Friday, June 8, 2012

"OBJECTIVE SCIENCE" ?


" OBJECTIVE SCIENCE "  ?

   Sheikh Fayaz Ahmad

This is in response to the article ‘Wonderful speech: But why reconcile religion with science?’ by Ajaz Ul Haque in GK’s special Sunday column ‘Write Hand’ dated 3rd June 2012. First of all I would like to congratulate the writer for precisely delineating on the topic and most importantly for raising some significant questions related to science and religion. I do fully agree with the writer that reconciling religion with science can’t always be a successful effort. Nevertheless his argument that science believes in the objectification of things and religion can’t be objectified is something which can be contested and questioned on many grounds. The writer in his small write-up gives us a feeling that science is somehow vastly superior to other knowledge systems and overrides various beliefs. This he argue by grounded his assumption on the argument that science believes in the objectification of things whilst religion can't be objectified. 
To extol science as an ‘objective’ piece of knowledge without even questioning its basic premises and the intricacies linked to it is to accept science without understanding science. So far many influential science philosophers have questioned this much touted “objective” knowledge system and have successfully questioned the hegemony it has created over the period of time. The two influential science philosophers who have eloquently exposed the objective character of science deserve to be mention here. First, Thomas Kuhn who in his path braking book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) argued that ‘science is not a steady, cumulative acquisition of knowledge’. Instead, science is "a series of peaceful interludes punctuated by intellectually violent revolutions". Kuhn was the first to successfully question and doubt the ‘objective’ character of science by arguing that scientists are not objective and independent thinkers. Rather, they are conservative individuals who accept what they have been taught and apply their knowledge to solving the problems that their theories dictate. 
The second person who is credited to have  punctured  this “objective” science balloon was none other than Paul Feyerabend; one of the twentieth century's most famous philosophers of science who published Against Method in 1975. Feyerabend not only attacked the prominent scientific methodologies but also questioned the scrupulous character of some “great” scientists. Feyerabend while supporting his argument nicely defines the so called ‘objective’ character of few industrial revolution heroes particularly Galileo , who according to Feyerabend make full use of rhetoric, propaganda, and various epistemological tricks in order to support the heliocentric position. Feyerabend also argues that the aesthetic criteria, personal whims and social factors highly influence the scientific knowledge. In Against Method, Feyerabend writes “science is much closer to myth than a scientific philosophy is prepared to admit. It is one of the many forms of thought that have been developed by man, and not necessarily the best. It is conspicuous, noisy, and impudent, but it is inherently superior only for those who have already decided in favour of a certain ideology, or who have accepted it without ever having examined its advantages and its limits ( p. 295)”.  Similarly Claude Alvares in a book chapter in Science Hegemony and Violence: A requiem for Modernity edited by Ashis Nandy argues that the “scientific method itself has become not only anti-rational, it has become culturally and socially oppressive, ecocidal and generally anti-life”. 
So to celebrate science as a body of ‘objective knowledge’ and not to question its rational and empirical character is more dangerous than to accept any other form of knowledge or belief system without bothering to ask some very basic questions. 

Sheikh Fayaz Ahmad is Research Scholar at the Center for Studies in Science Policy, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and can be reached at fayazjustinternational@gmail.com