I am aware that science and philosophy, in their modern guise, are two separate beasts that never cross the same domains but sometimes it happens that philosophy influences science and that science influences philosophy; the latter happens much more frequently than the former but, sometimes, the former also happens, see for example this question.

Based on the fantastic answers that were given to the question above, I ask myself: has it ever happened that science has refuted (for example) a metaphysical theory? Or are science and metaphysics meant to never meet?

  • "two separate beasts that never cross the same domains" is not exact… In the pasr, see Aristotle, philosophy and natural sciences were strictly itermingled. Commented Nov 6, 2019 at 15:50
  • And modern natural philosophy : Descartes, Galielo, Newton, disproved Aristotle's theories about motion and celestial phenomena. Commented Nov 6, 2019 at 15:51
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    But if we stay at "metaphyscs" more strictly, we may recall the Logical positivism point of view, according to which metaphysics is exactly what is not subject to the scientific method. If so, science cannot disporve metaphysics. Commented Nov 6, 2019 at 15:52
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    "Descartes tried to explain most of our mental life in terms of processes involving the pineal gland, but the details remained unclear, even in his own eyes, and his enterprise was soon abandoned for both philosophical and scientific reasons"
    – user38026
    Commented Nov 6, 2019 at 20:21
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    science is a philosophy. Commented Nov 7, 2019 at 4:30

6 Answers 6


Absolute time and space

Relativity theory radically re-conceptualised space and time, a concept of both philosophical and scientific interest. Newton held an 'absolute' theory of time: 'Absolute, true and mathematical time, of itself, and from its own nature, flows equably without relation to anything external'. Most 18th and 19th century philosophers who wrote on time assumed the absolute notion - Leibniz was a notable exception. This view of time was implausible under the impact of special relativity theory. Time was now identified with space/ time and philosophers widely came to accept that the absolute theory of time had been disproved. Anyone who accepts special relativity theory will take the same view. One can wrangle over the provisional nature of scientific theories but if special relativity holds good then the absolute notion of time has been disproved. This is as close as we can get, at present, to saying that the notion of absolute time and space has been disproved.

(I. Newton, The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy - Bk I, Scholium: https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Mathematical_Principles_of_Natural_Philosophy_(1846): originally Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (1687).


Quantum indeterminacy, while hard to state briefly, recognises the 'ontic' or objective indeterminacy of certain sub-atomic events. Determinism standardly holds that every event has a cause, and that 'same cause, same effect'. It is questionable whether quantum theory needs or can accommodate the concept of cause, but its probabilistic laws do not endorse 'same cause, same effect'. If we accept quantum theory, we reject determinism. This is as close as we can get, at present, to saying that determinism has been disproved.



Yes, science can and does undermine metaphysical positions.


The relationship between science and metaphysics is such that one's metaphysics must allow for 'science' though one must be cautious in observing that science and metaphysics are generally understood to have demarcation problems. The demarcation of science is an important problem in the philosophy of science. In that sense, any metaphysical presuppositions including ontological commitments incompatible with science are ruled out.

The current trend among analytical philosophers of the Anglo-American tradition of philosophy is to embrace a degree of psychologism, and look to psychology for answers about metaphysics. A very famous philosopher who advocated this is Willard V.O. Quine who advocated a naturalized epistemology wherein:

Naturalized epistemology, coined by W. V. O. Quine, is a collection of philosophic views concerned with the theory of knowledge that emphasize the role of natural scientific methods. This shared emphasis on scientific methods of studying knowledge shifts focus to the empirical processes of knowledge acquisition and away from many traditional philosophical questions. There are noteworthy distinctions within naturalized epistemology. Replacement naturalism maintains that traditional epistemology should be abandoned and replaced with the methodologies of the natural sciences.

In this flavor of epistemology, it is the duty of scientific thought to undermine other metaphysical theories, which is a practice advocated by philosophers of science known as the logical positivists who sometimes rejected metaphysics as meaningless in its entirety.

Note, not all philosophers see science as reliable philosophical razor. Read this SE post here.


Science tells us only how matter behaves, it does not tell us what it is or where it came from - science does not answer what is the cause - this is the realm of metaphysics. Science only gives explanations of what we observe, and how to predict future actions. They are not explanations of the 'thing' in itself. D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson says in his book On Growth and Form (p 288):

For as Newton said, to tell us that a thing "is endowed with an occult specific quality, By which it acts and produces manifest effects, is to tell us nothing; but to derive two or three general principles of motion [author's footnote] from phenomena would be a very great step in philosophy, though the causes of those principles were not yet discovered."

Footnote: This is the old philosophic axiom writ large; Ignorato motu, ignoratur natura, which again is but an adaption of Aristotle phrase [Greek] as equivalent to the "Efficient Cause". Fitzgerald holds that "all explanations consist in a description of underlying motions" (Scientific Writings, 1902, p 385); and Oliver Lodge remarked, "You can move Matter; it is the only thing you can do to it."

Science is not absolute. We adjust or find a better explanation or theory to describe interactions of matter and forces every day - no physical theories are absolute as none solve the question of the "Efficient Cause". The 'Efficient Cause' is the realm of philosophy not science.

Mathematics is the language of science, a language we use to understand the workings of the universe. The universe can be written in the language of mathematics, it explains how events in the universe seem to occur from our perspective. It does not explain what the universe is. In the book Quantum Physics and Ultimate Reality: Mystical Writings of Great Physicists by Michael Green, Wolfgang Pauli is quoted :

...a mathematical formula can never tell us what a thing is, but only how it behaves; it can only specify an object through its properties. And these are unlikely to coincide in toto with the properties of any single microscopic object of our everyday life.

[And Arthur Eddington:]

For example, we may admire the triumph of patience of the mathematician in predicting so closely the positions of the moon, but aesthetically the lunar theory is atrocious; it is obvious that the moon and the mathematician use different methods of finding the lunar orbit...But now we realise that science has nothing to say as to the intrinsic nature of the atom. The physical atom is, like everything else in physics, a schedule of pointer readings...

...matter is something that Mr. X knows. Let us see how it goes: This is the potential that was derived from the interval that was measured by the scale that was made from the matter that Mr. X knows. Next question: What is Mr. X? Well it happens that physics is not at all anxious to pursue the question: What is Mr. X? It is not disposed to admit that its elaborate structure of a physical universe is "The House that Mr. X built."...matter, in some indirect way, comes within the purview of Mr. X's mind is not a fact of any utility for a theoretical scheme of physics. We cannot embody it in a differential equation. It is ignored, and the physical properties of matter and other entities are expressed in their linkages in the cycle. And you can see how by the ingenious device of the cycle physics secures for itself a self-contained domain for study with no loose ends projecting into the unknown. All other physical definitions have the same kind of interlocking. Electrical force is defined as something which causes motion of an electric charge; an electric charge is something that exerts something that produces motion of something that exerts something that produces...ad infinitum.

Science and philosophy dwell in different realms, they are not opposed to each other or overlapping as some try to frame in arguments, they are complimentary. Science deals with matter and energy and their interaction or collocation. It explains how, never why. And both are as pointed out by D'Arcy Thompson only properties of three dimensional space. Philosophy asks why.


Philosophers speculate, opine and theorize about a wide variety of topics. Some of those topics go on to become the subject of sciences --which is why philosophy is sometimes called the "Mother of the Sciences."

It's nearly inevitable that the scientific form of the field will contradict some of the early assumptions, claims and conclusions of its philosophical ancestor. One paradigmatic example is physics. It used to be a philosophical topic. Aristotle pioneered it as a proto-science, but practically every claim he made has since been disproved and discarded. Or, for a more modern example, the pioneers of modern formal logic thought it would turn out to be capable of containing all mathematics as a subset. That was disproved as well.

Some other topics, such as ethics, aesthetics and metaphysics, have been more resistant to successful scientific study. Therefore, most of the philosophical theories about those topics remain "live" to this day (in the sense of not being conclusively settled, one way or the other).


No, Science can't undermine Philosophical Ideas, Metaphysical or non Metaphysical.

Science is falsifiable, while Philosophy not.

Very important note is the relationship between Philosophy and Science, is it competitive?, may be, is it Complementary?, may be. I see it is superiority relationship, Superiority of philosophy over Science. This Superiority is by nature, i.e: by nature Philosophy is superior to science.

Thus, Science hasn't ever disproved Philosophical theories, except for some theories discussed in Philosophy of scientific nature.

In philosophy, what science says about solipsism?.

In philosophy, what science says about omphalos hypothesis?.

This hypothesis contradicts science for the highest level, and can't be undermined, completely, by science. It is more acceptable to belief that stars have no such long ages of light reaching us from those stars. There is no need for highly aged fossils (hundreds of thousands of years, millions of years).

Thus, philosophically, omphalos hypothesis is more acceptable than scientific understanding, and can't be falsified by science.

What about if we live in simulation reality?.

But, we should consider science for higher limits, and for our daily uses.

  • @DavidBlomstrom thanks for sharing, biology is not what living matter looks for my senses, but what matter likes to seem for my senses. History, I have doubts about exestince of Mohammed and Jesus, I almost believe in a theory resembles omphalos hypothesis. I hope you vote me up, its up to you.
    – salah
    Commented Nov 7, 2019 at 1:39
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    @DavidBlomstrom Biology is divorced from falsification? That's a novel idea! What about all the experiments? Aren't they supposed to falsify biological theories, just as well as those in physics and chemistry? And even Darwin, well ahead of Popper, explicitly addressed falsifiability: "If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down"
    – IMil
    Commented Nov 7, 2019 at 3:40
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    Metaphysical theories are testable in logic and are falsifiable just like physical theories. If we could not falsify metaphysical theories the discipline would be hopeless or, rather, it would not be a discipline. They are not empirically falsifiable, however, and this is why the empirical sciences cannot falsify them. Thus this is called 'meta-physics'.
    – user20253
    Commented Nov 7, 2019 at 13:40
  • @PeterJ , I agree with you, but Philosophical ideas about higher matters, about ontological and Metaphysical matters, testifiable via logic, but from Plato to nowadays it is still opinions testifiable via logic. In the near future I expect Philosophy will be Higher Philosophy, Higher Philosophy will be somehow abstract science. Higher Philosophy will have the power to, literally, create new worlds, controlling and shaping the laws of matter and energy.
    – salah
    Commented Nov 7, 2019 at 14:07
  • @IMil Darwin's quote is not an example of falsifiability any more than saying, "If it could be demonstrated that God couldn't create life, then creationism would absolutely break down."
    – user18800
    Commented Nov 14, 2019 at 4:58
  • Aristotle's claim that the heart is the source of thinking (rather than the brain) -- the famous physician Galen discredited this view with his empirical work on animal brains.

  • Empedocles' claim that all Earthly matter is composed of four elements (earth, fire, water, air) -- discredited by modern atomic theory.

  • Emission theory (that vision occurs by something being emitted by the eyes) -- discredited by modern physiology.

  • As far as biology is concerned, Descartes had some weird views about the Pineal Gland.

Credit: Kevin Scharp

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