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The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it.--Neil Degrasse Tyson

Such scientific medievalism runs rampant today and speaks to the propaganda of vacuous authoritarian thinking. I find such statements not only unhelpful but utterly unscientific and ideological--the height of what I call the logics of domination. Scientific "truths" are always open to further inquiry and elaboration. As Alfred North Whitehead argued, "Our conscious experience involves a baffling mixture of certainty, ignorance, and probability" (Process and Reality, 205). Does it not seem more honest to argue that truth cannot shake loose the shimmers of belief and, therefore, does not have unilateral power as is often claimed by the prophets of scientism? Truth is meant to set us free, not enslave us!

  • The trouble with those statements is that while there is one or many truths, it is interpreted and deliberately pushed on display that what one such persons 'discoveries' is the truth, when in fact, it is only a potential and is based on what has been 'learned' so far. At the end of it all, there likely is one or multiple 'truths', but I feel that humanity is so far away from even a remote chance at realizing what it is (they are) not that we could even understand it when encountered. Here is a nice read on lying : mentalfloss.com/article/30609/… – Kraang Prime Mar 25 '16 at 1:29
  • Very nice read! – AnthropoTechnics Mar 25 '16 at 1:38
  • I forgot to note with that article on lying, that there is one (that i am aware of) exception to the rule, which is if a person has aspergers, they tend to be unable to lie. Some eventually can, but not for lack of a lot of effort and a conclusion that lying is the logical choice. Even under conditions were lying would avoid harm, it is still unlikely that someone with aspergers could lie. ( livescience.com/17407-pathological-liars-honest-psychology.html ) – Kraang Prime Mar 25 '16 at 2:41
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    What is "scientific medievalism"? – Dave Mar 25 '16 at 12:32
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    I just want to give a charitable interpretation of Tyson's quote by rephrasing it as: "The good thing about science is that people's beliefs are irrelevant to its truth or falsity". – Eliran Mar 25 '16 at 14:02
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I feel like I'm missing something in the question. I think you're asking: "Is it possible for a sentence to be true, even if nobody believes it?" If that's not right, let me know and I'll try again.

There are a variety of theories of truth, and they would offer different answers to the question you've posed. Let me mention just three such views:

  • The correspondence theory of truth says that sentence is true if and only if the world is the way that the sentences says it is, i.e. if the world corresponds to its representation.
  • The coherence theory of truth says that a sentence is true if and only if it coheres with the rest of our beliefs.
  • The pragmatist theory of truth says that a sentence is true if and only if a community of ideal observers all in the possession of the complete evidence would say that the sentence is true.

On the correspondence view, it seems most plausible to think truth is utterly unconnected with belief. Since the world is the way it is independent of our beliefs about it, therefore sentences about the world are either true or false, regardless of whether we exist or not.

On the coherence view truth definitely would require belief because for a sentence to be true is, as it were, for that sentence to be connected to other sentences we take to be true. Coherence theorists must reject the idea that there could be truths which nobody ever in principle could know.

On the pragmatist view of truth, its harder to tell. Some pragmatists, such as Susan Haack and Cheryl Misak (I think) want to suggest that the pragmatist view of truth turns out to be very similar to the correspondence theory in point of fact. So, I take it that these pragmatists also wouldn't necessarily have a problem with saying that a sentence could be true even if nobody in fact (at the present time) believes it. However, like correspondence theorists, they would want to reject the idea that there could be a truth that nobody knows.

Now the curious thing about the literature on truth is that there aren't really good arguments for each of these views. The main argument for the correspondence view is just that it seems very plausible and intuitive and fits with our pretheoretical judgment that truths about the world are discovered rather than made. (I think something like that must be what Neil deGrasse Tyson means in the quote above.) Further, the correspondence view seems to avoid important problems the other views have.

The coherence theory, for instance, seems to let too many things count as true. Imagine a really nice, consistent fictional world present in a novel. If coherence theory of truth is right, then a sentence is true if and only if it coheres with other sentences, so if the fictional story is coherent, it's literally true. In other words, if the Lord of the Rings is a highly consistent set of sentences, then there are such things as Dragons, Elves, Orcs and so on. This looks like an important difficulty for the coherence theory.

Another difficulty, which the coherence theory shares with the pragmatist theory is that it seems to require that there simply couldn't be such a thing as an unknowable truth. (Note that it's an unknownable truth. Everyone wants to say there are truths that aren't in fact known; the question is whether there are truths that nobody could know.) There's an important paradox called Fitch's Paradox that is supposed to show that actually if you hold that all truths can in principle be known, then all truths must be actually known. This is a surprising result! (Unless you take the pragmatist theory of truth to provide an argument for the existence of an omniscient God.) But furthermore, the pragmatist theory of truth faces the difficulty that there are some problems in logic and mathematics that are provably undecidable. That means that it can be proven that there cannot be a proof of certain questions one way or another. Yet, these are question in logic, so it seems like they should have answers and that their answers should be not only true, but necessarily true.

Of course, the correspondence theory faces it's own challenges. The primary challenge is to make sense of the notion of "correspondence" and to say what the correspondence between the world and the sentence is supposed to consist in.

  • I'm not too up to speed on contemporary coherentism, but I've always heard it being applied to Hegel (plato.stanford.edu/entries/truth-coherence). In Hegel's case, I think it's not quite as you're suggesting above (but again it's not like "coherentism" is his term). For Hegel, I take it that "truth" is a feature of how our consciousness attends to the world and that he uses reality Wahrheit much in the way many mean truth. Or to use contemporary language, for Hegel truth is what happens within a hermeneutic, reality is what's out there. – virmaior Mar 26 '16 at 1:00
  • I can't speak to Hegel's view specifically. I think Hegel is looked at as something like a spiritual grandfather to coherence views more than a direct influence. – shane Mar 27 '16 at 0:50
  • I think correspondence is the only philosophy without problems that completely undermine the entire thing. Yes, it's true that the notion of mapping a stated belief to an actual ontological truth about the world is not well defined. Yet,look at a case like the Aether theory of light propagation vs Special Relativity. The latter has held to the test of thousands of potentially falsifiable experiments, whereas the former crumbled to the very first ever run. Yet, the Aether is both a perfectly internally consistent theory, and it was widely accepted by the scientific community. – Bridgeburners Aug 25 '17 at 17:19
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Under a strict, philosophical, reading of the quote, Dr. Tyson isn't making much sense; interpreting "science" as "the methodology of science" or "the social endeavor of science" this sentence is a non-sequitur. Even if you are inclined to cut him some slack and interpret science more along the lines of "the findings that science produces", then Dr. Tyson is just making a normative claim about [successful/effective] science -- "The good thing about science...". This short, pithy, sentiment is not meant to be an argument that, in themselves, the truths of science will force everyone to believe them; rather just that, no matter to what extent people actually believe them, the regularities of nature correctly identified by the scientific method, are true regularities of nature. In this sense, it's not really saying much at all.

Widening the scope of consideration, his goodness claim is also an implicit argument in the context of his science public advocacy. In this case, it would be that you should pay attention to science since it identifies truths about the world (since they can bite you in the ass whether or not you pay attention to them or not). That he feels the need to (indirectly in this case) exhort people about the value/goodness of science indicates that he recognizes that the blunt truth of it doesn't just force itself into peoples' minds. Instead it needs advocates who lead the public discussion with these kinds of statements. From what I know of his professional life, he'd accept that he's taken on this kind of advocacy role and is trying to change people's beliefs. A good example of this is his testimony before congress on continuing/expanding NASA funding. These remarks flip back and forth between science advocacy, and advocacy for NASA's role in shaping the national dialog, and inspiring the nation, i.e. that they "shake loose the shimmers of belief". "Audacious visions have the power to alter mindstates about what is possible" (same @3:33) is a comment about what people believe, not what is true.

Construed narrowly, the cited comment doesn't have enough heft to do the work implied in the question. Construed in the context of his more general science advocacy, it is reasonable to conclude that he has concerned himself with intentionally trying to shape what people believe.

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    Well, Dr. Tyson should hire you and step up his PR game. This kind of modesty is NOT expressed in his lectures, interviews, etc. and I'm sure he would agree with you but celebrity can unduly inflate. I would say he needs this kind of cosmetics and this is not what the quote expresses, for example. – AnthropoTechnics Mar 25 '16 at 13:10
  • I agree with the sentiments here, but I also am not confident that Dr. Tyson shares them. The majority of the content he shares with the non-scientific community is of a very evangelical nature. That's what lets him get away with phrasings like this. It's really hard to defend the phrase "science is true" because science is a methodology, not a proposition. One has to rephrase it to come to the sort of statement which can actually be true. – Cort Ammon Mar 26 '16 at 16:29
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    A philosophically sophisticated listener will argue, correctly, that "science cannot be true since it is a methodology", but that is not his intended audience. Given that the intended audience is the general public, interpreting "science" as "the stuff you learned in elementary/high school science class", seems reasonable to me, even if it is, technically, "rephrasing" it. – Dave Mar 27 '16 at 16:07
  • The problem with all the post-modernists is that they just ignore or fail to explain what we actually know.... what they themselves even know, yet argue in bad faith otherwise. Do we really doubt that the sun will rise tomorrow? Do we doubt that aircrafts can indeed fly? Do we really doubt the methodology that aided our progression to those truths? As this is what Science is, not scientists or scientific institutions.... for those are either human, or social, and are are thus compromised. – J. M. Becker Oct 5 '16 at 22:05
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In answer to the main question, the answer is yes, truth does not require belief.

As to Dr. Tyson's quote, my understanding is that he is comparing Science/Scientific (method), to Religion/Religious (method) of finding the truth. So, under this context, it is true that the Science/Scientific (method) does not require you to believe in it (to get to the truth), like the Religion/Religious (method) does.

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The arguments against science start and end with culture, society or the individual experience.

Scientific institutions serve established interests, scientists are still human and thus flawed, and individuals have perception which can be warped.... and this proves ...nothing.

What we do know is that science seems to work, the scientific method yields things that effect the material world... whereas the dissent, post-modernists have never yielded anything, except totalitarianism and self-interest.

For the producer of propaganda, the truth indeed feels downright tyrannical. Do we believe in sophistry, or our lying eyes? It is correct to be skeptical of all scientific claims, and institutions, for they could fail to identify the Truth.

The Truth existed before life, and will exist after. It exists regardless of if we accept it or not. The path towards Truth is extremely tenuous, and subject to the filter in which we view the world, but the nature itself remains. This isn't a belief, this is an explanation of the actual world as we understand it to be. If the world changes, then the explanation may have been lacking or incorrect, but the single Truth would remain.

If we have multiple contradictory narratives, only one is the truth, or they allow enough space between them that they don't contradict. ... Or none of them are the truth, and thus they APPEAR to be all equal in their validity. However the Truth itself has power, narratives are a mere reflection of power, they only dis-empower those that believe their validity.

This power proves Truth exists, your narratives have no Independent power.

  • Welcome to Philosophy.SE! While this answer has something to do with the question, it is not based on any sources at all and most of the statements are simply (heavily discussed!) assertions. As the answer in this Meta question says, you should clearly destinguish between your opinion and supportable views/facts that you should support with references if possible. – Philip Klöcking Oct 6 '16 at 15:01
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No matter how many people believe the earth is flat, it is objectively true that the earth is round (technically, it's a geoid).

The purpose of science is to discover the objective truth about the universe we live in. For that purpose, philosophers developed the scientific method, which is an ongoing, cyclical process of observing, interpreting and testing:

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This process has proven to be more reliable than any other means of discovering the truth about the objective universe we live in.

What Tyson was trying to say, is that truth as discovered by means of the scientific method is objectively true, no matter how many people may disbelieve in it. Science is agnostic with respect to what you or I believe. The evidence and proven empirical methods of interpreting that evidence are the only things that matter in science.

Tyson by no means intended to say that scientists cannot make mistake or that science in its current form does not contain mistakes. Of course it does. However, the scientific method is a self-correcting process, which means that every single scientific theory is constantly tested and retested and replaced by a better theory when new rests lead to different conclusions.

This is where we find the main difference between science based opinions and faith based opinions. Faith is based on dogma, whereas science allows no dogma. The scientific method requires that all cognitive dissonance is systematically eliminated wherever one ends up with conflicting theories or data-sets.

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According to Bertrand Russell, truths are different from facts. Facts are independent of the mind but truths are not because true and false are properties of beliefs. Truths are synonymous to true beliefs.

This distinction is important because everyone is trapped in their own skull. All that a person experiences are mental events in their own head. Thus all of our knowledge about the objective world are true beliefs ( or truths ) about facts.

Scientific research can generate a lot beliefs that are very likely to be true. Nevertheless, scientific knowledge are mere reflections of facts, can infinitely approximate facts but guarantees neither truthfulness nor accuracy. Science does not automatically imply truth.

As a matter of fact, scientific knowledge is highly tentative, subject to revision based on new evidence.

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I resolved this in this way : If I can't prove it then I can't believe it, as any other humen being. The reality is that not everybody values being honest to themselves nor to others. I really think is not possible to believe something without proof just that this individual finds declaring something true to be fulfilling to their existence.

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