Science as a belief system

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  • Science as a belief system
    • Introduction
      • Science and technology have had an enormous impact on society over the last few centuries, undermining religion and leading to widespread 'faith in science.'
      • The key feature of science is that it gives us cognitive power (it enables us to explain, predict and control the world.)
    • Popper: Claims that science is an "open belief system."
      • Scientists try to falsify existing theories by providing evidence to do so.
        • If evidence contradicts a theory, a theory is discarded and a better one sought.
          • In this way, knowledge grows.
        • Evaluation
          • Science may cause problems as well as solve them, through "manufactured risks."
            • Example: Pollution, global warming and weapons of mass destruction.
      • Scientific knowledge is not absolute truth. It can always be tested and potentially falsified.
      • Merton:  Science as an organised social activity has a set of norms that promote the growth of knowledge by encouraging openness.
        • Universalism Scientific knowledge
          • Knowledge is judged by universal, objective criteria (testing).
        • Disinterestedness
          • Seeking knowledge for its own sake.
        • Organised scepticism
          • Theories are all open to scepticism/criticism.
        • Communism knowledge
          • Knowledge must be shared with the scientific community.
        • Evaluation
          • Some argue that science is a self-sustaining, close belief system.
            • Polanyi: All belief systems reject fundamental challenges to their knowledge claims.
              • Science is no different.
    • Horton: distinguishes between open and closed belief systems.
      • Like Popper, he sees science as an open belief system.
      • He sees religion as a closed belief system as it makes knowledge-claims that cannot be overturned.
        • A closed belief system has "get-out," clauses that prevent it from being disproved in the eyes of its believers.
      • Polanyi: Belief systems have three devices to sustain themselves in the face of contradictory evidence.
        • 1. Circularity
          • Each idea in the system is explained in terms of another within the system and so on.
        • 2. Subsidiary explanations
          • For example: if the oracle fails, it may be explained away as due to the incorrect use of the benge.
        • 3. Denying legitimacy to rival beliefs
          • Belief systems reject alternative worldviews by refusing to grant any legitimacy to their basic assumptions.
            • For example: creationism rejects outright the evolutionists' knowledge-claim that the earth is billions of years old, and therefore that species have gradually evolved over a long period rather than all having been created.
    • Kuhn: Science as a closed system
      • Science, such as physics, is based on a paradigm ( a set of shared assumptions).
        • Most of the time, scientists are engaged in normal science within the paradigm.
          • Scientists who challenge the paradigm are more likely to be ridiculed (except during periods of scientific revolution, when accumulated evidence undermines it.)
    • The sociology of scientific knowledge
      • Interpretivists argue that the idea of scientific knowledge is socially constructed.
        • Knorr-Cetina: What scientists study in the laboratory is highly constructed and far removed from the natural world they are supposedly studying.
        • Woodgar: Scientists have to persuade the scientific community to accept their interpretations of the world. A scientific fact Is simply a shared, socially constructed belief.
        • Marxism, feminism and postmodernism
          • Marxism and feminism see science as serving the interests of dominant groups (the ruling class/men)
            • Many scientific developments are driven by capitalism's need for knowledge to make profit.
              • Postmodernists also reject science's claims to have the truth.
                • Lyotard:science is a meta-narrative ( it is just another discourse used to dominate people.)
              • Some argue that science has become technoscience, serving capitalist interests commodities for profit/

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