Many people, even some scientists, believe science equates with truth, especially with regard to the behavior of nature. Let’s examine whether this hypothesis is correct.

Modern physics is based on Einstein’s special and general theories of relativity and quantum mechanics. Each theory models and predicts the behavior of reality within specified contexts. The theories of relativity work well in explaining and predicting the behavior of reality at the macro level (i.e., typically the level of our everyday world), even as objects approach the speed of light. Quantum mechanics works well in explaining and predicting the behavior of reality at the micro level, often termed the quantum level (i.e., the level of atoms and subatomic particles). However, the two theories are incompatible. For example, the theories of relativity describe the behavior of reality at the macro level with certainty, but are unable to  explain reality on the quantum level. Quantum mechanics is able to describe the behavior of reality at the micro level in terms of probabilities, but again is unable to provide an adequate model of how gravity works at the quantum level.

Physicists have been working to reconcile relativity and quantum mechanics for over a century. To date, some progress has been made. For example, special relativity was merged with electromagnetism. This resulted in the theory of quantum electrodynamics (QED) or relativistic quantum field theory. QED is widely considered to be the most precise theory of natural phenomena ever developed. In the 1960s and 1970s, physicists attempted to unify the weak, the strong, and the gravitational forces. This resulted in another set of theories that merged the strong and weak forces called quantum chromodynamics (QCD) and quantum electroweak theory. However, no theory has successfully reconciled quantum mechanics and general relativity with regard to gravity. This incompatibility and the vastly different models of reality posed by the theories of relativity and quantum mechanics forces many in the scientific community to question their overall validity. In response, some physicists have forwarded a completely different model of reality based on string theory. In essence, string theory is a a theoretical framework in which the point-like particles of particle physics are replaced by one-dimensional objects of vibrating energy called strings. The most comprehensive string theory is termed M-theory, which stands for membrane theory. While many highly esteemed physicists, like Stephen Hawking, have championed M-theory, there is no experimental proof that it correctly models nature.

What does all this say about science and it relationship to truth? Science attempts to explain (i.e., model) and predict reality, but the best theories of modern physics are either inconsistent or not experimentally verified. In science, we have models, laws and mathematics that strive to explain and predict reality. However, our view of reality continues to evolve as our understanding of science evolves. For example, Newtonian mechanics works well for most problems in our everyday world, but fails to work when objects move close to the speed of light. Einstein’s theories of relativity evolved to solve relativistic problems (i.e., objects moving at speeds close to the speed of light). In principle, we can replace Newtonian mechanics with the theories of relativity, but reality has not changed. The only thing that has changed is our model of reality and the mathematical equations we use to predict nature’s behavior.

In conclusion, what can we say about science versus truth. If we define truth as the actual way nature behaves, then we must  admit that science does not equate with truth. Science is continually evolving to more closely model what nature is actually doing. The mathematics of science are continuously being refined to more closely predict how nature will behave. What is true in science? Scientific facts are true. For example, we can scientifically measure the gravitational attraction between two masses. However, scientific theories that explain this attraction may be wrong. For example, Newtonian mechanics explains gravity in terms of a gravitational field. General relativity, which superseded Newtonian mechanics, explains gravity as the distortion of space caused by a mass. Although the facts of science are indisputable, the theories used to explain them are not.