The phrase “I believe in science” is something I see a lot these days, and I think it’s a pretty remarkable phrase.
For one, the historical thrust of the scientific method has pretty much been about circumventing the need for the type of belief expressed in “I believe in ___” statements, so it’s always a bit uncanny to see “science” invoked in that context. But it’s also so fitting at the same time, because when people say things like “I believe in science,” they are usually conveying a philosophical stance that has very little to do with science per se, and a whole lot to do with human belief itself.
The invocation “science” attempts to dismantle the need for any traditional hierarchy of thought or belief (science doesn’t care about your thoughts or beliefs, after all), but by invoking “believe” the statement still insists on an epistemology. “I believe in science” says there is a “right way to know,” and it’s based on whatever it is I’m calling “science” in this case, and it’s different from and better than other forms of belief. But again, science makes no claims to belief structures, or at least it shouldn’t.
So what are we actually referring to when we say “science”?
Well, in my opinion at this moment, and I think predictably for us humans, it’s often about some social hierarchy (and also probably about forming a coherent version of reality). A quorum of individuals who are interested in science go around saying “X,” and X becomes an epistemological construct, and then other individuals call X “science” and get to walk around saying “I believe in science” as if they are saying something other than “I believe those extra special cool people over there.” 🙂
And sure I can be cynical about it, but I get it. People are cool, and believing what they believe makes me feel good.
And so say the people who “believe in science.”