Religion, science and ideology


Open and closed belief systems

A belief system is something that we believe to be true but cannot be sure it is a fact. 

An open belief system is one in which criticism and scrutiny are acceptable. 

  • According to Popper, science is an open belief system  

closed belief system is one in which criticism, scrutiny and testing are unacceptable. 

  • According to Horton, religion is a closed belief system. 
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Popper’s view

Popper said that science is an open belief system because:

  • it can be falsified (disproven)
  • Knowledge is cumulative and builds upon previous evidence
  • theories are not taken as absolute truths as it could always be disproven 

Merton's CUDOS norms for judging science

Merton believed that because science Is an open belief system it has some universal ethos which can allow for falsification:

  • Communism - knowledge is shared with the community 
  • Universalism - knowledge is judged objectively 
  • Disinterestedness - scientists are committed to discovering knowledge 
  • Organised Sceptism - knowledge is not regarded as sacred 
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Horton’s view and the Azande tribe

Horton said that science was a closed belief system because:

  • claims in faith cannot be disproven or overturned

Evans-Pritchard and the Azande tribe

  • if someone is wronged it is suggested to be witchcraft
  • a potion is created and it is asked to kill the chicken if it is witchcraft which caused the issue
  • If the chicken dies as a result of the potion it can be assumed that witchcraft was at play and the suspected witch can be told off

Evans-Pritchard said that this is a closed belief system because it cannot be challenged by external or internal forces. It also has social functions like keeping the tribe civilised so they dont get accused of witchcraft. 

Because the Azande tribe accept the assumptions and beliefs of their 'religion', they do not and cannot challenge it. 

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Kuhn says that all sciences are based on paradigms which tell us what reality is like. 

He argues that science is not an open belief system because the paradigm is unable to be fairly contested

Dr Velikovsky

  • made a theory about the origins of the earth which was radical and challenged biology, geology and astronomy. 
  • The scientific community quickly and openly rejected these theories without even testing them
  • anyone who wished to test Dr Velikovsky's theories to give them 'fair trial' was ridiculed and some lost their jobs. 

As shown by the case of Dr Velikovsky, Kuhn argued that science is only able to be challenged by legitimate sources. Anyone who questions the paradigm is likely to be victimised and hounded, unless this is done in a time of scientific revolution when the dominant paradigm is already under questioning. Kuhn therefore suggests how science cannot be an open belief system as thought by Popper. 

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An ideology is defined by being a worldwide/wide-spread bleief in a set of ideas and values. It may include negative aspects such as:

  • distorted or false ideas about the world - biased understanding and view
  • ideas which conceal the interests of a particular group - legitimise their privilege and inequality of others
  • ideas which prevent change and mislead others
  • a belief which is not open to criticism and could be described as irrational 

Marxist ideology:

  • justifies suffering of the poor
  • reinforces false class consciousness 

Patriarchal ideology:

  • justifies the suffering of women
  • reinforces gender differences and belief that men are superior in all ways
  • ideology differs between feminist groups  
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Evaluating conflict ideologies

Mannheim argues that all ideologies are one sided and reflect the individuals that they serve 

  • We should detach the intellectuals from the society/social groups that they represent ans become free-floating intelligentsia to become objective and unbiased
    • this is impossible as we cannot separate our beliefs from our CAGE groups (never value-free) to become fully objective 
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Religion as an ideology


  • Religion is a belief system because it is not tied down to a single group (GIDDENS)
    • Religion gives meaning in shared belief and is different from ideology because it is based on supernatural belief rather than the interests of a particular group


  • Religion is a closed belief system which is unable to be challenged and is rejected by other belief systems. It is also an ideology because it denounces the beliefs of others and is based on privileged groups 

Examples of religion as an ideology:

  • feminist - religion reinforces male superiority through its beliefs and practices
  • marxist - religion reinforces class inequality through beliefs 
  • medieval - religion legitimised the power of the king through divine right to rule
    • gave God-Like qualities to the King meaning he couldnt be challenged eithe
  • hinduism - religion legitimises discrimination based on caste which is accepted in society and not challenged  
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Science as an ideology

Science aims to understand the world but also reflects the ideas and beliefs of the privileged groups. 

It claims to be the truth and disregards all other beliefs

Itis not able to be openly scrutinised without negative consequence for those who do. 

This suggests science is an ideology and is also just like religion. 

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