Full text: Expansion, Stagnation und Demokratie - 1982 Heft 2 (2)

theorems of geometry if they conflicted with their political interests of
the ruling class may be true, but this kind of partisanship has no place in
the sciences3. If anyone wishes to argue that the earth is flat or the
biblical account of creation literally true, they would be well advised not
to become astronomers, geographers or palaeontologists. Conversely,
those who resist the inclusion of the biblical account of creation into the
school textbooks of California as a "possible hypothesis"4 do so, not
because they may have partisan views (which may be the case), but also
because they rely on a universal consensus among scientists that it is
not only factually wrong, but that no argument in its favour can claim
scientific status. It is not, so far as can be seen, "a possible scientific
hypothesis". To challenge the refutation of the flat-earth thesis, or of the
belief that God created the world in seven days, is to challenge what we
know as reason and science. There are people who are Willing to do so
explicitly or by implication. If they should, by some unlikely chance,
prove to be right, we as historians, social or other scientists, would be
out of a job.
This does not significantly reduce the scope of legitimate scientific
disagreement into which partisanship can and does enter. There can be
considerable argument about what the facts are, and where they can
never be definitively established (as in much of history), argument may
continue indefinitely. There may be argument about what they mean.
Hypotheses and theories, however universal the consensus which
greets them, do not have the non-controversial status of e.g. verifiable or
falsifiable facts or mathematico-logical propositions. They can be
shown to be consistent with the facts, but not necessarily as uniquely
consistent with the facts. There can be no scientific argument about the
fact of evolution, but there can be, even today, about the Darwinian
explanation of it, or about any specific version of it. And insofar as the
"fact" itself is trivial, when taken out of the context of the questions we
ask about it and the theories we form to link it with other facts, it also
remains caught up in the web of possible partisanship. The same is true
even of mathematical propositions, which become significant or "inter-
esting" only by virtue of the links we establish between them and other
parts of our intellectual universe. Nevertheless, and at the risk of being
accused of positivism, the non-controversial nature of certain state-
ments and of the means of establishing it, must be asserted. Some
propositions are "true" or "false" beyond reasonable doubt, though the
boundaries between reasonable and unreasonable doubt will be drawn
differently, within a marginal zone, according to partisan criteria. Thus
most traditional scientists would probably require far stronger and
more rigorously sifted evidence to establish the existence of various
extra-sensory phenomena than they would to accept, e.g. the survival of
some animal believed to be long extinct; and this because many of them
are a priori reluctant to accept the existence of such phenomena.
Conversely, as the Piltdown forgeries and other examples show, an
a priori readiness to accept verification of a plausible hypothesis can
seriously relax the scientist's own criteria of Validation. But this does
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