Experimental Success and the Revelation of Reality: The Miracle Argument for Scientific Realism

  • Martin Carrier
Part of the The Frontiers Collection book series (FRONTCOLL)


The paper addresses the so-called miracle argument in favor of scientific realism and examines the viability of scientific realism as an explanation for the success of science. Scientific realism is committed to the claims that the theoretical terms in the mature sciences typically refer to real objects and that the theoretical laws in such sciences are typically approximately true. Instrumentalism or non-realism draws on the principles that factual claims need to be confirmed empirically and that experience fails to single out true assumptions. The miracle argument says that if a theory referred to fictitious objects, it would be miraculous that it is able to correctly predict observable effects. This argument transforms scientific realism into a hypothesis that is testable by the history of science. I perform such tests and conclude that the only type of realism that appears to be in agreement with the historical record is “realism of natural kinds.” Theories that enjoy distinguished explanatory success truthfully establish equivalence relations among phenomena.


Natural Kind Scientific Realism Theoretical Term Successful Theory Mature Science 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Barnes, S. Barry (2004), “On Social Constructivist Accounts of the Natural Sciences.” In: Carrier et al. (eds.; 2004 ), pp. 105–123.Google Scholar
  2. Carrier, Martin, Johannes Roggenhofer, Günter Köppers, and Philippe Blanchard (eds.; 2004 ), Knowledge and the World: Challenges Beyond the Science Wars. Heidelberg: Springer.Google Scholar
  3. Brush, Stephen G. (1976), The Kind of Motion We Call Heat: A History of the Kinetic Theory of Gases in the 19th Century. Book 2: Statistical Physics and Irreversible Processes. Amsterdam: North-Holland Publishing Company.Google Scholar
  4. Butts, Robert E. (ed.; 1968 ), William Whewell’s Theory of Scientific Method. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.Google Scholar
  5. Carrier, Martin (1991), “What is Wrong with the Miracle Argument?” Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, vol. 22, pp. 23–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Carrier, Martin (1993), “What is Right with the Miracle Argument: Establishing a Taxonomy of Natural Kinds,” Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, vol. 24, pp. 391–409.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Cushing, James T., Gary M. Gutting, and Cornelius F. Delaney (eds.; 1984 ), Science and Reality: Recent Work in the Philosophy of Science. Essays in Honor of Ernan McMullin. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press.Google Scholar
  8. Duhem, Pierre (1974), The Aim and Structure of Physical Theory. New York: Atheneum [First published in 1906 ].Google Scholar
  9. Gillies, Donald (1992), Philosophy of Science in the Twentieth Century: Four Central Themes. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  10. Hacking, Ian (1983), Representing and Intervening: Introductory Topics in the Philosophy of Natural Science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Kitcher, Philip (1993), The Advancement of Science: Science without Legend, Objectivity without Illusions. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Laudan, Larry (1984a), “A Confutation of Convergent Realism.” In: LEPLIN (ed.; 1984), pp. 218–249 [First published in 1981 ].Google Scholar
  13. Laudan, Larry (1984b), Explaining the Success of Science: Beyond Epistemic Realism and Relativism.“ In: Cushing et al. (eds.; 1984 ), pp. 83–105.Google Scholar
  14. Leplin, Jarrett (ed.; 1984 ), Scientific Realism. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  15. Musgrave, Alan (1988), “The Ultimate Argument for Scientific Realism.” In: NOLA (ed.; 1988 ), pp. 229–252.Google Scholar
  16. Nola, Robert (ed.; 1988 ), Relativism and Realism in Science. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.Google Scholar
  17. Papineau, David (ed.; 1996 ), The Philosophy of Science. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Putnam, Hilary (1975), “What is mathematical truth?” In: Putnam ( 1979 ), pp. 60–78.Google Scholar
  19. Putnam, Hilary (1978), Meaning and the Moral Sciences. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
  20. Putnam, Hilary (21979), Mathematics, Matter and Method. Philosophical Papers, vol. I. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Quine, Willard Van Orman (1953), “Two Dogmas of Empiricism.” In: QUINE (ed.; 1961), pp. 20–46.Google Scholar
  22. Quine, Willard Van Orman (ed.; 21961), From a Logical Point of View. New York: Harper and Row.Google Scholar
  23. Quine, Willard Van Orman and Joseph S Ullian (21978), The Web of Belief. New York: Random House [First published in 1970 ].Google Scholar
  24. Salmon, Wesley C. (1984), Scientific Explanation and the Causal Structure of the World. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Sankey, Howard (2004), “Scientific Realism: An Elaboration And A Defence.” In: CARRIER et al. (eds.; 2004 ), pp. 55–74.Google Scholar
  26. Tetens, Holm (2004), “Scientific Objectivity with a Human Face.” In: Carrier et al. (eds.; 2004 ), pp. 81–93.Google Scholar
  27. Van Fraassen, BAS C. (1980), The Scientific Image. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Whewell, William (1968), “Novum Organon Renovatum (Selected Passages from Books II and III).” In: Butts (ed.; 1968), pp. 103–249 [First published in 1858].Google Scholar
  28. Worrall, John (1989), “Structural Realism: the best of both Worlds.” In: Papineau (ed.; 1996), pp. 139–165.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Martin Carrier

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations