Do people believe in the myth of science? Why?

I'd like to assume that you are just being provocative. Perhaps you're trying to use the Socratic method to elicit good answers in hopes of being entertained, or of gaining some secondary insights.

But I'd like to start by challenging this statement:

Please do not explain to me what science is, I'm a biochemical engineer.

You can be a competent engineer and not have a solid grasp of the epistemology of science. If that is the case, then perhaps you are really asking about the mythology of technology?

It is sadly the case that many people never fully grasp the scientific method, and why it is superior to all other methods of acquiring knowledge about the world. They somehow manage to appreciate the fruits of technology obtained from science, yet remain suspicious of scientists. People who behave this way are indeed trapped in a mythical view of science.

Humans have evolved such that we are all born with huge potential to learn with about 25 years of time in which our brains are still maturing. People can absorb a great deal of mythology during that time yet never acquire the critical thinking tools that would allow them to recognize that there is no independent evidence supporting those myths. They might never learn to test the stories, to look for alternate explanations, to test explanations against other explanations, and to be able to always let go of bad explanations.

Humans have existed with our current anatomy for at least 100,000 years, possibly as long as 300,000 years. This means that people at the same learning potential that we have today have existed for at least 100,000 years. Yet we didn't invent written language until about 5000 years ago. The Enlightenment and Scientific Revolution didn't happen until just 500 years ago. And we're only now, in the last ~50 years developing theories of cognitive science powerful enough to sometime soon explain how intelligence and consciousness emerges from billions of interconnected neurons. This knowledge is coming from a relatively small number of scientists, while the vast majority of the human population continues to rely mostly on mythical thinking patterns.

Q: Do people believe in the myth of Science? Why?
Details: What exactly do you think the scientific enterprise will achieve? And what is the reason you believe in it (the scientific method), as a mean to obtain relevant knowledge/'truths'.
Please do not explain to me what science is, I'm a biochemical engineer.
Edit: I do not back IDESIGN. Myth =not ‘lie'

(The TL:DR is at the bottom)

A: The MYTH(?) of Science??

That's a strange question. I am not sure - is it a loaded one as Mark John Fernee comments, or do you mean something different? The original wording was "Do people believe in the myth of science? Why?", it has changed a few times and perhaps will change more.

Let me assume this is not a loaded question (otherwise, my interest in answering diminishes considerably) and that by ‘myth' you mean a core element of a given culture. I was thinking of the ‘mythos before logos' concept but it hardly applies here because science requires a solid ‘logos' installed in the culture before it could develop. Obviously millions believe in ‘the myth of science', modern education fosters such a belief.

What is the reason you believe in it (the scientific method), as a mean to obtain relevant knowledge/'truths?

I would like to make an important distinction between scientific method and scientific community. The first (Scientific method) is a system of relatively abstract guidelines for people that wish to obtain relevant knowledge. I personally believe in it as a sound baseline for obtaining veridic knowledge (I use here ‘veridic knowledge' as synonymous to your ‘relevant knowledge/truths'). The subtle point is that I don't consider the scientific method synonymous to veridic knowledge, rather I see it as a subset of the methods that lead there.

The scientific community, on the other hand, is the real life body of people, organisations, and methodologies that produce what is considered ‘science'. It is not so abstract, there are fashion, inertia, ideology, political and financial interests, personal rivalry, etc involved. It is quite like what Thomas Kuhn means by ‘paradigm' in his Structure of Scientific Revolutions (different from what is usually understood by ‘paradigm', which is rather a given scientific theory).

One of the most serious drawbacks I see in the modern scientific community is its rigid belief in materialism, which is hardly supported by the scientific method. Two of my favourite books, critical towards the scientific community, are Paul Feyerabend's Against Method and Rupert Sheldrake's The Science Delusion. While the first is critical of the scientific method itself, the second is not.

What exactly do you think the scientific enterprise will achieve?

Well, more or less what it has already achieved - a vast body of detailed knowledge about many aspects of existence. IMO science (scientific community) is currently in a crisis, leaning towards too much empiricism to the expense of philosophically better thought theories, oriented towards rather narrower short term results, and jealously keeping its ideological taboos. Compared to the XIXth and earlier XXth century science I mean. So perhaps in the near future it will not achieve too much. However in the longer term, if it gets back to a stricter adherence to the scientific methods and gives up being the sentinel of ‘the one and only truth', it may have a spectacular renaissance. Let me finish with a nice quote from Nikola Tesla:

"The day science begins to study non-physical phenomena, it will make more progress in one decade than in all the previous centuries of its existence."


This answer has enjoyed an unexpected popularity - more than 2K views plus comments. Thank you all for that. Perhaps you may also be interested in my answer to ‘What comes next after science?' where I elaborate a little bit more on basically the same subject. And sorry for the self-advertising.

You're a biochemical engineer, and think science is a myth?

I rather doubt it, truth be told. I don't think this is a legitimate question. But I'll answer it anyway.

If you are, in fact, a biochemical engineer, you shouldn't need us to tell you what the scientific enterprise will achieve: it will do what it always does. Science is the search for quantifiable, testable knowledge, something we can confirm through experiments and be able to say "we know this about the world". More importantly, that knowledge enables us to use that understanding and create things that improve the lives of the people of the world: understanding of electricity, for example, spawned a vast array of new technologies and discoveries that have brought humanity into an age where anything is possible.

Honestly, I don't look to science to find ‘truth': if we've learned anything from science, it's that truth is often a murky concept. We might discover something we understand to be true, but we have to accept that we could be wrong, and thus, it is possible for that truth to be incorrect. It may well be replaced later, as we come to understand more, and see that we were looking at the world in the wrong way. The idea of a 6,000 year-old Earth was fine, until we started digging up fossils from millions of years ago, and realised how ridiculously wrong we were. Science isn't about truth: it's about evidence. What we know, based on what we can gather evidence for.

I look to science for what it can tell us about the world: if we come up with a hypothesis, whatever that may be, the scientific method allows us to test it, and figure out whether we're on the right track, or potentially delusional. It allows for some level of confirmation. It helps us figure out where we can go next: if my results are similar to my predicted outcomes, I know I'm on the right track, and should explore it further. If not, can throw that hypothesis out the window and find a new one to test. As a scientist, you should know this.

But that's all it boils down to: the search for knowledge, and the means of testing them to see if what we believe is truly representative of reality. It's an evolution of sorts: the ability to test ourselves and create a coherent worldview that accurately represents our understanding. You can't be complacent, and you can't ever be sure that you've got the full picture. That's a process of development. And it's a beautiful thing.

OK, I take it that you don't use "myth" as a boo-word. I still think it's not a good choice of words, if I've understood you.

What one can find in science is certain non-verified beliefs. For example, Paul Dirac's faith in beautiful mathematics, or the belief/hope that there will be a theory that will unify relativity and quantum theory, or the belief that eventually the theory will be simple. These are as much objectivisations of human hopes as most God-language. Their value is that, up to now, they have led to better and better understandings of the natural world.

But maybe you mean myth(s) about science. There are a couple I can think of.

The first is the myth of science vs religion. I used to get baffled in reading pop sci books when they'd get to the Middle Ages, and spout stuff that I knew to be tripe. I started to think that maybe they taught a peculiar sort of history to science students, and then discovered that, indeed, they did: John William Draper, History of the Conflict between Religion and Science. Of course, there is a substantial movement in the US at the moment that does attempt to pit religion against science, but that is aberrant historically (truly), and pretty certainly heretical. I'm not sure this myth does very much harm, except in authorising scientists who are long past producing original work to go around talking confidently about stuff they know nothing about.

The other myth about science is the myth of progress. This is not confined to science, and I'm really conflicted. On the one hand, there obviously is such a thing as progress. Tomorrow I go to the dentist. Even within my own lifetime, that is a much more productive, and less painful, thing to do than going to the dentist when I was young. Here we are on the Internet. In my pocket I have a device that contains dictionaries of Latin and Greek, enables me to communicate with anyone in the world, has a very large library of music, and can help me find my way home. To deny that that is magical progress would be silly. On the other hand, my communications can be monitored, my social networks graphed, and my whereabouts determined, in a way that makes totalitarian control quite possible; the medieval church couldn't get anywhere near that. Not to mention the fact that one way and another, including the success of our medicine and public health developments, all founded on science, we now have the power to make the planet uninhabitable by our kind.

I guess if there were the same sort of progress in self-government as there has been in science and science-based technology, maybe we could cope with those things.

But the reason why I, as a non-scientist, have a faith in science (even if a limited one) is that it has a real simple bed-rock epistemology, best articulated by Popper. There's not much arguing with the method, as far as it goes, as it tells us not only how to judge knowledge, but includes a statement of the limits of our knowledge.

On the other hand, one other myth that is destructive is the idea that philosophical problems can now be solved by scientific methods. A good example is altruism. It's a problem. People do genetic theorisation (? just so stories), or little mind games about fat guys and run-away trolleys, and think they are answering philosophical questions about ethics. They might be finding out useful things, but they are no more solving human issues on the proper concern for the other, than Torricelli's evacuated spheres were dealing with the philosophical vacuum.

I would say that through human history we have sought to rationalize the world we live in. It's a central part of the human experience to ask how and why. Just as religion and magic provided that explanation to our ancestors, most if not all of the "how" questions can be answered without recourse to religion or magic. Until about the last 1000 yrs, the human situation was more or less the same as the previous 1000 or even 2000 yrs. Technology in 1000AD was more or less on par with technology of 0 AD. This all changed with a whole slew of breakthroughs in science and philosophy that sparked the Reformation, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, the Atomic Age, the Information Age...

For the most part "Why..." questions can be broken down into "How?" question. For example, my son asks, "Why is the sky blue?" Really, he's asking "How is it that my eyes detect blue color when I look at the sky?" We can explain this starting from the fact that density fluctuations of the air scatter different wavelengths of light at different angles and that blue light is scattered less that red...which is why the sky at dawn and dusk look reddish. Or, "Why is the Earth round?...but it doesn't look round from here?" Again, we can reduce this to "How...." So the "myth" of science, or rather the philosophy of science is to reduce as much of the "why" to "how" and use that knowledge to better the human situation. Since science and technology does a really good job of making human life better, I say that's the reason we put so much trust and "belief" in it.

We're still stuck with questions such as "why is the fine-structure constant [math]e^2/\hbar c = 1/137.035999139[/math] and not some other number like 1/150 or 1/pi^4 or some other value?". It's as close to a "magical" number as we get in Physics since if it were something like 4% different from this value, the C would not be a fusion product in stars and if it were bigger than 0.1, all nuclear fusion would not occur. It could be that this is an unanswerable question.

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