I've never understood why so many people fear science. Science has never harmed me. In fact, I have no idea how I'd ever recognize this "Science."
Kind of difficult to be afraid of something that doesn't exist.
Science isn't an actual entity. It is an abstraction. Likewise, nobody has ever listened to Music. They have heard actual pieces of music, compositions of one sort or another, but never Music with a capital "M."
So when people criticize Science, I have no idea what they are talking about. Often their dislike is expressed through the supposedly perjorative word, "scientism."
Because what actual scientist believes that the scientific method/approach has universal applicability to all human affairs? I've never run across one. I'm pretty sure that none of the people who decry scientism has either.
One of the reasons I enjoyed Stephen Pinker's essay, "Science is Not Your Enemy," is his proud embrace of the term scientism.
The term “scientism” is anything but clear, more of a boo-word than a label for any coherent doctrine. Sometimes it is equated with lunatic positions, such as that “science is all that matters” or that “scientists should be entrusted to solve all problems.” Sometimes it is clarified with adjectives like “simplistic,” “naïve,” and “vulgar.” The definitional vacuum allows me to replicate gay activists’ flaunting of “queer” and appropriate the pejorative for a position I am prepared to defend.
Scientism, in this good sense, is not the belief that members of the occupational guild called “science” are particularly wise or noble. On the contrary, the defining practices of science, including open debate, peer review, and double-blind methods, are explicitly designed to circumvent the errors and sins to which scientists, being human, are vulnerable.
Scientism does not mean that all current scientific hypotheses are true; most new ones are not, since the cycle of conjecture and refutation is the lifeblood of science. It is not an imperialistic drive to occupy the humanities; the promise of science is to enrich and diversify the intellectual tools of humanistic scholarship, not to obliterate them. And it is not the dogma that physical stuff is the only thing that exists.
Scientists themselves are immersed in the ethereal medium of information, including the truths of mathematics, the logic of their theories, and the values that guide their enterprise. In this conception, science is of a piece with philosophy, reason, and Enlightenment humanism. It is distinguished by an explicit commitment to two ideals, and it is these that scientism seeks to export to the rest of intellectual life.
This passage made me recall a blog post I wrote last year: "Science loves being wrong. Religion hates it." Those two ideas Pinker speaks of are The world is intelligible and The acquisition of knowledge is hard. Regarding the latter, Pinker writes:
The world does not go out of its way to reveal its workings, and even if it did, our minds are prone to illusions, fallacies, and superstitions. Most of the traditional causes of belief—faith, revelation, dogma, authority, charisma, conventional wisdom, the invigorating glow of subjective certainty—are generators of error and should be dismissed as sources of knowledge.
To understand the world, we must cultivate work-arounds for our cognitive limitations, including skepticism, open debate, formal precision, and empirical tests, often requiring feats of ingenuity. Any movement that calls itself “scientific” but fails to nurture opportunities for the falsification of its own beliefs (most obviously when it murders or imprisons the people who disagree with it) is not a scientific movement.
My favorite part of Pinker's essay was his right-on critique of traditional religions and cultures.
There may be a lot to like about them. However, Pinker correctly points out the plain fact that they were, and are, factually mistaken about how the world (and universe) works. Any religion that ignores or disaparages findings of modern science in favor of ancient myths isn't worth taking seriously as a source of meaning.
To begin with, the findings of science entail that the belief systems of all the world’s traditional religions and cultures—their theories of the origins of life, humans, and societies—are factually mistaken.
We know, but our ancestors did not, that humans belong to a single species of African primate that developed agriculture, government, and writing late in its history.
We know that our species is a tiny twig of a genealogical tree that embraces all living things and that emerged from prebiotic chemicals almost four billion years ago.
We know that we live on a planet that revolves around one of a hundred billion stars in our galaxy, which is one of a hundred billion galaxies in a 13.8-billion-year-old universe, possibly one of a vast number of universes.
We know that our intuitions about space, time, matter, and causation are incommensurable with the nature of reality on scales that are very large and very small.
We know that the laws governing the physical world (including accidents, disease, and other misfortunes) have no goals that pertain to human well-being.
There is no such thing as fate, providence, karma, spells, curses, augury, divine retribution, or answered prayers—though the discrepancy between the laws of probability and the workings of cognition may explain why people believe there are.
And we know that we did not always know these things, that the beloved convictions of every time and culture may be decisively falsified, doubtless including some we hold today.
In other words, the worldview that guides the moral and spiritual values of an educated person today is the worldview given to us by science. Though the scientific facts do not by themselves dictate values, they certainly hem in the possibilities. By stripping ecclesiastical authority of its credibility on factual matters, they cast doubt on its claims to certitude in matters of morality.
The scientific refutation of the theory of vengeful gods and occult forces undermines practices such as human sacrifice, witch hunts, faith healing, trial by ordeal, and the persecution of heretics. The facts of science, by exposing the absence of purpose in the laws governing the universe, force us to take responsibility for the welfare of ourselves, our species, and our planet.
For the same reason, they undercut any moral or political system based on mystical forces, quests, destinies, dialectics, struggles, or messianic ages. And in combination with a few unexceptionable convictions— that all of us value our own welfare and that we are social beings who impinge on each other and can negotiate codes of conduct—the scientific facts militate toward a defensible morality, namely adhering to principles that maximize the flourishing of humans and other sentient beings.
This humanism, which is inextricable from a scientific understanding of the world, is becoming the de facto morality of modern democracies, international organizations, and liberalizing religions, and its unfulfilled promises define the moral imperatives we face today.