Before criticizing our newest ScienceBlogger, David Sloan Wilson, who has moved here from the Huffington Post, let me add my voice to those who are welcoming the move. It is a good thing to have such an esteemed and accomplished scientist among our ranks. But like fellow blogger Eric Michael Johnson, I found David’s first post in these parts is more than a little unsettling.
Under the headline of “Goodbye HuffPost, Hello ScienceBlogs: Science as a Religion that Worships Truth as its God,” he provocatively writes:
Science can even be regarded as a religion that worships truth as its god. It might seem provocative to put it this way, but I find the comparison compelling and challenge my readers to show what’s wrong with it.
Well, he asked for it.
As you might imagine, those kind of thoughts don’t go down well here on the Island of Doubt, which was named partly because I really like the Talking Heads song, “Cross-eyed and Painless,” from which the line was taken, but mostly because without doubt, science is nothing. Indeed, a lack of uncertainty is one of the ways you can identify something as unscientific. The one thing science is not is a religion.
Nature editor Henry Gee has already written a better response than I could manage, so I’ll just point you there and pass on his opening:
I don’t think I’ve read or heard anything more misleading all day, and in this post I hope to explain why I am so concerned.
What science is all about, in contrast, is the quantification of doubt.
It is doubt, friends, that fuels science: the testing of hypotheses; the subjection of scientific ideas, grant applications, papers and presentations, to exacting scepticism..
Let me just add that I know that social theorists find these kind of statements annoying. They consider science just another ideology with all the baggage that comes with one. But whenever I get into a debate with one of those social theorists, it’s clear they don’t understand how science really works. I will continue to insist that science is neither ideology nor religion. No other ideology or religion even comes close to the scientific method’s reliance on skepticism to advance understanding. (Some Catholics will claim that doubt is an essential element of their faith, but I think they’re using the word in a manner that makes no real sense.)
Again, read Henry’s response. It’s dead on. But do welcome David to the collective.