How did science become an ideology and a religion?

An ideological worldview has historically stood for ideals that were portrayed as its objectives for the future. It outlined a perspective of “what should be” and supported modes of action and conduct consistent with the accomplishment of this ideal. Recent political mobilization however has become noticeably scarce and has been centered on what should be. Because of this efforts to integrate inspire and legitimize frequently seem to lack ideological form. Consider the growing ideological use of science to legitimize policy and action best captured by the term “The Science.”

In the practice of technocratic governance in the twenty-first century the instrumental application of science to the realms of morality politics and culture to validate policy and action plays a crucial role. An egregiously depoliticized form of ideology is vividly illustrated by the transformation of science into scientism. Indeed Scientism is an ideology that consciously strives to not come across as one.

But in recent years scientism has come to play a bigger and bigger role in legitimizing the policies of the ruling classes. Science and scientism frequently have presented themselves as authorities in their own right in recent years with their peak exhibited during Covid-19 as opposed to earlier times when they served as a subservient force authorizing the actions and policies of political institutions and idealogues.

Many politicians and decision-makers prioritize what “The Science Says” over their party’s political ideology. They are likely to respond “We are following the science ” when asked to explain their choice. It is clear that whatever politicians are following has an authority that must be obeyed when they say “We are following the science” and when they tell you “Trust the science”.

Scientism is a politicized conception of science that supports trusting in the authority of the expert to run societal institutions. Scientism rarely makes clear what its political goals are which makes it difficult to see and recognize its role as an ideology. It is an unnamed ideology that offers resources for legitimization that a variety of frequently conflicting movements can use.

The environmental movement has given up its earlier opposition to science and now almost entirely defends its green ideology with scientific evidence.

Scientism has established itself as a versatile ideology that has successfully infiltrated most professions as well as a number of political movements. It presents itself as politically apolitical and portrays those who disagree with its conclusion as ideologically and politically motivated. Jürgen Habermas noted in 1969 that science and technology in the post-war era functioned as a sort of ideology; he wrote of the ‘scientization of political power’ arguing that politicians were becoming more and more reliant on the “experts”. Initially serving as a “quasi-ideology” for a number of political movements scientism has increasingly come to dominate western political life in recent decades.

In contrast to earlier times when science and scientism served as a subordinate authority authorizing the policies and actions of political institutions and idealogues science and scientism now frequently present themselves as an authority in their own right. Many politicians and policymakers use the rhetoric of what “The Science Says” to convey their ideologies.

The growth of scientisation of political power since the 1970s has consolidated technocratic governance. Technocratic governance is based on the authority of expertise and the reliability of science. Instead of using a political vision to defend itself it tries to do so using knowledge and procedure. It deliberately avoids adopting a political identity and works to depoliticize contentious issues by delegating management and decision-making to specialized organizations courts and international organizations like the International Monetary Fund. Technocratic governance rarely exists in its purest form save in exceptional circumstances like the coronavirus pandemic when politicians explicitly made way for scientists.  And for good reason: technocratic governance cannot inspire or motivate people on its own. That is why a technocracy depends on policies and a superior ideology for its credibility.

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