Instead of relying on my own words, perhaps, I will turn to Terry Herman Sissons, Ph.D. author of The Big Bang to Now: All of Time in Six Chunks
…scientific theories can never be proved in the final, absolute, ultimate sense. Scientific theories are accepted when they are the best, most effective explanation for what we observe, or the most effective way of enabling us to solve some problem or accomplish some goal.
So Newton’s theory is accepted because of all the theories, it explains better than any other theory why apples fall to the ground and the stars don’t. There are a lot of explanations about why we see the sun come up in the morning and go down at night. We accept Galileo’s explanation because it tallies better than other theories with so many things we observe. Einstein’s relativity has been in practical use since it first was used to land the first space craft on the moon, but it might still be wrong.
So it is possible that any of these theories might be replaced by other theores [sic] that are even better at explaining what we observe or solving some urgent problem facing humanity. (Why scientific theories can’t be proved absolutely | The Big Bang to Now)
Sissons is of course not the only one who has had to point out the flaw in thinking that scientific theories can be proven true. Dr. Jay L. Wile who holds a PhD from the University of Rochester in Nuclear Chemistry and is best known for the “Exploring Creation with…” series of textbooks written for junior high and high school students who are being educated at home also has pointed this out, both on his blog and in his textbooks. In a blog post discussing the misconception, he invokes Sir Karl Popper: a major figure in the philosophy of science who addressed the concept of falsifiability.
Here is part of Wile’s argument.
…[I]t is impossible for science to prove anything, because science is based on experiments and observations, both of which can be flawed. Often, those flaws don’t become apparent to the scientific community for quite some time. Flawed experiments and observations, of course, lead to flawed conclusions, so even the most secure scientific statements have never been proven. There might be gobs and gobs of evidence for them, but they have not been proven.
There are plenty of other discussions on the topic of why science does not prove anything and why there is a misunderstanding by the masses of how science works. Here is a link to a discussion by Prof. Michael J. Biercuk, a Harvard graduate, experimental physicist, and Director of the Quantum Control Laboratory.
Thus we see why Nye’s use of “provable science” makes no sense. Science is not about proving something. It is about falsifying a claim. The process of scientific exploration is not set up to prove anything.
Nye and Tyson also push another false idea of science. When discussing climate change, which has a lot of supporting evidence, they reference consensus. But while consensus is important in science, it is not consensus among scientists that matters. It is consensus among experiments. Truth by consensus is a logical fallacy. Even in science, there are many reasons why there many be consensus among scientists. Politics of course has a lot to do with the matter. There are also cases where there are simply biases in personal interest on a topic. There are fewer explanations to consensus among experiments, other than the theories being tested have merit.
Commonly Held Belief
I should note that this seems to be a rather commonly held belief. It is not simply limited to the few people with whom I have spoken to on various forums. This is supported by a 2014 survey that Politicoid had conducted regarding religiosity. In that survey, 78.0% of respondents said that a scientific theory could be proven true. While the sample was small: only 254 people, it is still quite telling.
Link to Religious Atheism
My final point is admittedly conjecture, but there seems to be a strong link between atheism, especially Religious Atheism, and Dogmatic Theorism. This view is based on the apparent fervent belief that nothing which is beyond our current scientific body of knowledge is real. The idea that something is certainly false until it is proven true goes hand in hand with the way in which Dogmatic Theorists treat scientific theories.
1. Hutchingson, Ian. 2011. Monopolizing Knowledge (Amazon.com)
2. The Big Bang to Now: All of Time in Six Chunks (Amazon.com)
3. Why scientific theories can’t be proved absolutely | The Big Bang to Now
4. The Philosophy and Science of Politics
5. Religious Atheism