Science as a new religion

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.

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14 thoughts on “Science as a new religion

  1. Yes Sara, a lot of people today are blinded by mainstream science just as people are blinded by mainstream religion. I think what you talk about is the usage of such great powers (both religion and science) as an authoritarian method which I call in short; academia complex, where people trust anyone’s account on something just because they “know” without doing the effort in researching it themselves. We are born in a society that respects your academic degree instead of testing what you know or what you do. That essentially makes people susceptible to exploitation and being manipulated by those people who claim knowledge into doing what they want (That’s essentially why people vote! If you ask most of them they’ll say that they vote for people to “solve their problems”)

    I think a big portion of the problem you are talking about in science and religion (or any way of knowledge of that matter) comes from the blind trust of academia (trusting people because they know) but again, we must understand why those people use this power in that destructive way, if we use knowledge (any system of attaining knowledge) for the betterment of human beings and the environment, I don’t think we would have had this authoritarian use.

    but let’s just put examples to what you talk about: Take so called doctors who appear in advertisement to sell you drugs that don’t work and you subconsciously feel the need to buy them because those people wear “white coats” so they must know what they’re talking about! or scientists who get paid to say that cancer is caused genetically so there’s nothing you can do about it! (they get paid by companies that actually fuck the environment and kills people) or scientists who claim that violence and war are human nature to make wars sound “natural”

    we have a lot of academia disease around in today, but never confuse the power of science or religion with those who use it in an unsustainable way.

    1. You’re absolutely right – the problem is how science and religion are both manipulated by those in power to achieve domination. And they do this largely through establishing authority: religion established this through God and science through academia. In our modern world, where rationality is prized above all, an academic is the ultimate authority, and this is what science takes advantage of.

      1. Omar

        The conversation’s very interesting and full to the brim with intellectual arguments about science and religion that deserve or merit a very long discussion. However, briefly, I agree with most of what he said about the oppression of the sciences and conspiracy of academics (at least in the Western world- not sure about the Middle East!). The problem is that everyone who has a profession, craft, art and so forth thinks about everything else outside his sphere using the same terminology, methodology and logic that he uses in his own sphere. like the eg Berlinski used about someone who rolls Cuban cigars will look at everything in the same way. Every science whether in the physical, social or religious sphere has basic precepts and no science defends its first principle as he quoted from Aristotle…is that faith? A scientist that cant explain what came before the big bang shouldnt ask a religious person what came before creation or more so, what came before the creator. How can one use the same internal logic, terminology and method say in chemistry as in sociology or mathematics? what religion does ask you to do is be a bit on the humble side and not to reject and doubt something for the sole reason that you dont understand it…but unfortunately some scientists fail to follow. the brilliance of Berlinski is that he can simplify his thoughts for the layman and in a provocative way debunk some of what Western civilisation takes for granted.

  2. Dear Sara ,

    Interesting read Indeed!!

    My only objective is to explain Hinduism & its relation with science

    I wish to add in your text not intending to promote any religion here,

    India is oldest civilization on earth , Hinduism as we call here in India is “WAY OF LIFE “.. and not religion , the reason being all the practices , customs are validated with scientific reason , including behavioral science & art being its major component , the debate on Modern science is another issue ,

    while most of the religions are based on mythology & faith , Hinduism do have base of Shrimadbhagwad gita & its characters , should you get a chance to understand this bible of Hinduism , it would not take longer to understand , Even major inventions in todays modern scientific world has got many such mentions in the book.

    Many doctorate are covered on the subjects in Indian universities on this subject & more and more facts tumble out , exploring such subject is always exiting & full of mysteries .,

    I am not sure if you are aware of subjects like , Vedas , Sam veda, Rig veda , Ayurveda , Yoga , Indian Astronomical science , Indian Palmistry , Vastu shashtra , Shlokas , Mantra ( Positive impact on mind) , Ashirwad ( transformation of Energy ), Bindya ( Centre of Energy ) , & many more such chapters , all the festivals , customs & practices are celebrated here support the scientific reasons ,

    You are welcome to India , to be part of it & explore the real relationship between , Science & Religion

    I wanted to make a point …it is beyond blind faith & stories..

    thanks

    Kishor Pawar
    Mumbai , India

  3. Pingback: Science as a new religion | Indian Agrarian Crisis

  4. Victor Murray

    It seems you care about a lot of sociological concepts, and apparently associate every aspect of human life to them. Sociology major? I presume so because I’m certain you’re not a major in any Physical, Life, Formal, or Applied Science and probably haven’t received much of an education past high school about the Scientific Method or how the Scientific Community actually functions.
    I only comment because I think you need a severe helping of Scientific Enlightenment. So, to start; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Science and then http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_method

    When you have finished reading those articles and correctly understand their contents, we’ll go over what Science’s actual function is and how the human species has used it, because it certainly is not used to make baseless assumptions to fit whatever context an individual wishes, like it were a religion.

    I’ll check back later. Have fun.

    1. Bravo Victor!!!

      Science is underpinned by theories based on observation and supported/tested by repeatable and thoughtfully designed experiments.
      It provides wonderful opportunities for discourse. For example, If you don’t like a theory you are welcome to disprove it by an appropriate experiment.

      Unfortunately Sara believes that Science is based on convenient presumptions. Sara uses baseless assumptions to criticise Science for making baseless assumptions. That will never fly.

      Take Science 101 and enter the world of experiment and logical discourse.

  5. These folk who pretend science has no sociology
    *eyeroll*
    even KARL effing POPPER is like ‘folks, there’s no a priori justification for reason. I just like it, so I make my leap of faith to it’
    You can check this claim by reading his book ‘The Open Society and Its Enemies’ but no doubt he also mentions it in that seminal philosophy of science text referred to in your link, Victor http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falsifiability

    So science-as-a-world-view incorporates an aspiration to keeping an open mind about stuff and fact checking. Nice. I like science. In fact, I teach science.

    But imagining we can take off the helmet of culture, language, socialization at the moment we start to do science (measure and describe stuff and try to explain the measurements) is
    *alarm bell*
    that moment when you mistake your western white man position for The Universal
    Oops!

    Need I mention phrenology?
    Oh I have, sorry.

  6. lilimoani

    This is quite relevant, in my opinion, to the recent and emphatic public criticism of anti-vaxxers. I posted this on my fb because it think it highlights something that those critics don’t realize about what their doing.

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