Science is not Dogmatic
Creationists and other science-haters often claim that scientists are dogmatic. Frequently they’ll say something about “dogmatic Darwinists” keeping “Intelligent Design” or “Creation Science” down, but just as often the accusation will be directed toward science and scientists in general.
Let me state this in no uncertain terms: anyone who claims that science is dogmatic is completely and totally ignorant.
First, what does dogma mean? Most definitions specifically state it’s a religious belief, but the ones that don’t say something to the effect of, “a belief that is held to be unquestionably true”, and they often throw in some language about lack of evidence for the belief.
Now, what is science? This definition is among the best I’ve ever seen: “Science refers to either: the scientific method – a process for evaluating empirical knowledge; or the organized body of knowledge gained by this process.” Throw in a reference to methodological naturalism and it’s perfect.
Any process specifically designed to test the natural world through observation, and evaluating the evidence gained from observation is, by definition, nondogmatic. Right off the bat the claims of dogmatism are false.
One of the central tenets of science is that nothing is ever truly proven. Every scientific theory can be overthrown if evidence is provided to invalidate it. Examples of this happening are too numerous to count, the classic one is Einstein’s General Relativity overthrowing Newton’s Law of Gravitation, but there are plenty more.
Science is based only on evidence and logical interpretation of that evidence. Hypotheses are posited, tested, make predictions, those are tested, and if the hypothesis passes the scrutiny of the scientific community, it will be accepted. At least until some new evidence challenges it, when the process begins again. It is not dogma.
Many scientists frequently point out that if someone came up with evidence that challenged an existing theory (such as Evolution or the Standard Model) and came up with a suitable theory to explain it, they’d be a hero. They’d be showered in awards and praise, and go down as one of The Greats. That’s exactly what Einstein and Darwin did, and they’re remembered as two of the greatest in their fields. How can science be called dogmatic when its greatest rewards are given to people who challenge the accepted theories?
The same claims of dogmatism are often applied to atheism as well. They are, at least for me, equally untrue. Atheism is (for most people) about the lack of evidence for any kind of deity. If someone showed me irrefutable proof that god (any god) actually exists, then I’d “believe” in it, the same way I “believe” in science. However, my confidence that this won’t happen is such that I feel perfectly secure claiming that god (any god) does not exist. Many people find this contradictory, saying that agnosticism is the only logical stance on the issue. To that I can only reply with a Richard Dawkins quote, “I’m agnostic about God the same way I’m agnostic about fairies.” God or gods should be held to the same standards as Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and every other statement about the world: namely, show me the evidence, and I’ll believe it.
Neither science nor atheism is dogmatic, and claims to the contrary are simply wrong, and most likely don’t truly understand science or atheism. Which is too bad, because knowledge is infinitely more inspiring than dogmatic ignorance, no matter how comforting it may be.