Question: What is it about theories in human sciences and natural sciences that make them convincing?
Peter Medawar, winner of the Nobel Prize for medicine in 1960, believed that “Scientific theories ... begin, if you like, as stories, and the purpose of the critical or rectifying episode in scientific reasoning is precisely to find out whether these stories are stories about real life” (1). It can be inferred that theories start as stories but with continuous research and development can be proven true or not. Which leads us to another question, “What is a theory”? My interpretation of a theory is that it starts out as a concept or hypothesis, and through analysis and testing if proved true becomes a theory.
Natural science is the study of the natural world and scientists search for regularities to describe and explain theories. Human science is the study of patterns in human society and individual human actions, which leads to theories. In the areas of knowledge like Natural Sciences, the primary proof of theories is based on logical reasoning and inductive logic. According to dictionary.com, logical reasoning is “the process of forming conclusions, judgments, or inferences from facts or premises”(2) and inductive logic is the “reasoning from detailed facts to general principles”(3). On the other hand, in Human sciences, the primary technique of formulating a theory is based on not only examination of one’s own thought processes, feelings and sensations but also on the observations of the investigator on the subjects. Thus, a human science theory is based on Inductive logic as well as emotion. When studying how convincing these theories are, one analyses the ways of knowing used to arrive at that particular theory. This leads us to the knowledge issue, “To what extent can reason and emotion make theories in natural and human science respectively convincing”.
When considering natural science how can we prove if a theory is right? One way to confirm truth and prove a theory is carrying out the correspondence test for truth as well as inductive logic. Results should produce evidence that can be repeated. The test to see if distilled water boils at 100° at sea level should be able to be repeated numerous times and produce the desired results. This theory that ‘Distilled water boils at 100 degrees Celsius’ can be proved factually correct irrespective of location of test, nationality of scientist, brand of measuring instrument etc. It is implicit that certain variables like altitude, pressure, type of water used etc are to be kept constant to maintain uniformity of scientific procedure. Moreover, I attest personally to the factual accuracy of the aforementioned theory. But, Jason Dulle who has been professionally trained in theology makes an interesting point saying “Based on my observations I could say that it is probably true that water always boils at 100 degrees Celsius, but I could never say that such a conclusion is must always be true, because I have not tried boiling all the water in the world to verify that all water boils at 100 degrees Celsius.” (3)So, inductive logic has its own inherent weaknesses, doesn’t it? Going one step further, doesn’t it seem like inductive reasoning, at best, only gives probabilistic truth and not indubitable truth?