3.2.1 Absolute Scientific Knowledge

“Science has established beyond any reasonable doubt…”, “physicists have proven that…”, “it is absolutely true that…” – such phrases are abundant not only in popular science, but even in academic literature. But is there such a thing as proof in science? Can we ever establish anything beyond any reasonable doubt? (Barseghyan et al., 2018).

This lecture by Dr. Hakob Barseghyan introduces the formal and empirical sciences, and presents the listener with various thought exercises to try to discover if there is such a thing as absolute knowledge in science. You can also read along with the chapter, which closely follows the transcript.

Read: Chapter 2: Absolute Knowledge // University of Toronto Open E-Text

Guiding Questions:

  1. What is the difference between formal (analytic) and empirical (synthetic) sciences? Can you have absolute certainty in either of these types?
  2. What three problems does Professor Barseghyan detail with empirical sciences?
  3. Come up with an example of each problem from your everyday life.
  4. How do problems with absolute knowledge, or fallibility, relate to St. Augustine and John Calvin’s approach to incompatibility between the Bible and the scientific consensus of the time? See learning material 3.1.4.


Video Credit: Barseghyan, H. (2015). Lectures on History and Philosophy of Science. Lecture 2. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ni0foAtFois&t=1s.

Online Text: Barseghyan, H.; Overgaard, N. & Rupik, G. (2018). Introduction to History and Philosophy of Science. Available at https://ecampusontario.pressbooks.pub/introhps/.

Photo: “Calculus of Love.” Photo Credit: Kent Landerholm, 2009.