Antiscience

Blinders by Alejandro Gonzalez

Newton by Eduardo Paolozzi

Antiscience is a position that rejects science and the scientific method. People holding antiscientific views are generally skeptical that science is an objective method, as it purports to be, or that it generates universal knowledge.

They also contend that scientific reductionism (reducing complex things to the interactions of their parts, or to simpler or more fundamental things) is a limited means of reaching understanding of the complex world we live in. Antiscience proponents also criticize what they perceive as the unquestioned privilege, power and influence science seems to wield in society, industry and politics; they object to what they regard as an arrogant or closed-minded attitude amongst scientists.

Those involved in the beginnings of the scientific revolution such as Robert Boyle found themselves in immediate and direct confrontation with those such as Thomas Hobbes who were extremely skeptical regarding whether what we now think of as the scientific method was a satisfactory way to obtain genuine knowledge of the nature of the world. Hobbes’ stance is today seen by many as an antiscience position. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in his ‘Discourse on the Arts and Sciences,’ claimed that science leads to immorality. ‘Rousseau argues that the progression of the sciences and arts has caused the corruption of virtue and morality.’

William Blake in his paintings and writings, reacted strongly against the work of Isaac Newton and is seen as being perhaps the earliest example of the aesthetic or romantic antiscience response. For example, in a notable poem of 1795, Blake shows his revulsion for Newton in the image of the beautiful and natural robin red-breast imprisoned by the materialistic cage of Newtonian mathematics and science. In Blake’s painting of Newton, he is depicted ‘as a misguided hero whose gaze was directed only at sterile geometrical diagrams drawn on the ground.’ Blake thought, ‘Newton, Bacon, and Locke with their emphasis on reason were nothing more than ‘the three great teachers of atheism, or Satan’s Doctrine’…the picture progresses from exuberance and colour on the left, to sterility and blackness on the right. In Blake’s view Newton brings not light, but night.’

Antiscience issues are seen as a fundamental consideration in the transition from ‘pre-science’ or ‘protoscience’ such as that evident in Alchemy. Many disciplines which pre-date the widespread adoption and acceptance of the scientific method, such as geometry and astronomy, are not seen as anti-science.

The term reductionism is occasionally used in a pejorative way (as a somewhat more subtle attack on scientists) although scientists can now be found who recognize that there might be conceptual and philosophical shortcomings of reductionism but feel nonetheless comfortable in being labelled as reductionists. However, non reductionist (see Emergentism) views of science have been formulated in varied forms in several scientific fields like Statistical Physics, Chaos Theory, Complexity Theory, Cybernetics, and others. Such fields tend to assume that strong interaction between units produce new phenomena in higher levels that cannot be accounted for solely by reductionism.

The origin of antiscience thinking may be traced back to the reaction of Romanticism to the Enlightenment, French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution. This movement is often referred to as the ‘counter-enlightenment.’ Romanticism emphasizes that intuition, passion and organic links to nature are primal values and that rational thinking is secondary to human life.

In this context, antiscience may be considered dependent on religious, moral and cultural arguments. For this kind of religious antiscience philosophy, science is an anti-spiritual and materialistic force that undermines traditional values, ethnic identity and accumulated historical wisdom in favor of reason and cosmopolitanism. In particular, the traditional and ethnic values emphasized are similar to those of white supremacist Christian Identity theology, but similar right-wing views have been developed by radically conservative sects of Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. New religious movements like New Age thinking also criticize the scientific worldview as favoring a reductionist, atheist, or materialist philosophy.

A frequent basis of antiscientific sentiment is religious theism with literal interpretations of sacred text. Here, scientific theories that conflict with what is considered divinely-inspired knowledge are regarded as flawed. Over the centuries religious institutions have been hesitant to embrace such ideas as heliocentrism and planetary motion because they contradicted the dominant understanding of various passages of scripture.

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