the best explanations for the observable data, but they themselves cannot be directly observed. It might be thought that this point actually serves to reinforce the relativist’s objection…” (5). If followed through to is logical conclusion the implication would that science is anti-realist and non-objective.
1. Craig, W. 2008. Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics (3rd edition). p. 472 (Scribd ebook format)
2. Craig, W. 2008. Ibid.
3. Beattie, Tina. 2008. The New Atheists: The Twilight of Reason and the War on Religion. p. 90 (Scribd ebook format)
4. Beattie, Tina. 2008. Ibid. p. 91.
5. Craig, W. 2008. Ibid. p. 484.