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Science as Cargo Cult – More Thoughts on the “March for Science”


When even Slate turns against a “progressive” event like this weekend’s March for Science, you know something’s wrong. Harvard Medical School instructor Jeremy Samuel Faust complains about the weird, mindless cult-like atmosphere infusing much of the adulation directed at “Science.”

Little of what I observed dissuades me from my baseline belief that, even among the sanctimonious elite who want to own science (and pwn anyone who questions it), most people have no idea how science actually works. The scientific method itself is already under constant attack from within the scientific community itself and is ceaselessly undermined by its so-called supporters, including during marches like those on Saturday. In the long run, such demonstrations will do little to resolve the myriad problems science faces and instead could continue to undermine our efforts to use science accurately and productively.

…Being “pro-science” has become a bizarre cultural phenomenon in which liberals (and other members of the cultural elite) engage in public displays of self-reckoned intelligence as a kind of performance art, while demonstrating zero evidence to justify it.


[T]he march revealed the glaring dissonance of opposing that trough of ignorance by instead accepting a cringe-worthy hive-mind mentality that celebrates Science as a vague but wonderful entity, what Richard Feynman called “cargo cult science.” There was an uncomfortable dronelike fealty to the concept — an oxymoronic faith that information presented and packaged to us as Science need not be further scrutinized before being smugly celebrated en masse. That is not intellectually rigorous thought — instead, it’s another kind of religion, and it is perhaps as terrifying as the thing it is trying to fight.

This is…well, frankly it’s remarkably close to our own take on the event. Listen to Discovery Institute’s Stephen Meyer in an interview with Mike Opelka of The Blaze, explaining how the March for Science reflects a split in the way people think about what science means. There’s the conception we absorbed in school: science is a method of investigating the natural world by collecting facts and then posing and arguing over questions (“multiple competing hypotheses”) of how best to interpret those facts. When the debate stops, so does the science.

And then there’s the very different view that says science has closed all the books and figured out everything in need of being figured out. The debate is over, and properly so. Thus the public needs only to absorb a set of doctrines, while scientists themselves engage in a kind of apologetics campaign. The conclusions are preset and only need to be conveyed for the public’s benefit. In this perspective, that of many of the science marchers, science is rendered as a kind of religious faith.

That may explain why it treats rival religions the way it does. As our Senior Fellow Jay Richards explains in an ID the Future podcast with Robert Crowther, advocates of materialist ideology habitually portray science as being in a state of perpetual warfare with Judeo-Christian faith.

In fact, the latter tradition was the “seedbed” of science, as Jay points out, not its persecutor. But the rival religion, Science as Cargo Cult, feels an imperative to compete with and blacken the reputation of its competitor. Hence the myth of unending warfare between the two.

Photo credit: Mobilus in Mobili, via Flickr.

David Klinghoffer

Senior Fellow and Editor, Evolution News
David Klinghoffer is a Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute and the editor of Evolution News & Science Today, the daily voice of Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture, reporting on intelligent design, evolution, and the intersection of science and culture. Klinghoffer is also the author of six books, a former senior editor and literary editor at National Review magazine, and has written for the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Seattle Times, Commentary, and other publications. Born in Santa Monica, California, he graduated from Brown University in 1987 with an A.B. magna cum laude in comparative literature and religious studies. David lives near Seattle, Washington, with his wife and children.



cargo cultJay RichardsJeremy Samuel FaustMarch for ScienceSlateStephen Meyer