why you should honor thy scientists

Whataboutism between science and religion in the media means only one thing: the writers simply don't understand science.
god fossil
Illustration by Koren Shadmi

In the past few years, there’s been a surge in articles which put science in the same light as religion. Instead of presenting it as a methodology for gaining knowledge, it’s being presented as a “tradition” or a “mindset” of materialists, skeptics and atheists. It’s wrong, misguided and I would even go as far as to say disrespectful. A scientist’s answer to an existential question comes from painstakingly documented research conducted over many years, every word dissected by highly trained experts. Answers of priests come from looking through a few verses of a collection of ancient religious letters and stories, then interpreted to say whatever he wants to say at the moment. How can you possibly put these radically different approaches in the same realm?

Have you ever noticed that there are no temples to science? And I don’t mean those metaphorical ones found in the purple prose of an author who desperately tries to tear down scientific institutions and their knowledge. I’m talking about literal temples where the faithful memorize the latest peer reviewed papers. There’s no book which science considers to be the source of all knowledge. A supercomputer who was elected to the post of Science Pope hasn’t made Newton and Darwin saints. Every bit of knowledge we have about our universe is always subject to change and those who can turn a particular discipline on its head are rewarded with prizes and fame. Dogmas in science are bitterly fought against with new facts and discoveries, and while at first, any new and groundbreaking theory has a tough time as it goes through peer review, the community will warm up to it when they see enough evidence for its accuracy.

Oddly enough, the fact that scientists can and will change how they view the universe is interpreted as a sign of weakness by religious zealots. But then again, if you believe you’re never wrong, seeing people around you change their ideas would be an alien experience. When your mind is gripped by dogmas, regardless of their validity, that’s the only thing you can understand. Every other viewpoint seems like another tradition or another religion and since you’ve been taught that all other religions are mistaken, then science must be wrong and its constant updates and revisions must be a sign of its high priests trying to salvage their failing institution. And so we get indignant articles by fundamentalists pontificating on theories they don’t understand, declaring that the greatest strength of the scientific method is actually a sign of inferiority over blind dogma.

However, it’s not just zealots who will equate scientific methodology with theistic dogmatism. In an attempt to appear completely objective and beyond any charge of bias, some writers will give equal importance to every opinion with seemingly no regard for whether it’s right or wrong. They think that giving a biologist who’s life was spent researching evolution and a random televangelist the same weight in their articles, will make them insightful reporters who diligently consider every side of a story. But the truth is that not everything you hear is accurate and if you’re reporting an incorrect assumption without actually doing your homework and noting that it’s wrong, you’re not an objective reporter or analyst. You’re a scribe afraid of being called biased.

So for those of you who write about public conflicts between scientists and religious activists, don’t be afraid to call science what it really is. An organized, systematic methodology for acquiring and refining knowledge. To present it as anything otherwise is just plain wrong and misleading.

# science // bias / journalism / objectivity / popular science

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