Synopses & Reviews
Are we entitled to say that Earth is 4.55 billion years old, and its trajectory an ellipse centered on the Sun, with an average radius of 150 million kilometers? Most educated people today would say yes. Curiously, however, three hundred years after the century of Enlightenment, the fact that these assertions constitute what it is customary to call “scientific truths” is often perceived, especially by postmodernists, as naïve, improper or even (paradoxically) wrong.
Against the fashionable relativist idea that science is no more than a socially constructed doxa, and reality nothing more than what we ourselves bring to it, this straightforward yet highly vigorous book rehabilitates a supposedly outdated, naïvely realist notion: “scientific truth.”
How mankind discovered the size, trajectory and age of the Earth
Our planet's elliptical orbit around the Sun and its billions-of-years existence are facts we take for granted, matters every literate high school student is expected to grasp. But humanity's struggle towards these scientific truths lasted millennia. Few of us have more than the faintest notion of the path we have travelled.
Hubert Krivine tells the story of the thinkers and scientists whose work allowed our species to put an age to the planet and pinpoint our place in the solar system. It is a history of bold innovators, with a broad cast of contributors - not only Copernicus, Galileo and Kepler, but Halley, Kelvin, Darwin and Rutherford, among many others. Courage, iniquity, religious dogmatism, genius and blind luck all played a part.
This was an epic struggle to free the mind from the constraints of cant, ideology and superstition. From this history, Krivine delineates an invaluable philosophy of science, one today under threat from irrationalism and the fundamentalist movements of East and West, which threaten both what we have attained at great cost and what we still have to learn.
Scientific progress is not a sufficient condition for social progress; but it is a necessary one. The Earth is not merely a history of scientific learning, but a stirring defence of Enlightenment values in the quest for human advancement.
Hubert Krivine is a physicist, retired professor and researcher at the Laboratoire de Physique nucléaire et des hautes énergies. He is the author of several books on modern physics.