Imagine, if you will, an institution that claims to hold the key to all knowledge. No true understanding can come from anywhere else – everything we know now, and everything we ever will know, can only be discovered under its tutelage. More than that, this institution labels those who disagree with it fools, and heretics – people are laughed at and ridiculed when they present beliefs contrary to the standard dogma of this institution. Finally, the state is completely in its thrall – government supports it, funds it, and, even if more by rhetoric than by action, affirms its supremacy over all knowledge.
I am speaking, of course, of science. For what is science, but an establishment devoted to understanding the world through a certain light, a certain viewpoint, a certain process? Like the medieval Church it superseded, science is nothing but a set of rules by which we claim to, somehow, reach an ‘objective’ knowledge of the world. But how can it do that, when science itself is built upon a spider’s web of assumptions, viewpoints, and paradigms? However much scientists may claim to be objective, they are fundamentally not – by their very fact of existing in a certain time, in a certain place, in a certain culture. And if science has not an answer now, never fear – for some day, science will provide the answers to all questions. Some day, science shall uplift us all into a state of earthly heaven, providing for all of our needs and most of our wants. Yet still, when the science is proven wrong, is there humbling of heads, acceptance that all of our skill at science at one time led to a wrong answer? No! Instead, it reaffirms itself, positing that being proven wrong was all part of the plan, and is some step on the way to eventual true understanding.
Are we to simply accept this? No, say the anarchistic epistemologists – science is unreliable. Throughout history, we have done research and forwarded theories and thought them confirmed – until they were proven wrong, upheaving an entire generation of thought and shattering our prior notions about how things worked. Given that, can we trust the scientific method as the only – or even the main – method of inquiry we use to make sense of our surroundings?
The answer is no. Not with such a track record of inaccuracy, of bias, of interpretations that will later be ‘disproven’ by later interpretations of more and different things. But still, the scientific establishment dominates. Science, said Paul Feyerabend, is “only one of the many instruments man has invented to cope with his surroundings. It is not the only one, it is not infallible, and it has become too powerful, too pushy and too dangerous to be left on its own.” Once upon a time, we believed in the separation of Church and state – the separation of the state from an institution that was convinced of its own supremacy over knowledge and thought and intent on having the final word on all the issues of the day. Now, it is time for the separation of state and science – lest we give an institution rotten with bias, perspective, and inconsistency the role of objective, impartial, and supreme purveyor of all that is true.
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