Book Review: The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

by Thomas S. Kuhn

 University of Chicago Press

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn is not an easy read. It is a mixture of fascinating summary paragraphs hidden in semi-insider language surrounding science. This is not so much a critique, this is a book on the philosophy and history of science, but a warning that it will take some work to read, especially if you aren’t a scientist.

This book was nominated as one of the All-Time 100 Best Nonfiction Books and here is what they said about it:

“Thomas S. Kuhn didn’t invent the phrase paradigm shift, but he popularized it and gave it the meaning it has today. He also triggered one when he published The Structure Of Scientific Revolutions in 1962…After Kuhn, we can no longer ignore the fact that however powerful science is, it’s as flawed as the scientists who do it.”

From the back cover of the book

I first read it as a freshman in college and decided to read it again after a reference to it in The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert. My interest in re-reading it has to do with an ongoing interest in how things change, and specifically to see if it could either lend insight or process to understanding change in the theological world. I was hoping for a “paradigm” for other disciplines revolutionary movements, but was disappointed. This is not a critique of the book in particular, it wasn’t written for that purpose, but I was looking for a template of sorts to help my own understanding of how change occurs. Having said that, I did find it somewhat helpful.

Here are the inspirations/musings/conclusions (not quotes or representations of the theses of the book) the book gave me in my pursuit of my ends by reading this book:

  • Paradigm Shifts/Revolutions are driven in times of crisis.
  • People in a paradigm cannot see into other paradigms
  • Oxygen was “discovered.” Many obvious things all around us are not easily identified.
  • Can theology be seen as a “problem solving exercise”?
  • Science deals with the issues of verification and falsification; how are these applicable to theology?
  • What is progress in theology? Is progress possible in theology?
  • What are the first principles that govern the discipline of theology?
  • Anyone is an expert in theology.
  • This is why liberal arts is important – integration between disciplines is necessary.

I don’t know if you should read this book. I think it can be instructive in conversations about change in general, and maybe in our present cultural milieu it is the most important conversation we can have. How do we transition from one stage to another in religion, politics, economics, etc.? Kuhn was not optimistic about scientists ability to move from one paradigm to another and said that often this is only possible when newer/younger scientists emerge or older scientists die. This principle of the generation of people dying in the wilderness is a discouraging one. I want to be capable of change. It is a sign of maturity to be able to acknowledge mistakes made, false ideas believed and propagated, and changing to a new viewpoint, or paradigm.

Here are some books I might want to read in pursuit of this idea:

Photo by Photo by Isis França on Unsplash

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