Believing in Science

The rhetorical phrase, “I believe in science” or “I trust the science” and other variations has been with us for a while but has become especially common of late for reasons that aren’t hard to guess, and which I have dwelt on before. In the same post I wrote about the way much of the population has been easily manipulated into believing they’re intelligent or virtuous merely for adopting the promoted position on any given issue — including science. I can’t quite go back to the beginning of all this but it was common earlier in the century with the “new” atheists regarding evolution where anyone who departed from the science was considered… unevolved at best. One didn’t need to know the first thing about evolution or biology in general to join in the mockery of people who questioned it.

Now this rhetoric has shifted to the realm of medical science and most notably in defense of multinational pharmaceutical companies with extremely lucrative government contracts around the world; as well as legal immunity from prosecution for any adverse affects from the therapeutics they’re administering. I don’t believe anyone questions the factual accuracy of the last (perhaps overlong) sentence though the people who place their faith in science wouldn’t phrase it quite as I have. Nonetheless, the legal immunity alone should send any morally sane person’s eyebrows upwards at the very least. Indeed, not long ago the same sort of people now treating vaccines as a religious sacrament were very critical of the same companies and their often shady practices.

The purpose of this post isn’t really to dwell on this so much as the very concept of “believing in science.”

People believe many things for many reasons and sometimes for no reason at all. I associated the daytime with light and the nighttime with darkness before I could explain why this was. I have trusted many things told to me by parents, teachers and other authority figures before I understood the reasons for what I was being told. There is nothing really wrong with belief or trust in themselves and you don’t need to have a reason for believing a great deal about life and the world in general.

In terms of religious belief, from obscure cults to the main world religions, most adherents can usually give you reasons or explanations for their beliefs. They can certainly tell you what they believe. A somewhat well-catechised Catholic will at least be able to recite the Apostle’s Creed and the most simple-minded Protestant could at least point you to John 3:16 to explain what they believe. There are certainly many adherents of mainstream religions who think of their faith much like an ethnicity and don’t attach importance to it outside of major milestones in life such as weddings and funerals. However, this was not always the case and is much more recent than people might realise. The point here is that they know what they believe and can tell you something about it — even if they can’t satisfy a someone’s intellectual curiosity on why.

The new religion of “science” is rather ill-defined. I haven’t yet had the opportunity to personally question one of its adherents but I have observed them day to day and seen others do so. I am puzzled at what “believing in science” even means. Do the faithful even know the etymology of the word? It doesn’t take a genius to work out “Christian” but “science” is just a dictionary search away. Does this include all branches of science? Does it allow for reasonable disagreement within these branches? Do they believe in the “scientific method” and try to live their life according to it?

I am asking questions here but that’s all I really have. I can easily discover information about any religion and the differences among sects within different religions. If I wanted to “believe in science” like these people, I wouldn’t know where to start. The only option seems to be believing what they believe and changing my beliefs in uniform with new updates while never wondering about contradictions or inconsistencies I notice on this path.

If I were to focus simply on health science, I wonder how many people could actually tell you anything about viruses, bacteria and medicine in general. Could they tell you anything about the actual science of inoculating people against disease? I suspect they wouldn’t be much better informed than I am. When this all started, I was troubled by contradictions with what I had learned of science in the classroom as a teenager and what I had read of scientific history as a young adult. What I have seen and what I previously learned didn’t match up.

Now of course I know that science isn’t a religion or something you should “believe in”. I realise this is rhetoric that points to accepting the legitimate scientific research. I also know that despite what the romanticism of promoters of the discipline would have you believe, that science is no more perfect than the people practicing it. I know that it has a history of mistakes, controversies, struggles and scandals. I know that great good has been done but also great evil. It isn’t “self-correcting” any more than I am when I remember to duck the next time I walk a narrow path where I previously hit my head.

I do believe in God and more specifically in the Catholic religion. I can tell you exactly what I believe and give you a number for reasons why though they probably won’t satisfy you if you don’t share my beliefs. More importantly, I don’t demand you share them.

This is the very opposite of the average science believer today who I’d warrant would be stumped if you questioned them on exactly what they mean by that thing they repeated from TV or Twitter. What it really means is “I’m thinking what I’m told to think” and nothing more. Even the most brainwashed cultists are seldom this irrational.

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