The question of objectivity in the practice of science is problematic for various reasons. First, scientific theories are based on objectivity claim that they have unique access to truth. This assertion is premised on the argument that empirical science, or what is commonly known as measurable science, can validate its claims based on the evidence that they present, in a more tangible way. However, this averment raises various questions, including whether objectivity can be attainable in the first place. The answer to this issue is that science cannot give full objectivity, which invalidates the claim that only science holds the key to the attainment of indubitable and true knowledge. The inherent characteristic of demonstrability in science creates the illusion of objectivity. However, this paper contends the scientific claim that science, through empiricism, can deliver full objectivity. The conclusion made here is that an interdisciplinary understanding of the world and different subjects are the only plausible approach in the search for the truth.
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Objectivity in Science is Unattainable
The important role that science has played in the development of the human understanding of cosmic reality cannot be overlooked. It offers a systematic way of understanding natural and physical processes via experimentation and punctilious observation. As Jaki (2005, p. 5) posits, “Science is competent wherever and whenever the object of investigation offers a quantitatively determinable aspect.” It has the capacity to offer acceptable answers and explanations to the very questions that it raises. Based on these falsifiable characteristics, science gives answers that can easily be verified and interpreted in various set-ups regardless of one’s location. However, despite these compelling attributes, the claim that science is the only way to explain reality is narrow and lacking in basic truths.
First, science applies the induction methodology as a veritable way of gathering facts, inferring laws, and predicting future occurrences or states by observing certain facts (Douglas, 2000). As such, “nature is understood to be obedient to certain uniform sets of laws which are adjudged to be the same in the past, in the present, and in the future” (Ani, 2016, p. 5). For example, based on the induction methodology, it is claimed that every planet has elliptic orbits. However, according to the empiricism assertion that science is objective as its claims are falsifiable through experience, science fails to meet its standards concerning the claim about the elliptical nature of planets. According to Popper (1972), it is inconceivable to verify an ecumenical proposition through experience. This assertion holds because, to fulfill all the requirements of scientific induction, one is required to experience every aspect of the thing in question. Therefore, to scientifically affirm the elliptical nature of planets as the absolute truth, means that one has actually experienced all the possibilities and examples of the said planets, to arrive at the point of generalizing such knowledge. However, science indicates the possibility of the existence of other planets that have not been discovered yet. As such, in this case of planets, the objectivity of science fails.
Similarly, the objectivity of science can only be believed by assuming that future occurrences will depend on past experiences. For example, to scientifically claim that because the sun rose yesterday, it will rise tomorrow is based on hope because as Ani (2016, p. 6) argues, “it is only a matter of probability that the experiment conducted at a particular space and time will yield the same result at another space and time.” In this case, scientific arguments concerning the future are made based on the belief that the underlying conditions that gave a certain outcome today, will yield the same results tomorrow or in the future. While such claims might be true, they are hinged on a belief system, which cannot be verified, and thus science shares common characteristics with other areas of knowledge, such as mythology and religion (Ani, 2013; Haack, 2003). This understanding nullifies the infallibility of science being objective.
Additionally, the objectivity of science can only be asserted if scientific arguments are based on empirical evidence without conjectures. However, to create a scientific fact, one has to rely on assumptions and focus on particular aspects of the object being studied by ignoring other areas of the same object (Kuhn, 1962). In other words, empirical evidence is established by ignoring certain elements because the involved scientist has a clue of what needs to be observed. As such, forming scientific realities depends on myths, theories, beliefs, and biases, which negates the objectivity of science.
Furthermore, science does not seek to establish certainty in knowledge and truth concerning cosmic reality. On the contrary, what is known today as scientific realities have undergone evolution whereby hypotheses are tested, accepted, or nullified, in the process of solving problems (Bracken and Stoeger, 2008). This observation implies that scientific claims keep on changing based on the available evidence. For instance, if additional facts concerning a specific issue emerge along the way, science changes to accommodate the same. Consequently, the issue of objectivity cannot be attained under such extenuating conditions.
Finally, if science was absolutely objective, its theories could not become obsolete. However, history has shown that some scientific theories have become irrelevant, thus they have been abandoned. For instance, what was conceived as reality under Newtonian principles of physics has been replaced in contemporary times with the theory of relativity. Similarly, as Audi (2003) posits, there is a plausible possibility that what is being referred to as absolute reality, based on the objectivity of science, will be abandoned in the future.
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Scientific objectivity argues that science is the only way to understanding reality because it can verify its claims through empiricism. However, a closer look at this issue discovers that objectivity is not attainable because its principles are based on assumptions, beliefs, and myths, just like any other field of knowledge, such as religion and mythology, as explained in this paper. Therefore, the only credible approach to understanding reality is by involving other disciplines to complement science.
Ani, N. (2013) ‘Appraisal of African epistemology in the global system’, Alternation, 20(1), pp. 295-320.
Ani, N. (2016) ‘Does scientism undermine other forms of knowledge?’, Verbum et Ecclesia, 37(1), 1-9.
Bracken, J. and Stoeger, W. (2009) Subjectivity, objectivity, and intersubjectivity: a new paradigm for religion and science. Conshohocken: Templeton Foundation Press.
Douglas, H. (2000) ‘Inductive risk and values in science’, Philosophy of Science, 67, pp. 559-579.
Haack, S. (2003) Defending science -within reason: between scientism and cynicism. Amherst: Prometheus Books.
Jaki, L. (2000) The limits of the limitless science. Wilmington, DE: ISI Books.
Kuhn, S. (1962) The structure of scientific revolutions. London: The University of Chicago Press.
Popper, K. (1972) The logic of scientific discovery. London: Hutchinson and Co.