Science in Christian Perspective

Letter to the Editor


Review of Kuhn Disappointing
Charles D. Kay 
History of Science Department 
The Johns Hopkins University Baltimore, Maryland 21218

From: JASA 25 (December 1973): 1969.

The review of T. S. Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Journal ASA 25, 34-8 [1973], by Harry Cook) was disappointing in several ways. The greater portion of the article was very good, and Kuhn's book certainly deserves extended study, but some of Cook's conclusions do not necessarily follow from his discussion, nor do they accurately reflect Kuhn's position.

Cook claims that Kuhn has given an unambiguous, extremely subjective answer to the question, "What is it then that structures reality, that makes it dependable, investigable, or consistent?" Actually, Kuhn does not answer this question at all. In fact, he insists that "it need not be answered in this place. Any conception of nature compatible with the growth of science by proof is compatible with the evolutionary view of science developed here" (p. 173).

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions is a discussion of modes of perception, not of underlying reality. The statement "Whatever be may see, the scientist after a revolution is still looking at the same world" is not then a retreat. It is rather a hint at a possible answer to Cook's question. Nor does Kuhn totally disregard the concept of "Truth" in favor of relativism: it most be remembered that he is writing in an historical context in which the problem is irrelevant.

Elsewhere, Kuhn has described the aim of science as seeking to "explain in detail a range of natural phenomena." Similarly, Cook has said, "It is the business of the scientist to investigate this structure which holds for reality, and he should attempt to formulate laws or theories which reflect this structure." But the mere fact (Heb. 11:3) that this structure of reality is created and upheld by the Word does not guarantee its total comprehensibility (Isa. 55:8-9), let alone its status as a teleos for science. It is through interaction with this structure that man evaluates the reflection he has created in his own laws and theories. Kuhn does not suggest "progress toward a non-existent goal!" in a struggle where only the fittest theory survives because it "leads to the most progress". Rather it is a gradual increase in articulation of scientific theories and practices brought about through an interaction of the mind of the scientist with the material world. There is a physical basis for the paradigms of science, but there is no way in which these paradigms could be said to be formed through "direct observation" of a material reality.

A less sophisticated, but very interesting model could be used at this point. At the end of The Discarded Image. C. S. Lewis discusses the "truth" of different scientific worldviews. He notes that, "Here, as in the courts, the character of the evidence depends on the shape of the examination, and a good crossexaminer can do wonders. He will not indeed elicit falsehoods from an honest witness. But, in relation to the total truth in the witness's mind, the structure of the examination is like a stencil. It determines how much of that total truth will appear and what pattern it will suggest."

Cook would have done well to consult the "Postscript-1969" of the second edition of The Structure of Scientific Revolu tions since Kuhn defends himself against many of his critics. There are also three articles which will be very helpful for those who wish to better understand Kuhn's view: J. J. Kockelmans, Philosophy Forum 11(1972), 231-52; D. A. Hollinger, American Historical Review 78 (1973), 370-93; J. F. Miller, Religious Studies 5(1969), 49-68. Although I would not suggest that everything in these articles is theologically tenable, they do cast a great deal of light on Kuhn's general premises.