“People have moved beyond apathy, beyond skepticism into deep cynicism” – Elliot Richardson
There is an unrecognized ontological crisis in science. It has nothing to do with scientific method, physicalism, skepticism, or many things which I myself bemoan as the shortcomings of a fundamentalist scientism with reference to strange phenomena. Science as an epistemology is the most powerful tool we have available with which to attempt to understand the universe we live in, but sadly scientists are human, engaged in a human world, and trying to solve human problems. The crisis that has resulted is one of conscience, a struggle between the desire to govern men based on a humanistic philosophy and the tension this causes when an ontological perspective demands that the world be scientifically administered as a “system of things”.
Thus, the scientists looks at an ecology where 48% of Americans imagine that UFO’s could be alien visitors, 71% of the American population claim to have had a paranormal experience, and 81% of the 7 billion people on earth believe in a God, bury their heads in their hands and lament the lack of common sense, critical thinking, and widespread mental illness of the majority of the human race, calling it madness, anti-intellectualism, gullibility, or wishful thinking.
But what the scientist regards as anti-intellectualism, rather than an error in logic or blind belief that the bigger your brain is, the less trustworthy you are, is instead founded on cynicism that differs qualitatively from the skepticism which science methodologically advocates as the optimal perspective on reality.
Skepticism doubts a priori, that is, it takes the stance that all things are in doubt until proven empirically, or at the very least found to be highly correlated without conflating variables. Cynicism, on the other hand, is the inkling that pronouncements are based on self-interest. This is not to say that all scientists are bought and paid for, either institutionally or ontologically, rather that the capacity exists, and as evidence continually mounts that scientists are as human as the rest of us, and therefore susceptible to the pressures of the “publish or perish” mentality, falsifying data to further their careers, or simply making errors, it is no shock, merely a confirmation of a paranoia regarding “expertise”, an expertise that has long maintained that the world should be managed empirically and without the obfuscating interference of our passions.
Since the first priests appointed themselves as the arbitrators and interpreters of divine will, and suggested an approach to a problem that was inhumane, in so far as it violated our common sense of fairness, justice, or the order of the universe (right or wrong), experts have lied to us. The common man can no more believe the scientist who advocates technocracy and the quantitative administration of things than he can believe the politician who mistakes his personal desires and reflections of his ego for the enlightened philosophic rule of man.
We have been lied to. We will be lied to again. When Fox News can find a credentialed expert to guarantee the validity of any perspective, why should your average Joe believe them any more than the expert on MSNBC or CNN? What the scientists, and their hangers-on the skeptics, would have us believe is that our distrust of science stems from our suspicion that anyone that is smarter than us is probably trying to put one over on us.
The cold calculations of science are merely the flip side of the propaganda of the politician. Politicans would have us believe that their vision is realizable, and Scientists believe that a mere methodology will realize a vision – a vision of what it means to be human. Humans need to imagine we are more than manipulable things. It took us a mere 200,000 years to go from running stark naked on the veldt to the atom bomb. We feel pretty good about ourselves as a species, yet when phenomena fall outside the current paradigm (which will be considered tomorrow’s faith), charges of an unfounded will to believe are levelled, always couched in the argot of presumed anti-intellectualism.
The universe is a strange place, and a well-founded cynicism fueled by repeated proofs that to err is human strikes most of us as a reasonable stance that has very little to do with a gainsaying of all things scientific, or an abandonment of skepticism as a healthy method for encountering reality. Progress in science and technology has fundamentally altered the way in which we live, on balance more positively than negatively. We just don’t want you running things any more than the average politician. Man is neither a creature of faith, nor a walking repository of logic. Man, as Aristotle said, is at root a political animal, and on balance we want neither philosophers nor scientists as the sole determiners of our fate, the unquestioned arbiters of reality. Thus the anomalist who tiptoes the line between acceptance and disbelief, finds himself/herself in the unenviable position expressed by Machiavelli in that “there is nothing more difficult to plan, more doubtful of success, more dangerous to manage than the creation of a new system. The innovator has the enmity of all who profit by the preservation of the old system and only lukewarm defenders by those who would gain by the new system”.