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Antiscience is a position that rejects science and the scientific method. People holding antiscientific views do not accept science as an objective method that can generate universal knowledge. They also contend that scientific reductionism in particular is an inherently limited means to reach understanding of a complex world.
In the beginnings of the scientific revolution, scientists such as Robert Boyle found themselves in conflict with those such as Thomas Hobbes, who were skeptical of whether science was a satisfactory way to obtain genuine knowledge about the world.
Hobbes' stance is sometimes regarded as an antiscience position:
In his Six Lessons to the Professors of Mathematics,...[published in 1656, Hobbes] distinguished 'demonstrable' fields, as 'those the construction of the subject whereof is in the power of the artist himself,' from 'indemonstrable' ones 'where the causes are to seek for.' We can only know the causes of what we make. So geometry is demonstrable, because 'the lines and figures from which we reason are drawn and described by ourselves' and 'civil philosophy is demonstrable, because we make the commonwealth ourselves.' But we can only speculate about the natural world, because 'we know not the construction, but seek it from the effects.'
It was also Hobbes who "put forth the idea of the significance of the nonrational in human behaviour." Jones goes on to group Hobbes along with others he classes as 'antireductionists' and 'individualists,' such as Wilhelm Dilthey, Karl Marx, Jeremy Bentham and J S Mill, and then he adds Karl Popper, John Rawls, and E. O. Wilson.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in his Discourse on the Arts and Sciences, claimed that science can lead to immorality. "Rousseau argues that the progression of the sciences and arts has caused the corruption of virtue and morality" and his "critique of science has much to teach us about the dangers involved in our political commitment to scientific progress, and about the ways in which the future happiness of mankind might be secured". Nevertheless, Rousseau does not state in his Discourses that sciences are necessarily bad, and states that figures like René Descartes, Francis Bacon, and Isaac Newton should be held in high regard. In the conclusion to the Discourses, he says that these (aforementioned) can cultivate sciences to great benefit, and that morality's corruption is mostly because of society's bad influence on scientists.
William Blake reacted strongly against the work of Isaac Newton in his paintings and writings, and is seen as being perhaps the earliest (and almost certainly the most prominent and enduring) example of what is seen by historians as the aesthetic or romantic antiscience response. For example, in his 1795 poem Auguries of Innocence, Blake describes the beautiful and natural robin redbreast 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 that "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". In a poem, W.H. Auden summarises Blake's anti-scientific views by saying that he "[broke] off relations in a curse, with the Newtonian Universe".
One recent biographer of Newton considers him more as a renaissance alchemist, natural philosopher, and magician rather than a true representative of scientific illuminism, as popularized by Voltaire and other illuminist Newtonians.
Antiscience issues are seen as a fundamental consideration in the transition from 'pre-science' or 'protoscience' such as that evident in alchemy. Many disciplines that pre-date the widespread adoption and acceptance of the scientific method, such as geometry and astronomy, are not seen as anti-science. However, some of the orthodoxies within those disciplines that predate a scientific approach (such as those orthodoxies repudiated by the discoveries of Galileo) are seen as being a product of an anti-scientific stance.
Friedrich Nietzsche stated within The Gay Science that “in Science, convictions have no rights of citizenship, as is said with good reason. Only when they decide to descend to the modesty of a hypothesis, of a provisional experimental point of view, of a regulative fiction, maybe they be granted admission and even a certain value within the realm of knowledge—though always with the restriction that they remain under police supervision, under the police of mistrust. But does this not mean, more precisely considered, that a conviction may obtain admission to Science only when it ceases to be a conviction? Would not the discipline of the scientific spirit begin with this, no longer to permit oneself any convictions? Probably that is how it is. But one must still ask whether it is not the case that, in order that this discipline could begin, a conviction must have been there already, and even such a commanding and unconditional one that it sacrificed all other convictions for its own sake. It is clear that Science too rests on a faith; there is no Science ‘without presuppositions.’ The question whether truth is needed must not only have been affirmed in advance, but affirmed to the extent that the principle, the faith, the conviction is expressed: ‘nothing is needed more than truth, and in relation to it, everything else has only second-rate value.”
The term 'scientism' derives from science studies and is a term spawned and used by sociologists and philosophers of science to describe the views, beliefs and behavior of strong supporters of science. It is commonly used in a pejorative sense, for individuals who seem to be treating science in a similar way to a religion. The term reductionism is occasionally used in a similarly pejorative way (as a more subtle attack on scientists). However, some scientists feel comfortable being labelled as reductionists, while agreeing that there might be conceptual and philosophical shortcomings of reductionism.
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, systems theory, systems biology, ecology, information theory, etc. Such fields tend to assume that strong interaction between units produce new phenomena in higher levels that cannot be accounted for solely by reductionism. For example, it is not valuable (or currently possible) to describe a chess game or gene networks using quantum mechanics. The emergentist view of science ("More is Different", in the words of Nobel physicist Philip W. Anderson) has been inspired in its methodology by the European social sciences (Durkheim, Marx) which tend to reject methodological individualism.
One expression of antiscience is the "denial of universality and... legitimisation of alternatives", and that the results of scientific findings do not always represent any underlying reality, but can merely reflect the ideology of dominant groups within society. In this view, science is associated with the political Right and is seen as a belief system that is conservative and conformist, that suppresses innovation, that resists change and that acts dictatorially. This includes the view, for example, that science has a "bourgeois and/or Eurocentric and/or masculinist world-view".
The anti-nuclear movement, often associated with the left, has been criticized for overstating the negative effects of nuclear power, and understating the environmental costs of non-nuclear sources that can be prevented through nuclear energy. Many scientific fields which straddle the boundary between the biological and social sciences have also experienced resistance from the left, such as sociobiology, evolutionary psychology, and population genetics. This is due to the perceived association of these sciences with scientific racism and neocolonialism. Many critics of these fields, such as Stephen Jay Gould, have been accused of having strong political biases, and engaging in "mob science".
The origin of antiscience thinking may be traced back to the reaction of Romanticism to the Enlightenment-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 merely a product of human life. There are many modern examples of conservative antiscience polemics. Primary among the latter are the polemics about evolutionary theory and modern cosmology teaching in high schools, and environmental issues related to global warming and energy crisis.
Characteristics of antiscience associated with the right include the appeal to conspiracy theories to explain why scientists believe what they believe, in an attempt to undermine the confidence or power usually associated to science (e.g. in global warming conspiracy theories).
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 such as New Age thinking also criticize the scientific worldview as favouring 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. More recently the body of creation theologies known collectively as creationism, including the teleological theory of intelligent design, have been promoted by religious theists in response to the process of evolution by natural selection.
To the extent that attempts to overcome antiscience sentiments have failed, some argue that a different approach to science advocacy is needed. One such approach says that it is important to develop a more accurate understanding of those who deny science (avoiding stereotyping them as backward and uneducated) and also to attempt outreach via those who share cultural values with target audiences, such as scientists who also hold religious beliefs.
Historically, antiscience first arose as a reaction against scientific materialism. The 18th century Enlightenment had ushered in "the ideal of a unified system of all the sciences", but there were those fearful of this notion, who "felt that constrictions of reason and science, of a single all-embracing system... were in some way constricting, an obstacle to their vision of the world, chains on their imagination or feeling". Antiscience then is a rejection of "the scientific model [or paradigm]... with its strong implication that only that which was quantifiable, or at any rate, measurable... was real". In this sense, it comprises a "critical attack upon the total claim of the new scientific method to dominate the entire field of human knowledge". However, scientific positivism (logical positivism) does not deny the reality of non-measurable phenomena, only that those phenomena should not be adequate to scientific investigation. Moreover, positivism, as a philosophical basis for the scientific method, is not consensual or even dominant in the scientific community (see philosophy of science).
Three major areas of antiscience can be seen in philosophy, sociology, and ecology. The following quotes explore this aspect of the subject.
Philosophical objections against science are often objections about the role of reductionism. For example, in the field of psychology, "both reductionists and antireductionists accept that... non-molecular explanations may not be improved, corrected or grounded in molecular ones". Further, "epistemological antireductionism holds that, given our finite mental capacities, we would not be able to grasp the ultimate physical explanation of many complex phenomena even if we knew the laws governing their ultimate constituents". Some see antiscience as "common...in academic settings...many people see that there are problems in demarcation between science, scientism, and pseudoscience resulting in an antiscience stance. Some argue that nothing can be known for sure".
Many philosophers are "divided as to whether reduction should be a central strategy for understanding the world". However, many agree that "there are, nevertheless, reasons why we want science to discover properties and explanations other than reductive physical ones". Such issues stem "from an antireductionist worry that there is no absolute conception of reality, that is, a characterization of reality such as... science claims to provide". This is close to the Kantian view that reality is ultimately unknowable and all models are just imperfect approximations to it.
Sociologist Thomas Gieryn refers to "some sociologists who might appear to be antiscience". Some "philosophers and antiscience types", he contends, may have presented "unreal images of science that threaten the believability of scientific knowledge", or appear to have gone "too far in their antiscience deconstructions". The question often lies in how much scientists conform to the standard ideal of "communalism, universalism, disinterestedness, originality, and... skepticism". Unfortunately, "scientists don't always conform... scientists do get passionate about pet theories; they do rely on reputation in judging a scientist's work; they do pursue fame and gain via research". Thus, they may show inherent biases in their work. "[Many] scientists are not as rational and logical as the legend would have them, nor are they as illogical or irrational as some relativists might say".
Ecology and health sphere
Within the ecological and health spheres, Levins identifies a conflict "not between science and antiscience, but rather between different pathways for science and technology; between a commodified science-for-profit and a gentle science for humane goals; between the sciences of the smallest parts and the sciences of dynamic wholes... [he] offers proposals for a more holistic, integral approach to understanding and addressing environmental issues". These beliefs are also common within the scientific community, with for example, scientists being prominent in environmental campaigns warning of environmental dangers such as ozone depletion and the greenhouse effect. It can also be argued that this version of antiscience comes close to that found in the medical sphere, where patients and practitioners may choose to reject science and adopt a pseudoscientific approach to health problems. This can be both a practical and a conceptual shift and has attracted strong criticism: "therapeutic touch, a healing technique based upon the laying-on of hands, has found wide acceptance in the nursing profession despite its lack of scientific plausibility. Its acceptance is indicative of a broad antiscientific trend in nursing".
Glazer also criticises the therapists and patients, "for abandoning the biological underpinnings of nursing and for misreading philosophy in the service of an antiscientific world-view". In contrast, Brian Martin criticized Gross and Levitt by saying that "[their] basic approach is to attack constructivists for not being positivists," and that science is "presented as a unitary object, usually identified with scientific knowledge. It is portrayed as neutral and objective. Second, science is claimed to be under attack by 'antiscience' which is composed essentially of ideologues who are threats to the neutrality and objectivity that are fundamental to science. Third, a highly selective attack is made on the arguments of 'antiscience'". Such people allegedly then "routinely equate critique of scientific knowledge with hostility to science, a jump that is logically unsupportable and empirically dubious". Having then "constructed two artificial entities, a unitary 'science' and a unitary 'academic left', each reduced to epistemological essences, Gross and Levitt proceed to attack. They pick out figures in each of several areas – science studies, postmodernism, feminism, environmentalism, AIDS activism – and criticise their critiques of science".
The writings of Young serve to illustrate more antiscientific views: "The strength of the antiscience movement and of alternative technology is that their advocates have managed to retain Utopian vision while still trying to create concrete instances of it". "The real social, ideological and economic forces shaping science...[have] been opposed to the point of suppression in many quarters. Most scientists hate it and label it 'antiscience'. But it is urgently needed, because it makes science self-conscious and hopefully self-critical and accountable with respect to the forces which shape research priorities, criteria, goals".
Genetically modified foods also bring about antiscience sentiment. The general public has recently become more aware of the dangers of a poor diet, as there have been numerous studies that show that the two are inextricably linked. Anti-science dictates that science is untrustworthy, because it is never complete and always being revised, which would be a probable cause for the fear that the general public has of genetically modified foods despite scientific reassurance that such foods are safe.
Antivaccinationists rely on whatever comes to hand presenting some of their arguments as if scientific, however a strain of antiscience is part of their approach.
Opposition to reductionism and positivism
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On the limitations of models
A common antiscientific point of contention arises from the fact that mathematical models do not capture the full reality of existence, as can be seen in this quote:
The formulas of mathematical models are "artificial constructions, logical figments with no necessary relation to the outside world". These models always "leave out the richest and most important part of human experience...daily life, history, human laws and institutions, the modes of human self-expression". A failure to appreciate the subtle complexity of social worlds, means they get excluded from the formulas, even though, "no easy reductionism will do justice to the material". This approach often fails to concentrate "on social structures, processes, and actions in a specific sense (inequality, mobility, classes, strata, ethnicity, gender relations, urbanization, work and life of different types of people, not just elites)", and so tends to generate mostly meaningless oversimplifications.
It is also a common antiscientific point to state that verbal (say, literary and non-mathematical) models are poor representations of reality. If it is clear that a particular statistical or psychological study about romantic love or religious ecstasy (see neurotheology) captures only a tiny fraction of such human experiences, literary accounts and simplified verbal models also cannot adequately convey their full complexity. Both verbal and mathematical models are (partial) maps of reality, providing different points of view, but inherently incomplete descriptions of the territory of human and universe existence (see map–territory relation).
- Anti-intellectualism – Hostility to and mistrust of education, philosophy, art, literature, and science
- Creation science
- Modern Flat Earth societies
- Bruno Latour
- Denialism – a person's choice to deny reality, as a way to avoid a psychologically uncomfortable truth
- Epistemological nihilism
- Ernst Cassirer – German philosopher
- Eugenics – Ethically controversial aims to improve the genetic quality of the human population through selective breeding
- Faith and rationality
- Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel – German philosopher who influenced German idealism
- Giambattista Vico
- Greedy reductionism
- Green conservatism
- Johann Georg Hamann
- Johann Gottfried Herder
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe – 18th/19th-century German writer, artist, and politician
- Politicization of science – The manipulation of science for political gain
- Postmodernism – A broad movement in the mid-to-late 20th century across philosophy, the arts, architecture, and criticism
- Pseudoskepticism – Philosophical position
- Radical environmentalism – grassroots and extremist branch of environmentalism
- Social Darwinism
- Sokal affair – 1996 scholarly publishing sting accepted by an academic journal
- Subjective idealism
- Technological dystopia
- William Morris – Textile designer, novelist, and socialist activist (1834–1896)
- William R. Steiger – American government official
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