The scientific process is very dynamic, social and intimately connected with reality. Ideas and hypotheses are continually being developed, challenged, debated and tested. Experiential validation, mapping theory against reality, helps keep science honest. This, and the scientific process of critical review by colleagues help counter the perfectly human desire to guard and promote pet preconceived ideas and prejudices.
Without experiential validation and the peer critique and review, science would become stale and dogmatic. It would end up serving commercial and/or ideological paymasters.
I think this happens in some commercial situations where scientists lend their reputations to product endorsement. The situation of retired scientists without any research involvement who promote climate change denial also comes to mind.
Creationism/ID and apologetics
It also happens with those scientists and academics connected to creationist/intelligent design (ID) institutes (e.g. Discovery Institute, Creation Research, etc.) and religious apologetics groups (e.g. Reasonable Faith with William Lane Craig and Reasons To Believe with Hugh Ross). These groups are divorced from scientific research and the real science community. They don’t experientially validate their ideas or submit them to peer review.
The academic staff and associates of these groups devote their skills to justifying religious and creationist dogma. “Research” is limited to “reinterpretation research” – distorting scientific knowledge to support their own dogma and explaining away valid findings they disapprove of. Their publications and public activities are aimed at discrediting real science and real working scientists.
(See Fiddling with “fine-tuning” for a detailed example of one common apologetics distortion).
They are isolated from the real scientific community and hostile to it. Their “science” is dogmatic and dishonest. These groups have become dogmatic scientific ghettos.
The ghetto’s customers
But they still provide a service. Their customers are the fundamentalist and other Christians who refuse to accept modern scientific knowledge. These people recognise the authority of science in the public mind – but they want a “science” which doesn’t conflict with their religious beliefs. They want a science that will support an earth less than 10,000 years old, special creation of millions of separate species. They want scientific support for their belief in magical creation of the universe, life and humanity. They want a docile, captured science promoting “evidence” for their gods and her miracles. They want their “science” filtered to remove any possibility of offence to their religious sensibilities.
These organisations provide their customers with:
- Acceptable explanations for the mysterys of life and the universe. Often also for politics;
- Articles and documents (often at a price) for those wishing to advocate on behalf of apologetics;
- A source of handy material and quotations for advocates. Often these quotations are taken from scientists (and even atheists) and out of context appear to advocate for beliefs these people don’t actually hold (for example see Quotes from Scientists Regarding Design of the Universe);
- Suitable “explanations” – explaining away new research results or relevant events. For example – attempts to discredit Judge Jones after the Dover decision which determined that ID is not a science (see Kitzmiller_decision), and “explanations” for the Tiktaalik – the fossil intermediate between fish and tetrapods. There are many more examples – it’s an ongoing job.
In effect these organisations provide a “vaccine” – an apologetics “vaccine” immunising their adherents against the evil world of science and reality.
Of course this immunisation and ready acceptance of apologist arguments, by fundamentalist Christians means that these customers also become ghettoised. They become intellectually isolated from society and humanity’s knowledge. These customers end up advocating arguments, and simply declaring dogma, which are demonstratively ridiculous. They will confidently say things like “there are no intermediary fossil”, “evolution has been shown to be incorrect by recent scientific finding”, “Darwinism is dead”,”scientists are expelled from their jobs for not believing in Darwin”, and “scientists have produced proof for a God.”
Of course, all these things are said with the certainty and conviction of the “true believer.” But they only demonstrate the arrogance of ignorance – and the ignorance of the “scientific” ghetto.