The Religion of Science

One might get the impression that I’m opposed to science based on how much I’ve been harping on scientism as of late. Truth be told, I’m actually a huge advocate of science, which is why I’m investing so much time into criticizing scientism.

Science is supposed to be about using observations to develop hypotheses and testing those hypotheses through experimentation. It’s supposed to be different from faith. But most of the people cheering the greatness of science are treating it as a religion. Scientists are being treated like priests, their words are being treated as law and their characters are being treated as sacred. This has lead to religious zealotry:

In late July 2014, a Twitter user named @dogboner posted a photo of a man on a subway train working on his laptop, accompanied by the caption, “Some guy using his laptop on the train like a dumbass nerd lol.” The “dumbass nerd” in question was astrophysicist, author and TV host Neil deGrasse Tyson. Instantly, “@dogboner” (whose real name is Michael Hale) faced a tweet-storm of abuse and haranguing from social media users for whom Tyson has emerged as a kind of messiah of modern rationalism.

The photo was shared on the popular Facebook page “I Fucking Love Science” (which currently engages some 25 million-plus users), leading to even more angry call-outs. Hale was called “stupid,” an “underachieving burnout,” and worse. One person encouraged Hale to “fall into an ocean of A.I.D.S.” Few had bothered to consider that the original tweet was nothing but the sort of stupid, ironized joke that savvy Twitter users major in. Legions of self-satisfied rationalists and armchair logicians who pride themselves on their superior intellect were effectively fleeced.

Beyond being (really, really) funny, the incident was revealing. It spoke to the vehemence and belligerence science seems to inspire in popular culture. It also laid bare the frothing cults of personality surrounding people like Tyson, Bill Nye, Canadian astronaut Col. Chris Hadfield (who live-streamed parts of his 2013 mission to YouTube, including a much-shared acoustic guitar rendition of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”), and other modern pop-star scientists.

The irony, of course, is that most of the people who lashed out at Mr. Hale probably don’t know any scientists who don’t regularly appear on television. In this way they mimic many self-proclaimed Christians who are only aware of popular televangelists and wouldn’t recognize the names of even well-known historical theological scholars.

I’m going to blame the government indoctrination system that is often mistakenly called an education system. Government indoctrination centers tend to teach by authority. What the teach says is supposed to be accepted by the students with blind obedience. Everything written in the textbooks is supposed to be accepted as truth. Students who question the teachers or the textbooks are often dismissed with a wave of the hand or outright punished. Unfortunately, imprinting this system on children at a young age likely makes them seek out authority figures instead of seeking out knowledge.

Neil deGrasse Tyson, who I have never met but would enjoy getting a beer with sometime, has become one such authority figure. People seeking out an authority figure on science have latched onto him, as many Christians latch onto televangelists, because he’s charismatic and entertaining. However, it’s no crime to be entirely unaware of him, especially if one’s interests aren’t in astrophysics. Likewise, it’s no crime to be entirely unaware of Aziz Sancar. Who is Aziz Sancar? He’s a microbiologist who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. I’m not a chemist so I was also unaware of him and only found him when doing a search for scientists who have made notable accomplishments but haven’t enjoyed appearing on every television channel known to man. My point is that most self-proclaimed lovers of science are probably entirely unaware of his existence and that’s OK.

Science ceases to be science when it becomes blind faith and cults of personality. The masses currently demanding science-based policies appear to be primarily composed of worshipers of scientism, not people with an actual understanding of the scientific method. They don’t want science-based policies, they want policies inspired by the sermons of their priests.