Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The tyranny of science

Science was intended to replace the dogma of religion and the tyranny of monarchy.  Reason was supposed to bring enlightenment.  Science was never intended to become an ideology in and of itself, its own belief system. 
Sadly, however, science has become the dominant ideology of our era.  In an excellent essay, Furedi writes:  it frequently seems as if scientific authority is replacing religious and moral authority, and in the process being transformed into a dogma. At first sight, it appears that science has the last word on all the important questions of our time.
In short, Furedi's essay shows how science has become the very dogma it was originally intended to replace:
  • In the absence of political vision and direction, society continually hides behind scientific authority....whatever misgivings people have about science, its authority is unrivalled in the current period.
  • ...the environmental lobby depends on the legitimation provided by scientific evidence and expertise. In their public performances, environmentalists frequently use the science in a dogmatic fashion.
  • Today, religion and political ideologies no longer inspire significant sections of the public. Politicians find it difficult to justify their work and outlook in the vocabulary of morality.
  • Many religious leaders, politicians and environmentalists have little interest in engaging in the voyage of discovery through scientific experimentation. Instead they often appear to be in the business of politicising science, or more accurately, moralising it...(there is a)... growing tendency to treat science as a belief that provides an unquestionable account of the Truth.
  • Such science has more in common with the art of divination than the process of experimentation. 
Saul contends that democracy has consistently been placed in the hands of those in society who are the least democratic in their ideology: those who can exercise power through the authority of their religion, their economic power or their military might.  Today we have to add to that list the dogmatic use of science and its manipulation through mass media as the latest form of anti-democratic tyranny, complete with its own priesthood, saints and pious indictment of non-believers.