Although I have no statistical data to prove this, it would be a safe bet to assume that the idea of “science” is one of the zeitgeists of the 21st century. In many pockets of particularly the West, it has replaced traditional religious beliefs as the primary ideas and systems in which many of us put our faith in. We have placed our trust in scientists and the work that they do in the hopes that it will give us complete knowledge of reality and eventually deliver to us a paradise not indifferent to the heavens that religions have offered in the past (albeit grounded in this world rather than another).
Many who have placed their faith (defined in this post more as trust, than any notion of blind faith) in science will scoff at this characterisation as inaccurate. True that there aren’t really any practices of science’s followers that could be considered rituals in the same sense as their religious counterparts. But it is really the attitudes towards science where the similarities lie.
Take the faith in the promises that science offers if everyone simply accepts a scientific worldview. We would all become enlightened intellectuals, guided by reason and evidence, ultimately leading to a peaceful utopia where all our desires would be at our fingertips. Cures for all ailments, all of our desires satisfied without the consequences of excess, endless sources of fascination to keep us occupied, liberation of all the mundane aspects of life and the uplifting of suffering, and perhaps even immortality. We can achieve a complete knowledge of the universe with all of its mysteries finally understood. We just need to believe in science and one day all of the answers to life will be provided. To me, this sounds very much like the promises of religion in a new guise.
Or, look at how scientists and their work are treated in the media and amongst society more broadly. The latest “scientific” study bombastically proclaims red wine is a cure for cancer and it will often just be believed because of the word science. There is the archetypical scientist, which seems to be the prevailing assumption of who they are – ethically outstanding people who are only guided by their reason in a suitably dispassionate and sceptical manner, following their noble, selfless pursuits based on the principle of attaining the truth, regardless of how it affects them as individuals. There is an air of authority around anyone who is known as a scientist. They can speak with conviction on any matter and people will listen, even when it isn’t their area of expertise or even a scientific matter at all. Scientists are taken more seriously on matters of religion than theologians and scholars of religion themselves! Think of Richard Dawkins and Neil DeGrasse Tyson who have less than a layman’s understanding of religion, yet their opinions have such authority to them. Scientists today are akin the priesthood of the Middle Ages – mostly unquestioned by the masses and with an institutional authority that ensures a steady stream of funding from the governments of the world.
And this is not to entirely bash science. Of course it’s done wonders for the world. There’s a reason why a scientific understanding has come to dominate the West. It simply works. The knowledge of the universe we have attained from the scientific approach is immeasurable. And on the whole, scientists have done a pretty good job at remaining dedicated to the pursuit of science.
However, science like religion has its flaws, and it comes in the shape of its followers, not so much in the concept itself. Just like how the ideas of Christianity are beautiful, but often, some of the practitioners may give it a bad name. Followers of science have always had nefarious purposes, the killing devices we have created that have the power to destroy cities, nations and even the world would not have been possible without science. Mass surveillance, as being seen in China right now for example, couldn’t be possible without the scientific theoretical basis. As a side-note, I recommend looking into the Chinese government’s moral surveillance system being gradually implemented, it’s eerily like the Black Mirror episode, Nosedive. Science, like religion, has been used and continues to be used for harmful purposes.
Many in the priesthood of science are far from the ideal as well. And I think most aren’t doing this intentionally, but simply because they have such strong faith in the path they have dedicated themselves to, and as a result, may have fallen prey to confirmation bias in their work. Others want to retain the status quo, perhaps because of funding, perhaps because of reputation and prestige, and perhaps because they have dedicated their entire lives to a particular theory. Scientists are just as human as us everyday folk, a myriad of reasons, often selfish, often unconscious guide their ways.
And among scientists and in the realm of science more generally, the dogma of materialism is possibly the greatest obstacle to further advances, at least how I see it. The adamant refusal to recognise that anything beyond the physical universe exists and consequently, a failure to take anything that explores non-material phenomena seriously could be one of science’s greatest contemporary hindrances to progress. Conceivably real phenomena worthy of being explored such as the existence of a universal consciousness, paranormal and parapsychological activities, and alternatives to modern medicine are ridiculed and dismissed without being taken seriously in a truly dispassionate and scientific manner. The inquisitive mind of the ideal scientist is being bogged down in the refusal to even acknowledge the possibility that the philosophy of materialism may be flawed or even wrong.
The growing dogmatism in science, I would argue, is in know small part why there is an emerging (and woefully so in my opinion) anti-science trend, rejecting conventional science almost entirely, and whose methods genuinely can be considered pseudo-science. Anti-vaccination crowds, extreme climate denialists, people taking creation myths as scientific fact and lots of other things, may have risen partially as a result of scientists failing to take particular, rather unknown and under-explored phenomena with a more open mind. People may be less inclined to reject science as a whole, if what they believe in isn’t automatically thrown away as garbage by scientists. Of course, materialism could end up the truth, but this doesn’t mean exploring all other possibilities should be closed off, silenced and ridiculed because it doesn’t fit the conventional materialist narrative. To me, doing this is the antithesis of science.
I don’t want the institution of science to gradually corrode from the inside like the Catholic Church did in the in the Middle Ages, which led to its dismemberment. But if it becomes more closed off and centres itself around a series of certain unquestionable dogma, this might happen, particularly as it becomes more and more powerful, financially and institutionally. Stagnation is a killer.
So on a related but slightly different note, I would like to conclude this piece with a summation of the Ten Dogmas of Science that the scientist Rupert Sheldrake has noted in his excellent, though controversial book The Science Delusion. These dogmas, in the author’s and increasingly in my mind, threaten the pursuit of science and could damagingly bunker it down in self-imposed limitations. They will certainly give some food for thought on the purely materialist posturing that science has taken. (Note that I have written the ten core beliefs word for word from the book).
- Everything is essentially mechanical. Dogs, for example are complex mechanisms, rather than living organism with goals of their own. Even people are machines, ‘lumbering robots’, in Richard Dawkins’s vivid phrase, with brains that are like genetically programmed computers.
- All matter is unconscious. It has no inner life or subjectivity or point of view. Even human consciousness is an illusion produced by the material activities of brains.
- The total amount of matter and energy is always the same (with the exception of the Big Bang, when all the matter and energy of the universe suddenly appeared).
- The laws of nature are fixed. They are the same today as they were at the beginning, and they will stay the same for ever.
- Nature is purposeless, and evolution has no goal or direction.
- All biological inheritance is material, carried in the genetic material, DNA, and in other material structures.
- Minds are inside heads and are nothing but the activities of brains. When you look at a tree, the image of a tree you are seeing is not ‘out there’, where it seems to be, but inside your brain.
- Memories are stored as material traces in brains and are wiped out at death.
- Unexplained phenomena like telepathy are illusory.
- Mechanistic medicine is the only kind that really works.