Enlightenment philosophy defended the idea that the sovereignty of a free people conflicted with a boundary, which is truth, over which it could have no control. David Hume wrote in 1742: “Even if all mankind concluded conclusively that the sun moved and the earth remained at rest, despite these reasons the sun would not move an inch from its place and these conclusions would remain wrong and wrong forever” (1). The Scottish philosopher tells us briefly that scientific truths cannot come from voting.
“Having an opinion is not equivalent to knowing the accuracy or error of a scientific statement.”
The right of citizens to ask questions, to investigate, to give opinions, and to question researchers as well as those in power, however, remains absolute. and that it should be answered in the most honest way possible. But expressing an opinion is not the same as knowing the truth or falsity of a scientific statement. Moreover, the autonomy of scientific truth evoked by Hume takes nothing away from individual freedom: neither Galileo nor Newton nor Darwin nor Einstein were potential dictators. On the contrary, it protects it, at least under a democratic system. For when power lies, deceives, or is in error, then the individual can claim that fact to challenge it.
“Science facts” are neither absolute nor final.
However, Hume leaves an important point in the dark: “the facts of science” are neither absolute nor final. Of course, some of them are so strong that it is hard to see how they could ever be considered false: for example, the Earth is spherical and everything seems to indicate that it will continue; Atoms are there, and here, too, this is a statement that is not about to become false. But some facts of science end up being completely wrong. For example, Lavoisier in the eighteenth century disproved the phlogiston theory, which in the seventeenth century postulated that the combustion of a body consists of the emission of a liquid from that body, which is the phlogiston. phlogiston not found. As with the luminous ether, it is supposed to support the propagation of light, which gave up the ghost in 1905 after a good century of virtual existence.
The earth is round, but it does not revolve around the sun
But other “facts of science”, without denying it, can show a changing face over time. Thus, to some extent, it has become inaccurate to say that the Earth revolves around the Sun. This formulation actually indicates that the Sun may occupy a kind of ‘center’, or will form a frame of reference with a particular position, which is different from the others. However, the successes of the general theory of relativity, formulated by Einstein in 1915, have been formally proven: all frames of reference are perfectly equivalent. Obviously, no one can be said to have anything special compared to others, and this is of course true of the frame of reference associated with the Sun. Were Copernicus and Galileo wrong? No, not really: they brought, in their time, the right answer to a question asked in a certain way. Since then, scientific revolutions have removed the way to understand gravity, and thus to describe the phenomena that govern it.
Like what, when one calls out “the facts of science,” it is advisable to be precise and careful in the way they are stated. Otherwise, the door is wide open for those who do not recognize their status, treat them with contempt or argue with them in the name of their intuition. Franz Kafka wrote: “It is difficult to tell the truth, because there is only one, but it is alive and therefore has a changed face.” This is the good about Kafka’s sentences: there is always something to “think about” (…)
(1) David Hume, The Skeptic, in H
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