Why Bad Science Is Like Bad Religion

Angry funny guy reproaching somebody

In both religion and science, some people are dishonest, exploitative, incompetent and exhibit other human failings. My concern here is with the bigger picture.

I have been a scientist for more than 40 years, having studied at Cambridge and Harvard. I researched and taught at Cambridge University, was a research fellow of the Royal Society, and have more than 80 publications in peer-reviewed journals. I am strongly pro-science. But I am more and more convinced that the spirit of free inquiry is being repressed within the scientific community by fear-based conformity. Institutional science is being crippled by dogmas and taboos. Increasingly expensive research is yielding diminishing returns.

Bad religion is arrogant, self-righteous, dogmatic and intolerant. And so is bad science. But unlike religious fundamentalists, scientific fundamentalists do not realize that their opinions are based on faith. They think they know the truth. They believe that science has already solved the fundamental questions. The details still need working out, but in principle, the answers are known.

Science at its best is an open-minded method of inquiry, not a belief system….

Since the beginning of the 21st century, it has become apparent that known kinds of matter and energy make up only about 4 percent of the universe. The rest consists of “dark matter” and “dark energy.” The nature of 96 percent of physical reality is literally obscure….

Good science, like good religion, is a journey of discovery, a quest. It builds on traditions from the past. But it is most effective when it recognizes how much we do not know, when it is not arrogant but humble.

–Dr. Rupert Sheldrake

Science or Storytelling?

science-teacher-clipart-free-clipart-imagesScience is a wonderful tool that helps us to learn about one particular subset of knowledge: how the natural world operates. Science functions well within its circumscribed area of expertise, but it fails miserably when it ventures beyond its limits.

Science is powerless to explain topics such as what constitutes knowledge or consciousness, what makes a meaningful relationship, or how to prevent people from doing evil. It can neither prove or disprove the existence of God. It cannot unravel the mystery of love, joy, wonder, beauty, and spiritual longing. It is incapable answering the biggest question: Why?

The remarkable breakthroughs of science have created the impression that ultimately it will explain everything. That is a false assumption. It has been stated the “best” of science can only explain 4% of the world’s mass and energy. Science has to “go dark” to account for rest. There’s a vast amount of room for humility. When science becomes arrogant, self-righteous, dogmatic and intolerant, it is bad science. Science has a tendency to forget that it is not the only show in town.

“It is our mistake to ask science to do something it can’t,” wrote Iain McGilchrist. “It’s like expecting your iPod to tell you whether you are in love.”

An unquestioning acceptance of ideas because “science says so” is unwise. Science doesn’t always get it right. Numerous writers have documented this fact, and lamented the “brokenness” of science (here, here, here, and here).

We have much cause to be grateful for the advances of science. However, not everything fits into a test tube or can be examined under a microscope. When the high priests of science postulate about topics that are beyond the field of scientific inquiry, it’s time to remind them that they are out of their depth. They have left science for speculative storytelling.

–J. O. Schulz

Science for Sale

Science_badPeople’s suspicions today are stronger than they’ve ever been, and with good reason, given that such a huge percentage of scientists are now paid by private or public sector employers who often have little interest in open scientific debate … As is now widely recognised, science is socially constructed by all sorts of rules, peer group pressures, personal values and expectations. Even that reassuring notion of ‘sound science’ is often shaped by prior social commitments framing the nature and boundaries of the issue under consideration.

–Jonathon Porritt,
“Bought and paid for”