What is really special about science is not its logic or method, but its attitude toward evidence.
If we were out on a fishing boat and you didn’t want to put on your life jacket because you felt that “God would provide” that is your choice. But if there was a storm coming up and you wanted to break the radio because “we can count on God to rescue us” then you’ve put me at risk too. To me, an awful lot of science denial seems like the latter. If someone believes in Flat Earth, I guess they’re not really hurting anyone but themselves (although they are contributing to a denialist culture, which does hurt others). But what about disbelief in climate change or the Covid-19 vaccine? There I think I am justified in being intolerant because someone’s irrational and false beliefs are putting the rest of us at risk.
I offer the idea that what is really special about science is not its logic or method, but its attitude toward evidence. The scientific attitude is the idea that (1) scientists care about evidence and (2) they are willing to change their mind on the basis of new evidence. And that’s it.
Seventy years of awesome success by those who wished to deny the truth about evolution, climate change, etc., did not go unnoticed by political operatives. One day they said “hey, if you can lie about scientific facts, you can lie about anything.” Like maybe the outcome of an election? And yes, I think that one of the other roots is post-modernism, which is largely left-wing. Now they didn’t intend it. They were playing around with the idea that there was no such thing as objective truth, and that perhaps this meant that anyone making an assertion of truth was merely making a power grab. That all sounds fine when you’re in the university doing literary criticism, but at a certain point these ideas began to create the “science wars,” where humanists began to attack the idea of scientific truth.
What I believe in is the doctrine of underdetermination. I believe that reality is consistent with many different descriptions of it, some of which offer good theories and some of which do not. But even among the ones that fit, there are many that might work. So how can we non-arbitrarily choose one and call that reality? That seems to me what the realists want to do. They are privileging the theories we now have over the ones we might have had, or might have in the future.
In the past, I’ve often referred to myself as a methodological naturalist, because I believe that the methods of natural and social science should be identical. But I think you’re asking about a more stringent version of naturalism: the idea that all phenomena at the secondary level can be explained by phenomena at the primary level. Some people take that all the way through physicalism, which is an epistemological commitment that comes out of a very sparse ontology. And there are other proud reductionists out there. But I’m not one of them.
I am against any kind of ideological interference in scientific reasoning. To me, “dark age” thinking is emblematic of the type of mind that wants an answer — that wants certainty at all costs — and damn when the evidence tells you you’re wrong. To me, that’s the mark of an incurious mind.