I am responding to a quote by redwener in another thread and thought it might generate some debate.

Originally Posted By: redewenur
Science, through its objectivity, has the potential to unify humanity. Ignorance has the potential to destroy it.

This is where science clearly steps over into the realm of faith. This is Scientism. What evidence do you have that science will unite all humanity? What evidence do you have that, in real terms, science is all that objective? To say that it is interested in objective knowledge is certainly not the same as saying it is always objective in its application. It is clearly not. Especially when you get close to the societal issues affecting humanity. It becomes a minefield of subjective belief.

Take for example the thread I started on the Narcissism test. Its veracity was immediately (and rightly so) questioned. How do you actually get at any of these issues? If we are creating a society of people that are obsessed with self and have become praise junkies, then we have an issue. Even from an evolutionary point of view, all kinds of mechanisms such as guilt, maternal/paternal drives, the need for intimate contact with others and so on, have arisen so that we can have cohesive groups that afford a better chance of survival. In a modern society it is essential that we cultivate people who are not self obsessed and are more willing to look outwards to their social responsibilities than working so they can have the latest ipod. Otherwise where do all the future scientists, philanthropists and politicians, who are willing to put themselves out for the greater good, come from.

If we have a world of scientists who are interested in personal wealth and acclaim more than the pure social good that can be achieved, then we have a real problem. We no longer have a science that will go where the issues are or even where the greater good can be done – we end up with a science that goes where there is the greatest funding and the greatest chance of getting your face on Newsweek.

Some have a concern that science has already reached this place and is therefore losing its overall objectivity as it becomes a more political and financial beast and dare I say it, prone to the curse of the modern day cult of celebrity.

Putting all of this aside, there is still the question of the prevailing paradigm that changes on an ongoing basis. For example, our understanding of the brain is going through faster changes than the H151 virus. And yet with each iteration, we think we have a good enough understanding to be prescriptive about human behaviour. We are currently seeing research that is blowing apart ideas of neurology that have been with us for the last 30 years or so. And more importantly we are going back to previous understandings in some areas – ideas that have been discarded.

So how do we know that any particular scientific thought system is correct or reliable for making proclamation about human behaviour – and it is in the realm of human behaviour that we face most problems as a species. Is the discipline of science going to solve these issues? Or are these things so very complex that they are more like art than science? Could it even be that framing humanity in scientific reductionist terms could actually exacerbate our problems? We are not robots and we do not behave in logical ways and like QT we are not entirely predictable. Unlike QT we may not even be predictable at macro levels. Managing ourselves in those terms may not get at the issues.

It surprises me when people put science on a pedestal and see it as the answer to all our problems. To say it somehow has the power to unite all humanity surprises me more. Science is in the hands of subjective people with the same needs and drives as the rest of us – they also play with things that have massive potential to destroy us or wreak havoc on whole nations. Or does science want to disown things like the motor car? Has science any more ability to see the long term effects of what it does than anyone else – did it have any idea that the car would pollute the planet until the car actually did start to pollute the planet? And if it did, what was done? Science is a mixed bag. It is best not to forget this and not get too carried away.

History tells us that we have continually seen solutions to our problems and that if those solutions are uncritically adopted then those very solutions have caused further problems. Scientism will not serve us well, but a proper understanding of what science can and cannot do will serve us greatly.

The saying ‘who polices the police’ is apt – ‘who performs objective research on science and scientists’ or do we just have faith that they will ‘unite all humanity’ and solve our problems.