We all know modern science has evolved over the last few centuries. Many an ideology and theory that were hailed as scientific realities and were extremely close to the hearts of the scientists of the yester years have been dumped today as irrelevant and unscientific. Contradictions regarding the universal structure and the insufficiency of Newtonian Physics are just a couple of examples.
There are also instances where a discovery or an invention of great scientific significance had initially been pooh-poohed. In 1872, Pierre Pachet, a professor of Physiology at Toulouse said, “Louis Pasteur’s theory of germs is ridiculous fiction.” David Sarnoff’s associates, in response to his urging for investment in the radio in the 1920s said, “The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?”
“Science alone of all the subjects contains within itself the lesson of the danger of belief in the infallibility of the greatest teachers in the preceding generation…. As a matter of fact, I can also define science another way: Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.” These are the words of Richard Feynman, the famous Nobel-prize-winning physicist, in The Pleasure of Finding Things Out as quoted in the American Scientist.
Max Born, another popular Nobel Prize-winning physicist, is quoted in Gerald Holton’s Thematic Origins of Scientific Thought thus: “There is no philosophical high-road in science, with epistemological signposts. No, we are in a jungle and find our way by trial-and-error, building our roads behind us as we proceed. We do not find sign-posts at cross-roads, but our own scouts erect them, to help the rest.”
James Bryant Conant wrote in his Science and Common Sense: “The stumbling way in which even the ablest of the scientists in every generation have had to fight through thickets of erroneous observations, misleading generalizations, inadequate formulations, and unconscious prejudice is rarely appreciated by those who obtain their scientific knowledge from textbooks.”
In The Logic of Scientific Discovery, Karl R. Popper wrote, “I think that we shall have to get accustomed to the idea that we must not look upon science as a ‘body of knowledge’, but rather as a system of hypotheses, or as a system of guesses or anticipations that in principle cannot be justified, but with which we work as long as they stand up to tests, and of which we are never justified in saying that we know they are ‘true’.”
In the words of scientists themselves, empirical modern science is “belief”, involves “trial-and-error”, consists of data that are “erroneous, misleading and inadequate” and is to be looked upon as “a system of guesses”. It doesn’t augur well for science, does it? Thus we can safely conclude that modern empirical science, in the words of its own practitioners is not a systematic and consistent body of knowledge. And for any body of knowledge to qualify to be termed scientific, requires it to be consistent.