Nature of scientific knowledge:
Science, as we have seen, is inseparable from the rest of human endeavour. In the past few thousand years of human history, an immense fund of scientific knowledge has been built up, the most dramatic scientific advances having been made in the last few hundred years. This vast storehouse of scientific knowledge encompasses everything, from particles smaller than atoms to the great system of the universe containing planets, stars and galaxies. It covers the study of plants and animals, health and disease, food and medicine and such complex problems as what life is, how the human mind functions, what the beginning and the end of the universe are etc.
As we have said before, we have been able to use this knowledge to meet our daily necessities of life, provide leisure, communicate better and faster. We are able to harness energy in a great variety of forms. From land-based creatures entirely dependent on nature for their survival, human beings have come to a stage where no bariier seems insurmountable. We have tried to traverse every nook and corner of this earth. the vast lands as well as the deep oceans and the high mountains. And now we are extending our sights upwards, not only to the solar system but to the space beyond. Our journey in space is a tremendous endeavour which has only just begun.
All such endeavours further enrich the body of scientific knowledge. Thus, scientific knowledge is never at a standstill. It is a dynamic, and an ongoing process. It is an evergrowing enterprise which will never end. This is because, in science, there is no single ultimate truth to be achieved after which ail the scientists can retire.
A remarkable feature of scientific knowledge is that it is never complete. The more we add to this knowledge, the more questions arise about the unknown mysteries of nature. New information is, thus, continuously gathered. New theories arise if new facts can't be explained by the existing ones. Practitioners of science can never lay claim to a complete or ultimate know!edge.
We have seen that science is not static. Going a step further, we may say that scientific knowledge is also not immutable. Nothing can remain unchallenged in science. In fact, some of the most honoured scientists are those who try to alter, modify or replace existing theories by providing revolutionary evidence or argument. In this sense, science is a self-correcting enterprise, i.e. it is open to change. Many hypotheses proposed by scientists turn out to be wrong. Science is generated by and devoted to the idea of free inquiry, the idea that any hypothesis, no matter how strange, deserves to be considered on its merits. Thus, science is not dogmatic. It does not unreasonably insist on standing by preconceived notions, concepts or ideas that have been proved wrong through careful experimentation. Science progresses by disproving. It has no high priests who cannot be questioned What would be considered highly undesirable in science is the unquestioned acceptance of things as they are.
Any new discovery, finding or interpretation of phenomena is carefully scrutinised, discussed and verified by the scientific community before its general acceptance. In this sense, the scientific 'truths' are truths by consensus, and, therefore, always tentative. The consensus is arrived at after carefully following the method of science. But, if new facts emerging from the natural world challenge this 'truth', scientists are always ready to re-examine their theories.
Last but not the least, scientific knowledge is objective. That is, scientific results are repeatable and verifiable by anyone anywhere if proper facilities are available. This feature of science is related to the ultimate test of any scientific statement; that it should be in accord with the observations of the natural world. Science prefers hard facts to the dearest illusions of scientists. To be accepted, all new ideas must survive rigorous standards of evidence. Sometimes it takes years, or even hundreds of years, before the ideas are verified. Nonetheless, in the long run, no brilliant arguments, high authority or aesthetic appeal can save a scientific theory which disagrees with experiment or observation of nature. You may recall from Unit 6 that it was th& feature of obiective observation in science, that led to the demolition of Aristotelian ideas about the universe. Since hard facts are lnde~endent of the prejudices and preferences of individual scientists, and experiments or observations are essentially repeatable, objectivity becomes an essential feature of scientific knowledge. In no sense is science based on experiences open only to a select few.