I just got back from a trip to Berlin, and one of the most interesting discussions I had with friends there was about how science has become a new religious authority. While many people may not be aware of this, science is not a neutral or objective way of understanding the world. It, like all other discourses, is built on assumptions and presuppositions that were created by men at some point in time to suit the context they were in. Thus it is a politicized discourse, like all others, including religion.
But this is not the story we get about science. What we hear is that science is the best way to understand life today. Why is it the best? Because it is rational, objective, and neutral (coincidentally those are all European Enlightenment values – what does that tell us?). It is faultless and it is basically the truth.
Now whenever someone claims that *their* discourse is the ultimate truth, people should start asking questions. Who defined the basics of science, such as molecules, atoms, etc? Who said this is an atom and this is a molecule? Who decided all these things? Aren’t they assumptions? Why are they true?
My friend told me about how when scientists today try to publish things that go against mainstream scientific beliefs they are ostracized. Funding and grants usually go to scientists who maintain the status quo.
I would argue that science as a dominant discourse is even more dangerous than religion, for 2 reasons. One, while we can all talk about religion, to an extent, since it has become mainstream knowledge, this is not the case for science. Can non-scientists discuss science confidently? I know I can’t. So this already creates a certain exclusion and a certain lack of confidence. Science cannot easily be challenged because we don’t all know the language with which we can discuss and challenge it.
Two, we are pretty much taught to accept that science is true. It is something we don’t question, especially in the west and especially within educated circles. Science is there and beyond doubt.
For these two reasons, I believe that it will be more difficult to challenge the dictatorial authority of science than that of religion. This is not to say that when we do experiments and see results they are not happening: of course they are. But who has defined what is happening, how and why? The language, the processes…they are all based on assumptions.
I also think it is pointless to get into a discussion about whether it is better to use science or religion to understand the world. The point is to see that they are both socially constructed ways of understanding physical realities, and have both been created as authorities that should not be challenged, which is never a good thing.