Saturday, October 13, 2012

Is the Scientific Method dogmatic?

Chipmunk on a Fence
It's fairly common for a pro-science atheists to be accused of being dogmatic, or creating just another religion. It typically comes about because the theists don't think it's "fair" that atheists have no burden of proof. It's a warping of terminology and concepts in a vain desperate attempt to cast the atheist as being a hypocrite - that we're bashing something that we're doing.

The definitions of "religion" I've heard have been ridiculous, to the point where a group that establishes coding standards now becomes a religion - or those who like to watch baseball are now religious. If you have to stretch the point that much, that should be a red flag that what you're doing is problematic.

Science isn't a dogma. I'll explain the difference.

Definitions

Here's what Dictionary.com says:

  1. an official system of principles or tenets concerning faith,morals, behavior, etc., as of a church. Synonyms: doctrine,teachings, set of beliefs, philosophy.
  2. a specific tenet or doctrine authoritatively laid down, as by a church: the dogma of the Assumption; the recently defined dogma of papal infallibility. Synonyms: tenet, canon, law.
  3. prescribed doctrine proclaimed as unquestionably true by a particular group: the difficulty of resisting political dogma.
  4. a settled or established opinion, belief, or principle: the classic dogma of objectivity in scientific observation.
I don't particularly care for Arguments from Dictionaries. Dictionaries reflect how words are used, not what they're supposed to mean. They're descriptive, not prescriptive.

Just to clarify, I'm somewhat going to be using "dogma" and "doctrine" interchangeably  Just looking at the above definitions, it's quite murky. I'm not attempting to set up a false equivocation between words. One of my main points here is that these words are too ambiguous and are often abused.

Setting aside the exact letters that make up the word 'dogma', let's look at the concept. What is the theist asserting when they call science a dogma? The original point is to equivocate with how religion is dogmatic, so we can use that as a basis for analysis.

Surgical Practice

Throughout our history in attempting to heal people, we've been learning. We use reason, and to a large degree, experimentation, to figure out the best approaches when attempting to do something like remove an appendix.

One of the things we learned along the way was that it's a really good idea to sterilize the instruments, the room, the surgeons' hands, and so on. This helps minimize the risk of infection, which helps greatly reduce the risk of death for the patient.

The surgical practice is full of these protocols and rules that we've learned over time to help maximize the success rates, and minimize the mortality rates.

Is this dogma or doctrine? Every rule/protocol can be explained and its efficacy demonstrated.

Religion

Religious doctrine is accomplished by decree, whether it's from some magical guy in the sky, or by non-magical guys on the ground. 

Tenets of these doctrines are not questionable. They're true because the authority has said so. You know - "it's true because the Bible says so."

Comparison

If we compare the two versions of dogma/doctrine, we have:

Evidence-based non-authoritarian demonstrably-effective protocol 
==
Non-evidenced authoritarian non-demonstrably-effective tenets

If one would be equating the two concepts using the word "dogma" or "doctrine", something is out of kiliter.

Scientific Method

We developed the scientific method in a similar way to our surgical practices (one could argue that the science is heavily involved in that field, anyway). Similarly, it's also an evidence-based non-authoritarian demonstrably-effective set of protocols.

Science is the way it is because that's what's been shown to be the most effective at consistently accurately revealing the truth about reality. Anyone can challenge any aspect at any time, as long as they can make their case. There's no main central authority that decides what's what.

Heck, the point of getting a science education is to get students up to speed so they can continue where the current generations of scientists leave off, once they retire, hopefully to solve the problems and answer the questions that are left behind. Conversely, ministers are educated to continue to tow the line without falter or modification.

To call science dogmatic would be inaccurate, especially if we compare to religions. Sure, we can use that word, but we'd need two different versions of it.

Rational Non-Authoritarian Dogma and Irrational Authoritarian Dogma.

It's the concepts behind the terms which I agree or disagree.



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