Published: 31st March 2015
Defending scientific truths in an age of obscurantism
Are we entitled to say that Earth is 4.55 billion years old, and its trajectory an ellipse centered on the Sun, with an average radius of 150 million kilometers? Most educated people today would say yes. Curiously, however, three hundred years after the century of Enlightenment, the fact that these assertions constitute what it is customary to call “scientific truths” is often perceived, especially by postmodernists, as naïve, improper or even (paradoxically) wrong.
Against the fashionable relativist idea that science is no more than a socially constructed doxa, and reality nothing more than what we ourselves bring to it, this straightforward yet highly vigorous book rehabilitates a supposedly outdated, naïvely realist notion: “scientific truth.”
I was reading an online National Geographic Magazine article about why modern, educated people sometimes fall for denial of science over rational evaluation of evidence. The reason, of course, is that people
are idiots and struggle to put aside their naive observations, beliefs rooted deep, in favour of scientific evidence.
Also, there seems to be no understanding of how the scientific method works. I have summarized very simply, here’s the original article: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2015/03/science-doubters/achenbach-text
What has this to do with Hubert Krivine’s ‘The Earth’?
They both broadly cover the subject of scientific literacy, from different angles. One, the article, asks why people, even highly educated people struggle with concepts like global climate change and vaccines, and the other, this book, puts the changing ideas of science in to context, while focused specifically on the questions of the age and position of the earth. These questions, and the ever changing answers, serve as excellent exemplars of the scientific method.
This is a textbook that will appeal broadly, especially in secondary education; it has depth enough to provide an explanation but will not overwhelm with technical vocabulary. It’s a good starting point for understanding the principles of the scientific method as well as the specifics of the age and position of the earth.
While the focus is generally Eurocentric there is some, although not enough in my opinion, mention of the work of medieval Islamic scholarship. This book does seemed to be aimed at the U.S. market, which would be well served by it.
I would like a copy of this book if only so that when someone asks ‘but how do they know the rock is that old?’ and I get blank looks when I try to explain about isotope ratios and half-lives, I can point out the explanation in words those with low scientific literacy will understand.