Science Wars: What Scientists Know and How They Know It
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Choose one: (A) Science gives us objective knowledge of an independently existing reality. (B) Scientific knowledge is always provisional and tells us nothing that is universal, necessary, or certain about the world. Welcome to the science wars梐 long-running battle over the status of scientific knowledge that began in ancient Greece, raged furiously among scientists, social scientists, and humanists during the 1990s, and has re-emerged in today's conflict between science and religion over issues such as evolution.
Professor Steven L. Goldman, whose Teaching Company course on Science in the 20th Century was praised by customers as "a scholarly achievement of the highest order" and "excellent in every way," leads you on a quest for the nature of scientific reasoning in this intellectually pathbreaking lecture series, Science Wars: What Scientists Know and How They Know It.
Those who have taken Professor Goldman's previous course, which is an intensive survey of the revolution in scientific knowledge from 1900 to 2000, may have wondered: if what counts as scientific knowledge can transform so dramatically within only 100 years, what exactly is scientific knowledge? Science Wars addresses this surprisingly difficult question.
Five Centuries of the Science Wars
In 24 half-hour lectures, Science Wars explores the history of competing conceptions of scientific knowledge and their implications for science and society from the onset of the Scientific Revolution in the 1600s to the present. It may seem that the accelerating pace of discoveries, inventions, and unexpected insights into nature during this period guarantees the secure foundations of scientific inquiry, but that is far from true. Consider these cases:
The scientific method: In the 1600s the English philosopher Francis Bacon defined the scientific method in its classic form: the use of inductive reasoning to draw conclusions from an exhaustive body of facts. But "no scientist has ever been a strict Baconian," says Professor Goldman. "If you followed that, you would get nowhere."
A "heated" debate: Around 1800 the dispute over the nature of heat was resolved in favor of the theory that heat is motion and not a substance given off during burning. But then the French mathematical physicist Joseph Fourier wrote a set of equations that accurately described how heat behaves regardless of what it "really" is, which, Fourier contended, was not a scientific question at all.
Paradigm shifts: The publication in 1962 of Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions precipitated a radical change in attitudes toward scientific knowledge, prompted by Kuhn's insight that science is not an entirely rational enterprise, and that its well-established theories (or paradigms) are overturned in a revolutionary, nonlogical process.
Postmodern putdown: The postmodern attack on science as a privileged mode of inquiry made some headway in the late 20th century. But the credibility of the movement wilted in 1996, when a postmodern journal unwittingly published a spoof by physicist Alan Sokal, purporting to prove that physical theory was socially constructed. Sokal then exposed his piece as a parody.
In the penultimate lecture of the course, Professor Goldman considers intelligent design梩he argument that evolution can't account for the immense complexity of life and that a master designer must be at work. He approaches this topical debate by asking: What are the minimum criteria that define a hypothesis as scientific, and does intelligent design qualify? Having already covered five centuries of the science wars in the previous lectures, you will analyze this controversy with a set of tools that allows you to see the issues in a sharp, new light.
1 Knowledge and Truth Are Age-Old Problems
2 Competing Visions of the Scientific Method
3 Galileo, the Catholic Church, and Truth
4 Isaac Newton抯 Theory of the Universe
5 Science vs. Philosophy in the 17th Century
6 Locke, Hume, and the Path to Skepticism
7 Kant Restores Certainty
8 Science, Society, and the Age of Reason
9 Science Comes of Age in the 19th Century
10 Theories Need Not Explain
11 Knowledge as a Product of the Active Mind
12 Trading Reality for Experience
13 Scientific Truth in the Early 20th Century
14 Two New Theories of Scientific Knowledge
15 Einstein and Bohr Redefine Reality
16 Truth, Ideology, and Thought Collectives
17 Kuhn's Revolutionary Image of Science
18 Challenging Mainstream Science from Within
19 Objectivity Under Attack
20 Scientific Knowledge as Social Construct
21 New Definitions of Objectivity
22 Science Wars of the Late 20th Century
23 Intelligent Design and the Scope of Science
24 Truth, History, and Citizenship
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