The view that there is little difference between scientific theories Essay

Submitted By Garth-Wenman
Words: 1051
Pages: 5

The view that there is little difference between scientific theories, religious doctrines and political ideologies is something widely discussed in sociological terms. While some sociologists see them as separate entities providing different functions, others see them as one in the same. This is a view discussed by Functionalists, Pluralists, Marxists, Feminists and Postmodernists.

Postmodernist Lyotard, for example, talks about science as a ‘metanarrative’ or a ‘big story’ which, according to postmodernists, makes them untrustworthy. Postmodernity discusses both ideology and religion in the same way; they are simply view of life and\or history. There is little difference, therefore, between the functions of scientific theories, religious doctrines and political ideologies; they provide untrustworthy ‘big stories’ for society to follow. This is also suggested in sociologists Berger and Luckmann’s ‘Universes of Meaning’ theory, however they do not seem them as untrustworthy – they see them as providing a positive function. The term ‘Universes of Meaning’ describes socially constructed belief systems; they are meant to give our lives meaning and certainty through constant legitimisation of the belief of a group. This appears in the development and refinement of theories of political ideologies like Marxism or Neo-Marxism, the weekly church service in Christianity or the use of experimentation and theorisation in science. It seems that there is, in fact, little different between science, politics and religion in terms of function – however, sociologists like Comte suggest otherwise.

Comte suggests that after the 18th century our minds became more ‘rational’ in the move towards science and philosophy. Although carrying very little value freedom, Comte’s theory is certainly true – there was an emergence in scientific theories and beliefs at this time called the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment promised to unlock the secrets of nature and improve the human condition, and promised objectivity and true representation of the world around us. Karl Popper suggested that this was probably due to the fact that, unlike politics and religion, science has a method of creating a hypothesis and only considering it a ‘theory’ when it could not be disproved. Popper did also suggest that theories are not ‘solid’ however, suggesting that there is some construction among scientific beliefs, which is also suggested by Knorr-Centina when she says that ‘facts are fabricated’ to fit beliefs. It is most likely because scientific theories are proved and then disproved that people have lost faith in science, which is suggested by postmodernist Giddens, and when advances have been made it has led to unintended effect on a massively global scale like nuclear war, which is discussed by postmodernist Beck. This loss of trust and solidarity may have left people just as sceptical of science as religion or certain ideologies.

According to Marxist theorists, ideology is far more important than science or religion – it controls them. Marx suggests that whoever controls the infrastructure (the economic base of society) controls the institutions of the superstructure, which includes, but is not limited to, science and religion. So, although both science and religion are considered to be the same in terms of functions, they are simply means by which ideology can be transmitted to the proletariat (the working class) from the bourgeoisie (the ruling class). They are what structural neo-Marxist Althusser called an ‘ideological state apparatus’, apparatus used by the state to indoctrinate people with the ideology. Feminists view it in the same way, but rather than a ruling class ideology they believe patriarchy (dominance of men) is the ideology being transmitted. Coote and Campbell suggest that it is the mixture of ‘economic and cultural systems’ that oppress, and science and religion as cultural systems do this. Science suggests that the male gene is…