I think it is beyond time to criticize something directly which has been — to my knowledge — attacked so far only indirectly.
That something is “science.”
Science has become a tyrannical and antihuman force in this world, a new kind of religion and value system, complete with ritual, priests, proselytizers, the works.
Critiques of science have largely centered around imperfections in the institutions or people who claim to represent science. “Science is great, but this isn’t real science.”
But what about real science?
I think it is time that we begin to question the foundation, and not just taking pot-shots at easy targets.
Why Attack Science?
It has become clear in light of recent medical events that “science” has become a tyrannical force. Those who claim to speak on behalf of science claim to speak on behalf of objective reality itself (objective reality being the aim of science). Where policy is concerned, what person who believes they have access to objective reality would deign to care about the personal preferences, doubts, beliefs, or mistrust of an individual, or even group of individuals? Those sorts of concerns are subjective.
This trend was already bubbling up in the years prior to COVID. One example was the way in which doctors had begun asking about whether or not patients owned firearms:
“Firearm violence is an important health problem, and most physicians agree that they should help prevent that violence,” wrote Garen J. Wintemute, a public health expert at the University of California Davis…
The contention is not over whether or not professionals are “staying in their lane,” but rather a matter of values, and the cancerous rise of one at the expense of the balanced health of others. Firearms are owned in America precisely for their dangerous value. They are a tool designed for violence. As with a table-saw or an angle grinder, injury is possible. But people don’t just live to avoid injury. Sometimes, it is even necessary to cause injury — as in war. In such cases, the wishes of doctors are irrelevant, not at the level of fact, but at the level of values.
Doctors are not research scientists, but they are a scientific caste above the rest of the laity. They are generally respected as spokesmen for science, on medical and anatomical matters at least. They carry in their opinion the weight of “objectivity,” and this opinion extends further and further into every area of our lives which can possibly affect our health… precisely as one might have expected it would. After all, what aspect of our lifestyle doesn’t affect our health?
This would not necessarily be a concern if scientists did not have the ear of our government and its power of force.
Scientists have the power to make you alter your car’s exhaust… or else. Because science.
Such a degree of respect in our culture carries with it immense power, and that power is beginning to exert itself at the expense of other values that people might care about… like being able to afford a car (the “safety features” on cars are another cost-raising factor backed by very convincing-sounding statistics, which sound like science to the laity). This kind of value-occlusion — of one value completely eclipsing all other values that an individual might care about or respect — has a name: it is “extremism.” Today, science is becoming extreme, and poses the danger of becoming tyrannical.
To the scientist, perhaps that kind of tyranny sounds attractive. Perhaps they imagine that a life completely ruled by empiricism and rationality is desirable, maybe even possible.
But to everyone else, this growing extremism itself warrants a closer look and questioning of the nature and value of science.
What is Science?
If you ask most people “what is science?”, you’re likely to be told that science is a method. It’s an empirical approach to the world that involves observation, asking questions, designing experiments, and then drawing conclusions.
But this method is not consistent among scientific fields, or even individual cases within fields. As Paul Feyerabend observed, the only rule that actually describes the process by which scientists pursue truth is “anything goes.” Strict methodology inhibits creativity and progress in knowledge, and doesn’t match what scientists do anyhow.
What defines science is not method, but purpose. In science, the purpose is the pursuit of truth.
Not truth, but the pursuit of truth:
The true value of a man is not determined by his possession, supposed or real, of Truth, but rather by his sincere exertion to get to the Truth. It is not possession of the Truth, but rather the pursuit of Truth by which he extends his powers and in which his ever-growing perfectibility is to be found. Possession makes one passive, indolent, and proud. If God were to hold all Truth concealed in his right hand, and in his left only the steady and diligent drive for Truth, albeit with the proviso that I would always and forever err in the process, and offer me the choice, I would with all humility take the left hand, and say: Father, I will take this one—the pure Truth is for You alone.Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, 1778
This spirit of pursuing knowledge goes all the way back to Socrates, who Nietzsche credits as being the spiritual father of science.
But the scientific method — as taught in your public high school — can tell us a lot about what science believes the truth to be. Pilate’s famous question “and what is truth?” has no simple scientific answer. It requires a presupposition, which can be discerned by the features commonly found in the variety of scientific methods.
That presupposition is the identification of objectivity with truth.
Subjectivity is to be distrusted, and removed by whatever means are most salient and available given the constraints of the inquiry. The ordinary mechanisms in the scientific method — isolating variables, multiple trials, and so forth — are designed to get rid of as much subjectivity as possible.
In short, we can say that Science is the pursuit of what is objective, and the rejection of what is subjective.
The Resume of Science
With all of this pursuing of objectivity, has science actually achieved anything?
Richard Dawkins argues that science has achieved virtually everything that mankind has achieved:
But of all of those technological innovations, how much did “science” actually do?
There is another field that is much older than science, and which carries a different spirit. That field is called “engineering,” and there is almost no accomplishment that science claims for itself that was not actually built by engineers.
As previously mentioned, scientists pursue knowledge, which is distilled information. Creation — when it happens — is an incidental byproduct of this pursuit, which is carried out for its own sake. Engineers, however, are a different breed. Creation is their purpose, and knowledge is useful only as a means to that end. Much can be said about the unique personality and interests of engineers as a group (most of which is distinct from those drawn to science). But at the end of the day, engineers make the world go round. Engineers were building roads and bridges and aqueducts centuries — perhaps millennia — before the days of Galileo Galilei and Francis Bacon.
This is not to say that scientists have contributed nothing. In my exploration of what inventions could be credited to scientists, I discovered that solar panels were basically invented by Edmund Becquerel, a young French physicist, in the 1840s.
It’s hard not to remember the atomic bomb too.
But on the whole, the civilized world we live in is a product of creative engineers, not scientists. Science creates theories of what is “true,” most of which are ultimately rejected. Engineers continue silently creating useful things, which science loudly claims credit for before returning back to their research lab.
And from the confines of the research lab, science passes judgment on mankind itself.
Skill vs Knowledge
Of all of the subjects of science, humans are perhaps the most interesting. After all, what human wouldn’t be more interested in learning more about himself, and others? We are social animals.
Of course, previous interest in learning about others concerned “skill.”
Skill is a defining feature of humans (perhaps of engineers in particular), and refers to an ability to accomplish some task. The skilled hunter can bring down an animal. The skilled builder can construct a house. The man skilled in social settings can befriend others, can seduce and persuade.
The skillful man may or may not be able to explain how he does such things. His skill lies in his ability to perform the task.
But to science, this knowledge is subjective, and therefore suspect. That which cannot be transferred from person to person is not real knowledge because it is not “objective.” Things which are not articulable and cannot be verbally tied to “truth” are irrational in the eye of science.
So much of human decision-making is skill-based, and not knowledge-based, that virtually all humans are viewed by science as “irrational.” A man may be skillful and able to construct something useful and beautiful, but if he cannot explain how to others in “rational” language, then science views him as having no actual knowledge… no matter how clearly his creations may speak for themselves:
…not by wisdom do poets write poetry, but by a sort of genius and inspiration; they are like diviners or soothsayers who also say many fine things, but do not understand the meaning of them. And the poets appeared to me to be much in the same case; and I further observed that upon the strength of their poetry they believed themselves to be the wisest of men in other things in which they were not wise. So I departed, conceiving myself to be superior to them for the same reason that I was superior to the politicians.Socrates, The Apology, (Plato)
The blindness of science to skill is a symptom of its blindness to subjectivity in general. Skill is not fungible, nor easily articulable; therefore, it is suspect to the eyes of science.
But so too is something else…
Science and Humans
Humans are not merely overly dependent upon subjective “skill” in our interactions with the world. Indeed, our intuitions, judgments, and even our senses are subjective by nature. The “red” I see may or may not be the same shade you see; our mental interpretations of visual stimuli may differ, even if the wavelength of the color may be identical.
Humans are essentially subjective animals, and thus — in the eyes of science — faulty, imperfect, unreliable, and really quite ridiculous animals. We are “predictably irrational,” as those who claim to speak on behalf of rationality itself would have us believe.
The spirit of Science looks down with disgust upon humans. We appear stupid, helplessly enslaved to our delusions, and laughably ignorant about matters of “truth.”
Science, in its opposition to the subjective, is — and always had to be — in opposition to humanity as well.
We see movements like “transhumanism,” which is strange not for advocating modifying the human condition (a simple fact of human existence since we left the trees and our primate cousins), but for desiring to overcome our identity as humans. Transhumanism is motivated by a disgust with the human condition, and this disgust is born of the scientific dismissal of everything subjective.
We even see “anti-natalism,” a disgust with humanity so profound that objectivity-minded thinkers believe it would be better (not “we would be better”; they speak on behalf of objectivity itself) if humanity ceased to exist. They advocate an end to procreation for the betterment of the world.
Today, science dresses itself up in utilitarian garb. It is all about protecting health and safety, since these things can be measured, while other values of equal or greater import are rejected because they cannot be measured. They essentially do not exist in the eyes of science. But eventually — and we are moving here, slowly — the bolder priests of science will ask the question that has been coming for 2,300 years: “what is objectively so important about preserving human life?”
There is no more scientific answer to this question than there is to the question of human freedom. Human freedom is a great source of irrationality and stupidity. Humans — being the source of the irrationality in the presence of freedom — are closer to the root of the problem. Perhaps the universe would be made more “objective” and “rational” without our ridiculous species trying to plumb its depths and meddling in the balance…
This may sound strange if you haven’t heard the contempt with which science-worshippers talk of human intelligence. They are the same crowd who may say that humans “don’t deserve dogs,” since the animals bred over thousands of generations to be custom companions to humans tend to be more forgiving than other humans over wrongs. Dog-loving misanthropes are not scientists, but they speak with a contempt for humanity whose origins come from the rationality of science. And the entire scientific world looks on humanity with a condescending smirk over the perceived “irrationality” built into our condition
Science and Beauty
Theologians have complained for decades about the dangers of science and excessive rationality to the numinous, the awe-inspiring, and the beautiful. This is because such experiences are inherently subjective and personal — “beauty” is, first and foremost, an experience.
No matter how hard science tries to study beauty as if it were a scientific domain, the subjectivity inherent in the subject evades its fingers. One might just as well try to approach comedy with science.
Nothing scientific is beautiful.
The experience of beauty is evocative, drawing upon associations and relations that are often personal and which convey some artistic ideal that is itself subjective. There is no room in the scientific world for such aspirations… excepting that initial Socratic belief that it is admirable and noble to pursue knowledge.
Yes, science is — at its root — an essentially aesthetic idea. How else would one rationally justify the activity of science? The opportunity cost of such a demanding discipline is great, and often the outcome is just anxiety:
Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind. For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more griefEcclesiastes 1:17-18
Science pursues objectivity because the pursuit of knowledge is held up as an artistic ideal. But this ideal requires an objective, rational mind, one undisturbed by the passions and other subjective feelings. To appreciate beauty — as some scientists attempt to do in appealing to the awe-inspiring wonder of the night sky — is to fail in maintaining this mindset. Scientists are at their most unscientific when they appeal in this way to the compatibility of science and beauty.
Perhaps this is why Science also fails to appreciate the beauty of humanity, reducing “beauty” to superficial concepts such as symmetry and cues for evolutionary advantage. These are the only ways science can find “rationality” — or at least “objectivity” — in a non-rational experience.
There is still tremendous value in much that is called “science” (or at least claimed by science). But there is no need to put nearly so much faith in science as a value-system and a world-view as we have in recent centuries.
Perhaps our trust in science is a symptom of our failure in understanding each other — as populations change and move faster and faster, it becomes harder to learn about each other with skill. Developing that kind of relationship takes time, and it takes faith in ourselves.
Science and its creations of process and technology erode our trust in humanity. It erodes our trust in skill, and it fetishizes the outsourcing of things we once did for ourselves and each other to more “rational” and “objective” methods that actually produce very little, but which can only destroy human skill, beauty, and humanity itself.
As soon as we understand that there is such thing as knowledge and wisdom which cannot be described or conveyed to others through words, you understand the limitations of science.
Anyone who has seen their child come out of their wife’s birth canal knows that some things cannot be conveyed. It doesn’t matter how many times you were told about the magic of that moment in advance, you won’t understand until you experience it. And there is no metric for measuring anything about that moment, or the change in one’s worldview afterwards.
If things can matter without us necessarily being able to measure them, then the claim made on behalf of science for preeminence — in the name of objectivity and rationality — is not worth respecting.
We have no obligation to “trust the science,” or even to care about the science. A phrase as clumsy as “the science” — mistaking a current prevailing opinion for the ever-questioning and skeptical process advocated by science — warrants no respect anyhow, even on scientific grounds.
Science is not some great engine of human ingenuity and creation. Indeed, the observation that humans are not so rational holds true in the scientific process itself, which perhaps explains the current replication crisis many scientific fields are experiencing. “Reason” and “objectivity” were never the motors of human creativity, because — as the early scientists who sought the pursuit of knowledge over knowledge itself understood — actual objective knowledge is unattainable. Science does not offer knowledge, only the joy of its pursuit to the wise, and the illusion of its attainment to the foolish.
It was always our subjective skill and experience — not objective knowledge — that drove our creativity and success as a species.
Perhaps it is for the better that scientific institutions carry forward, if only to maintain a longstanding tradition that is a part of our history. But science does not deserve the deference and respect it has accumulated, nor should it be given the tremendous power it is quickly aggregating under our religious infatuation with its supposed wisdom. Already, we can see the half-blind tyranny that such a regime would promise, one which has no sense of beauty nor appreciation for what it means to be human, and which offers little in return except for plagiarized credit and condescending self-righteousness in the nobility of its pursuit of “truth.”