Forget ISIS. Forget the Taliban. Forget Quiverfull. There's a new extremist religion that is permeating our society, and its tendrils are reaching to the highest levels in our government. You won't hear its adherents uttering the name of their religion, but it has all of the characteristics of a religious cult. It has leaders who are idolized and whose pronouncements dare not be questioned. Similarly, it requires that all of its adherents believe in the exact same dogma. Any variation from the accepted "truth" results in excommunication, shunning, and economic ruin.
At the same time, this religion engages in barbaric practices, including the ritual torture and murder of animals. Some of its temples have their own standing armies.
If you're not worried yet, you should be, because this religion is increasingly controlling public discourse in this country, using astroturf groups and social media to limit debate and control thought.
This religion? It's called Scientism. And it is doing far more damage to our country and our society than Muslim extremists ever will.
Scientism is the belief that the methods of science are the only appropriate means of inquiry about the universe, and that only its conclusions are valid. While its practitioners usually claim they are practicing "science" (the methodology) rather than "science" the religion, most of the educated masses in the West are, in fact, believers in scientism.
The priests of scientism are, of course, the scientists. Like any priest, he or she wears traditional garb that identifies him as a member of the exalted class -- the lab coat -- and is accompanied by various instruments of office, depending on their sect. Philosopher Ivan Illich has pointed out that the medical priest, for example, often wears a stethoscope around his neck that identifies him as a member of the exalted. Others may be accompanied by various forms of obscure computing devices or, increasingly, wearable tech.
Their temples are windowless, climate-controlled, artificial environments with guarded entries to keep out the hoi polloi, because they surely could not understand the arcane rites within and would likely confound its rituals. Their temples also serve to wall out the wider world with its chaotic processes and systems so exceedingly complex that they still overwhelm the Scientist's wards of office.
In one respect, at least, they are correct -- I doubt that the common man would understand the Very Important Reasons for keeping sentient animals in five point restraints with their skulls exposed, under constant torture until they die, all so that we can better understand the Supreme Knowledge, to use but one example of the excesses of this religion.
What Scientism's practitioners have forgotten is that science is a tool, not a belief system, one tool among many which mankind can use to understand and organize the world. And science is a spectacularly useful tool, that should not be denied. None of you reading this blog does not benefit almost every second of every day from the fruits of scientific investigation.
Yet the true believers go too far. As scientist Austin Hughes has written about his profession, "The temptation to overreach, however, seems increasingly indulged today in discussions about science. Both in the work of professional philosophers and in popular writings by natural scientists, it is frequently claimed that natural science does or soon will constitute the entire domain of truth. And this attitude is becoming more widespread among scientists themselves. All too many of my contemporaries in science have accepted without question the hype that suggests that an advanced degree in some area of natural science confers the ability to pontificate wisely on any and all subjects." (Hughes, Austin L. "The Folly of Scientism." The New Atlantis. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Feb. 2015.)
But like all tools, science must be guided by morals, ethics and systems of constraint that are not part of its own organization. However, that does not exist today. While there are boards of ethics which presumably oversee some research, all of these boards consist of practitioners of Scientism themselves, either as lay members of the church, or as clergy. That's exactly the same as having the Catholic church investigate its priests in claims of pedophelia, and the results in Scientism have been just about what you would expect.
Scientism now invades our public discourse on matters of great importance. Take, for example, the recent controversy regarding vaccination policy. The pro-vaccination camp immediately claimed the high ground of alleged scientific legitimacy, accusing all naysayers of being "anti-science." Now identified as heretics, those questioning current vaccination policy were considered fair game for all of the usual behavior-control tactics available to religion: Shaming, shunning, accusations of other-worship -- in other words, the exact same techniques used by all extremist religionists to eliminate dissent.
What got lost in the astroturfed "debate" was a nuanced and critical examination of what the research actually does say about the risks and benefits of vaccines -- something which varies from vaccine to vaccine, and is not the monolithic single risk/benefit equation that the pro-vaccination camp tries to glue over a much more topographical research landscape. They don't want you to see that their gods don't always agree.
The need to adhere to established doctrine does not just apply to the populace at large, however. It applies even more strictly to the acolytes and junior priesthood, who lose jobs and careers if they dare to question the recieved wisdom of institutional science.
Even those with established bona fides are not secure from the tyranny of scientific zealots. You saw it with Linus Pauling, as he explored the concepts of orthomolecular therapy before that discussion could be controlled by the pharmaceutical companies. Or, to cite a more recent example, Rupert Sheldrake's banned TED talk and his ongoing excommunication for having the temerity to advance a research-based hypothesis of vitalism.
Scientism presents a danger on many fronts, not only in its ability to frame public policy debate in ways which force a predetermined income but, more importantly, by controlling the nature of scientific inquiry itself. The rate and direction of scientific advance is entirely dependent on the questions scientists ask. The more that these questions are restricted to only support the status quo, the less progress will be made, eventually turning the focus of science so inward on itself that the entire charade of "advance" collapses.
Perhaps that will be a good thing. At that point, we as a society will become more free to choose the best lenses through which we view the world, and in so doing, escape the tyranny of materialistic rationality -- a tyranny which has as its only goals the elimination of self-determination, quashing of educated discourse, and invalidation of the richness of individual experience.