Assess the sociological explanation of science and ideology of belief system? Essay

Sociologists argue that science and ideology can both be belief systems. In the 18th century was the era of the enlightenment. People started to think and question was there more than just a God and that’s where science was introduced. People started to use rational ways of thinking to explain things that happened. Science has been used to develop different parts in society such as medicine and technology that we use in everyday life. But it has also caused problems such as pollution and global warming.

Science has cognitive power, it can allow us to explain, predict and control the world. According to Popper science is an open belief system where every scientist’s theories are open to scrutiny, criticised and tested by others. He says that science is governed by the principle of falsificationism.

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This is whereby scientists set out to try and falsify existing theories, deliberately seeking evidence that would disprove them. Such as the fact that the big bang is a theory that everyone accepts but there is much more that scientists do not know and more needed to be found therefore it could be false.

It argues that there always can be more and more evidence for every theory that has ever been made and proven. Then when disproving these knowledge claims allows scientific world to grow. It is cumulative, whereby it builds on achievements of previous scientists. This explanation shows that science can be a belief system as nothing can ever be proven 100% as there will always be something or someone that will disprove a theory with other evidence and therefore people belief what they have been told.

This is much like religion in a way by the fact that religion cannot be proven it is something that people belief in. If popper is correct then it still leaves the question of why science has grown over the last few centuries. Merton argues that science can only thrive as a major social institution if it receives support from other institutions and values. He argues that this occurred in England as a result of the values and attitudes created by the protestant reformation especially Puritanism. The beliefs that they had to study nature led appreciation of God’s works, encouraged them to experiment.

They stressed social welfare and were attracted to the fact that science could produce technological inventions to improve the conditions of life. Like Popper, Merton argues that science as an institution or organised social activity needs ethos that make scientists work in a way that serves the goal of increasing scientific knowledge. He identifies four such norms, communism because scientific knowledge is not private property and they must share their findings with the scientific community.

Universalism, the truth or falsity of scientific knowledge is judged by universal, objective criteria and not by the particular race or sex of the scientist who produces it. Disinterestedness, the means being committed to discovering knowledge for its own sake by publishing their findings for others to check their claims. Organised scepticism, the fact that no knowledge clam is sacred. Every idea is open to questioning, criticism and objective investigation. By contrast despite Popper’s view of science as an open and critical, some others argue that science itself can be seen as a self-sustaining or closed system of beliefs. For example, Polanyi argues that all belief systems reject fundamental challenges to their knowledge claims; science is no different, as the case of Dr Velikovsky indicates. One example for scientist’s refusal even to consider such challenges comes from a historian of science.

Kuhn argues that a mature science such as geology, biology or physics is based on a set of shared assumptions that he calls a paradigm. This tells the scientist what reality is like, the problems to study, and what methods and equipment to use. Scientific education and training is a process of being socialised into faith in the truth of the paradigm, and a successful career depends on working within paradigms. For these reasons, any scientist who challenges the fundamental assumptions of the paradigms. Others in the scientific community will no longer regard him or her as a scientist at all. The only exceptions to this are during one of the rare periods that Kuhn describes as a scientific revolution, when faith in the truth of the paradigm has already been undermined by an accumulation of anomalies, the results that the paradigm cannot account for.

Only then do scientists become open to radically new values. Interpretivist sociologists have developed Kuhn’s ideas further. They argue that all knowledge including scientific knowledge is socially constructed. That is rather than being objective truth; it is created by social groups using the resources available to them. In this case of science, scientific fact- those things that scientists take to be true and real are the product of shared theories or paradigms that tell them what they should expect to see, and of the particular instruments they use.

Therefore Karin Knorr- Cetina argues that the invention of new instruments, such as telescopes or microscopes, permits scientists to make mew observations and construct or fabricate new facts. Similarly she points out that what scientists study in the laboratory is highly constructed and far removed from the natural world that they are supposedly studying. According to the ethnomethodologist Woolgar, scientists are engaged in the same process of making sense or interpreting the world as everyone else. With the evidence from experiments they have to decide what it means. They do so by devising and applying theories or explanations, but they then have to persuade others to accept their interpretations.

An example of this is in the case of the discovery of pulsar. The scientist’s initially annotated the patterns shown on their printouts from the radio telescope as LGM1. Recognising that this was an unacceptable interpretation from the view point of the scientific community they eventually settled on the notion that the patterns represented the signals from a type of star which is unknown to science. There is still a debate about what the signals really meant. As Woolgar notes a scientific fact is simply a social construction or belief that scientists are able to persuade their colleagues to share. This therefore shows that science can be a believe system as science is socially constructed and people believe in what they are told even if it true or not. There are also other critical perspectives such as Marxism and feminism which see scientific knowledge as far from pure truth. Instead they regard it as serving the interests of dominant groups, the ruling class in the case of Marxists and men for feminists.

Therefore many advances in supposedly pure science have been driven by the need of capitalism for certain types of knowledge. For example biological ideas have been used to justify both male domination and colonial expansion. In this respect science can be seen as a form of ideology. In a different sense postmodernists also reject the knowledge claim of science to have the truth. In the view of Lyotard for example science is one of a number of Meta narratives that falsely claims to possess the truth. In Lyotard’s view science falsely claims to offer the truth about how the world works as a means of progress to a better society, whereas in reality he argues science is just one more one way of thinking that is used to dominate people.

Sociologists have come up with a definition for ideology which is a worldview or a set of ideas and values, which is basically a belief system. Although ideology is used in many ways these are a distorted, false or mistaken ideas about the work, ideas that conceal the interests of a particular groups, ideas that prevent changes by misleading people, and a self- sustaining belief system that is irrational and closed to criticism. here are a number of theories of ideology one of which is Marxists that see society as divided into two opposed classes, them that own the means of production and control the state, and a majority working class who are property less and therefore forced to sell their labour to the capitalist. They see the ruling class to not only control the means of production but ideas through institutions. In a result it produces the ruling class ideology, ideas that legitimate or justify the status quo. The dominant ideas are them or the ruling class and they function to prevent change by creating a false consciousness among workers. However despite these ideological barriers, Marx believes that ultimately the working class will develop a true class consciousness and unite the overthrow capitalism.

This shows that ideology is a belief system as in Marxism’s case it uses the ruling class believes to stop the poor from becoming successful. Feminists see gender inequality as the fundamental division and patriarchal ideology as playing a key role in legitimating it. Because a gender difference is a feature of all societies there exists many different ideologies to justify it. For example how ideas from science have been used to justify excluding women from education. In addition to patriarchal ideologies is science, those embodied in religious beliefs and practices have also been used to define women as inferior. This also shows that ideology can be a belief system in terms of beliefs and ideas about women and how inferior they are to men. Mannheim sees all belief systems as a partial or sided view worldview.

Their one sidedness results from being the viewpoint of one particular group or class and its interests. This leads him to distinguish between to board types of belief system or worldview. They are ideological thought which justifies keeping things as they are and utopian thought which justifies social change. Mannheim sees these worldviews as creations of groups of intellectuals who attach themselves to particular classes or social groups. However because these intellectuals represent the interests of particular groups and not society as a whole they only produce partial views of reality.

The belief system of each class or group only gives us a partial truth about the world. In conclusion there is evidence to show that both science and ideology can be a belief system. This is shown by using things such as science as an open and close belief system. The fact that science can never be objective because theories and experiments are carried out by humans which have feelings and therefore subjective. Science also seen as being socially constructed. The fact that Marxists and feminists see science also as a belief system that serves the interests of dominant groups. The idea that ideology is a belief system is seen as true as this is how sociologists define ideology.

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