The relationship between science and Truth is, or should be roughly analogous to the relationship between law and Justice. Truth and justice are, in human terms, imperfectly attainable goals. As a result humans have developed processes, science and law, the adherence to which results in, we hope, as near an approximation of the desired goal as possible. Trouble ensues when the process is given equal standing with the desired product. Science IS Truth. Law IS Justice. This leads us down all manner of dangerous roads.
Neil Degrasse Tyson has said, “That’s the good thing about science: It’s true whether or not you believe in it. That’s why it works.” This is a fundamentally backward statement. Law and science are only useful to the extent that they continue to work. When they cease to work, we can look at the result in either of two ways; what it True or Just has changed, or that science or law must change to accommodate what we now know to be True or Just.
Here’s an example. We all know that the Earth revolves around the Sun. But how would an unaided, earthbound observer know that? If the Sun really did revolve around the Earth, in what way would it look different? The answer is that it is not observably different. The Heliocentric model devised by Copernicus was actually more complex than the old Copernican model. It was superior in only one aspect; that it more accurately described the length of a solar year. It would take better measurements, more discoveries, and other perspectives to fully explain, for example, retrograde movement of the planets. And that’s the key. The Truth appears to have changed. In reality, it was science that changed, bowing to a new theory that simply worked better than the old one. There’s nothing wrong with believing that the Earth is flat. But when you approach the edge of it, you might come up against the need to devise a new theory when your prediction fails. But that’s an issue for that individual.
There IS a problem when you are so convicted of your version of a Scientific Truth that you seek to halt debate, crush dissent, mock “deniers,” and persecute sceptics. Those should be greater impetus to further testing, better experiments, more detailed or precise measurements, more inclusive hypotheses; that is, an escalation of science. But when Science IS Truth, we no longer have a need for science, for we have already arrived at an unalterable, unquestionable result. Science is no longer science, but that other great human search for Truth: Religion. It’s results are Dogma and not to be questioned.
And most often, these ideological strongpoints exist today in those scientific propositions that are least testable. Neither Evolution nor Anthropogenic Climate Change can be tested by experiment. They cannot be viewed in a lab. I am not arguing for or against either proposition. I am arguing that the argument on neither can be considered closed. Contrary to Dr. Tyson, truth, in human terms, is what works and science is only that process to find what works, or to eliminate what does not. Believing only enters into the proposition that far, and the results of that process are only as good as the last theory and may change with the next one.
Related and Funny: There are No Such Things as Scientists, by Frank J.