Monday, May 24, 2010

Scientific Heresy?

Here's an opinion piece in New Scientist that posits what has become a radical notion: that questioning science is not blasphemy.

I should have thought this obvious, but it clearly is not. Those who raise serious questions about received wisdom are ostracized, insulted, and tarred with the epithet “denier,” a word that carries the moral baggage of “holocaust denier.” The question is not addressed; the questioner is attacked.

If those who hold opposing views are treated as if they are heretics, and if great scientists like Freeman Dyson can step out of the mainstream and be treated as vile apostates, then science is becoming our culture's newest religion. And not the open, welcoming religion of the vibrant, loving church down the street, but the oppressive closed-minded religion the like of which persecuted Galileo. Which is, if this isn't too obvious, rather ironic.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that “the faith that stands on authority is not faith.” I would say that the science that stands on authority is not science. Science is supposed to be a method of seeking truth. Those who engage in that pursuit must be free to question, to dissent, and yes, to be wrong. Otherwise, science is not science at all.

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