Must a True Theory be Scientific?

In the discussion of my post Is The Limited View of Evolution Scientific?, a commentor expressed interest in some epistemological issues related to the recent discussions on the falsifiability requirement of scientific theories. So I'll consider the following questions now: Can a theory be true even if it isn't scientific?

Theories Regarding the Past

For some theories, particularly those regarding the past, whether or not a theory is scientific is a matter of chance that has nothing to do with the theory itself. A (fictional) example:

Theory A: The Color of Prehistoric Flower J32
This theory states that because of various environmental factors, "Flower J32", a plant known to exist in prehistoric times (from carbon dating of fossils), had bright orange colored petals.

Let's assume that Theory A is true. The flower in question really did have orange petals. So the theory is true, but is it scientific?

That will depend on what are basically chance factors. It may be the case that there exist fossils of Flower J32 that would allow us to determine what color it was. Maybe a specimen was somehow encased in amber (or some similar occurence), so the actual color would be preserved. In this case, Theory A would meet the falsifiability requirement because the finding of such fossils could either confirm it or show it to be false.

But the situation might be otherwise. Perhaps, for whatever reason, every bit of evidence that could possibly be used to give direct evidence for the color of Flower J32 has been destroyed. The theory is still true, but in this case there is no evidence that could possibly falsify it - this, it is not scientific.


It's probably no surprise to most people that a theory doesn't have to be scientific to be true. But it's a point worth repeating. I chose the example I did because of its special relevance to theories I've recently been discussing. In many cases of theories regarding the past, much of the possible evidence may no longer exist. One problem, of course, is that it is often not practically possible to know whether the evidence no longer exists or if we just haven't found it. We won't know, then, whether or not some theories are scientific. We may never know that some are not scientific due to the destruction of evidence because we would never be sure that all the possible evidence had been destroyed.

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