The Truth and the Scientific Knowledge

by Dr. Boris Zakharov


Dr. Boris Zakharov

Dr. Boris Zakharov

Professor Boris Zakharov began his professional career in the “Kedrovaya Pad Natural Reserve” (Far East State University, Vladivostok, Russia) as a research scientist, where he participated in and performed various scientific projects in field zoology. Dr. Zakharov's Doctoral research was on horse flies (Diptera, Tabanidae), beginning in 1983 at Novosibirsk Biological Institute. The results of this study were published in his papers and concern systematics, ecology, biogeography and cattle protection from blood sucking diptera in Siberia.

After his arrival in the United States, Dr. Zakharov participated in a project on ground spiders of Australia and New Zealand in the American Museum of Natural History, where he has worked from 1996 to 2005 as a Curatorial Assistant in the Spider laboratory in a Department of Invertebrate Zoology. Currently, he occupies the position of a visiting scientist at the American Museum of Natural History, where he continues the study of ground spiders of the world.

Professor Boris Zakharov began to teach in 2005 at Hostos Community College/CUNY. Boris joined the Natural Sciences department at LaGuardia in 2009.


“Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed.
Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

John 20:29

The Truth and the Scientific Knowledge

In the proposed article, I would like to talk with you about our perception of the World and what role in this perception occupies our scientific knowledge. In general, we are convinced that our understanding of the World is based on scientific knowledge. The belief in science raises a question at what degree scientific knowledge relates to the truth, i.e., is our scientific worldview truthful. This question is very old. It was well known from ancient times from disputes among Aristotle’s and Plato’s followers.

The human history peoples’ worldview did not always rest on scientific knowledge. The first form of human understanding and description of the World was Myth. Myth embodied peoples’ experience in the form of proto-religious and pre-scientific descriptions in artistic forms, such as paintings, poetry, and poems (Cassirer, 1957). With the increase in complexity of human practice and growth of understanding causal-outcome relationship, unity of mythic worldview began to fall apart. Three main ways of World cognition came to life: 1. Religion, 2. Art, and 3. Science. If the religion is founded on existence of Almighty Lord who created and rules this World - his existence approved by Holy scriptures and religious authorities, then the artistic world view is based on personal feelings and sensual sensations. While religion holds an objective generalized view of the World, the art stresses its individual personal perception. Science takes the middle pathway. It leans on sensual perception of everyday experience, but searches cause-outcome relations and prescribes to these relations general objective existence (Fig. 1).

Figure 1: Three branches of mythic worldview: Religion, Science, and Art.

Thus, three ways of worldview were separated. Each of them has a very special particular way of reflection and explanation of the World. The truth of religion is based on scriptures; art truth is based on very personal experiences, whereas science claims that its truthfulness is based on everyday practice.

Francis Bacon, was probably the first who, 400 years ago, proposed a direct connection between scientific knowledge and truth. In proverb scientia sit potentia, he stated that Truth is a position of a power armed with scientific knowledge. His original intention was to glorify God and fulfilling scripture via scientific proof of God’s existence. However, the following scientific revolution did not fulfill his expectations, but supported understanding of knowledge as a power, which allows man to rule over Nature’s forces. From this time ways of religion and science were separated. As far as science is originated from human experience, supported by everyday practice, and gives humanity a power to use discovered natural forces, the scientific knowledge is ascribed possession of Truth.

However, when we look at the ground on which our science is rooted, we will see the same mythic pre-knowledge. That is why, the basic fundamental concepts of science are based on intuitively formulated definitions, which cannot be tested for truth, but only accepted as true. This concerns axioms and basic scientific definitions. For example, one of Euclid’s axiom states that Things which are equal to the same thing are also equal to one another. This axiom is based on logical implication, which states that our reasoning is true in all cases, accept when the predicate is true, but the conclusion is false (see Table 1).

Table 1. Table of logic implication.
A B A → B
True True True
True False False
False True True
False False True

Structural organization of scientific knowledge is based on logical implication: if predicate A is true and the conclusion, say B, is true, then our reasoning is logically correct (A → B). Unfortunately, this implication is also true even when predicate A is false (see the table 1). It means that we cannot know if our implication (reasoning) is true or false if the predicate (or premise of our reasoning) is false (if we create a wrong concept as a premise, for example). The whole construction of scientific knowledge is a sequence of such implications: A → B and B → C, then A → C, etc. Moving down this construction, we finally come to the first premise(s) that hold all construction of the scientific knowledge. It is impossible to define precisely most fundamental scientific concepts, such as for example, a line or point in Geometry, or the matter or energy in Physics, or living organisms in Biology. As a matter of fact, scientists, as it concerns fundamental definitions, always rely on intuition. Thus, we have a situation, when we cannot say if a predicate of all our further considerations is true or not, and it turns that the whole structure of scientific knowledge is built on a very shaky swamp fundament.

One can say that as far as our knowledge growth from our everyday practice this verify its truthfulness. However, the statement that the practice is a criterion of the truthfulness of the scientific theory contains a tautology. Scientific knowledge is growing through the practice and may be falsified (or verified) also only through its practical application. This creates a “vicious circle”, which does not give a chance of testing the truthfulness of the scientific theory (see table 1). To break out this circle, the positive scientific knowledge has to: 1) have the origin other than practice (predicate A); or 2) be tested by other means then practice (conclusion B). Very rigorous application of practical criterion to evaluation of scientific knowledge truthfulness tends to reduce scientific study to simple collecting of empirical data without aspiration for theoretical explanation.

Human practice is and always will be incomplete. It cannot embrace the whole totality of Universe, and, because of that, our knowledge cannot attain the whole truth. This incompleteness presupposes that never unfinished scientific knowledge gives opportunity to create many (at least one alternative) different scientific theories on the same practical foundation. Scientific knowledge can grow via inductive or deductive reasoning (table 2). In inductive reasoning we do not observe the universe at all times and in all places. Because of that we are not justified to make a general conclusion (theory) from observation of particulars. According to Karl Popper (1953), scientific theory should make predictions that can be tested, and the theory should be rejected if these predictions are shown not to be correct. He argued that science would best progress using deductive reasoning as its primary emphasis, known as critical rationalism.

Table 2. Comparison of inductive and deductive reasonings in science.
Inductive reasoning Deductive reasoning
Observation Theory
Pattern Hypothesis
Hypothesis Observation
Theory Confirmation

These considerations lead Karl Popper to a negative acceptance of scientific knowledge truthfulness. He regarded scientific theory as a temporal state of human understanding of the world until it will be falsified by another viewing. Thus, in frame of formal logic, universal criterion of the scientific truth does not exist (Tarski, 1969). On the other hand, the absence of the criterion of the truth does not make scientific knowledge nonsense, like absence of the health criteria does not make the health a senseless idea (Popper, 1953).

As far as the fundament of scientific knowledge rests on the ideas that fundamentally lack truthfulness, we have just accepted them as true, i.e., believe that our everyday experience and our senses do not delude us. We have to believe in common sense or in authorities. This belief may also rest on scriptures or holy texts. Looking retrospectively at history of science, one can see that a great body of modern science was created by people of religion. For example, most of medieval European science, which made a major investment in science development, was made by monks in monasteries or deeply religious people. Actually, we can say this about scholars in other religions (Islam, Buddhism, etc.). The driving force for these people was the urge to understand and embrace God’s creation. That is why, Johannes Kepler was so emotional about his discovery of planetary motion harmony law. He wrote: “I wanted to become a theologian; for a long time, I was restless. Now, however, behold how through my effort God is being celebrated in astronomy”. And in nowadays, belief remains an indispensable part of the exploration of Nature. It presents hidden from a scientific view, but if you think carefully about where your knowledge came from and go to the very origin of it, you will find that it rests only on belief that cannot be proven by any means. This is a belief that the World is not chaos, but it is organized in harmony that allows existence of cause-result relationship. Otherwise, the attempt to study the World has no sense. Thus, belief is indispensable part of a worldview together with rigor scientific knowledge.

Friedrich Nietzsche pointed out that every type of activity (including research study) has moral argument in their fundament (1994). In this sense Nietzsche echoing to Jesus Christ’s statement: “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone…” (Matthew: 4:4). Moral motivation together with belief and science fulfills truthfulness of our knowledge. Both moral motivation and believe in World harmony are driving forces of human pursuing the Truth. Immanuel Kant (1781) introduced moral and esthetics principles in truthfulness of knowledge, which he expressed in his statement that the only proof existence of God is the starry sky above and the moral law within us. He concludes that in the realm of pure reason we cannot have a cognition of God. Likewise, we cannot prove or disprove a miracle, for its alleged supersensible cause is not something whose conditions are determinable for us. Even if we experience some event whose cause is supersensible, we have no way whatsoever to establish that this is so, and have nothing to guide our hypotheses about how to test for miracles or how they come to be. Along with knowledge and opinion, Kant identifies faith as our third legitimate mode of holding-to-be-true. Faith is, for Kant, a mode of justified assent, though the nature of its justification is quite different from opinion and knowledge. It is not rooted in experience or argument, but rather in what he characterizes as the “needs” of practical reason. Hence, for Kant, religious belief finds its proper seat not in intellectual reflection but in our practical lives.


In this short article, I try to analyze structural composition of the concept of Truth. I try to demonstrate that truthfulness of our knowledge of the World is composed of three inalienable parts: scientific knowledge, believe, and moral/ethics (Fig. 2). Science by itself cannot accomplish our aspiration for truth. Crisis of the contemporary science is rooted in lost unity among these three components. Overcome this lost and restore unity and human knowledge may reach a new so far unprecedented peak.

Figure 2: Three principal elements of truthful knowledge: believe, science, and moral.


[1] Cassirer, E. The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms: Vol. II: Mythical Thought. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1957.

[2] Kant, E. Critique of Pure Reason. Second edition 1787, Paul Guyer and Allen W. Wood (trans.) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

[3] Nietzsche, F. On the Genealogy of Morality. Cambridge University Press, 1994.

[4] Popper, K. R. The Logic of Scientific Discovery. University Press, 1959.

[5] Tarski, A. "Truth and Proof." Scientific American, Inc., 1969.