What is science? Science has become a segregated branch of knowledge practiced by those who apply its methods in a systematic way. In reality, we all practice science. It is our method of learning through trial and error. We see a problem, devise a way to solve it, and try various techniques to come to a successful solution. The universe was created by bringing order to the chaos that proceeded it. That order is understandable by humans who have developed critical faculties to pose questions, propose answers and test results. People who are specialized in this technique, we have labeled as scientists, but we all really practice the craft.
For scientific findings to be accepted as true, there are rigorous procedures to be followed. The theses, methodology, tests and test results must be publicized and subjected to the scrutiny of others. The tests must be replicated to check if their results are consistent. The scientists must be available for the critique of others. Challenges to their findings must follow the same path of pointing out the fallacies of the findings and demonstrating the same rigor and openness to critique as the original scientists. They should publicize their challenge in reputable journals, and demonstrate why their findings are valid. That is how scientific knowledge grows.
Science took off as a specialized field of knowledge in the time of Copernicus, Galileo and Newton. It was a time of new found freedom of inquiry where religion no longer claimed final knowledge of the material universe. Individualism, and individual freedom to explore, question and test, set human minds free to understand the laws underpinning the order of nature. That freedom has unleashed an energetic search for how things work. Our society has benefitted much in every field of endeavor from scientific breakthroughs.
Does science threaten the security of people with traditional beliefs? Yes, it has in every age. Copernicus and Galileo were threatened for their views of the universe. Darwin’s findings on evolution and natural selection have been vilified, distorted and misused by some, while its main scientific principles have stood the test of time and challenges. It is not always easy to hear that beliefs we have been taught since childhood, have been challenged, and proven false through scientific inquiry. For most scientists, the universe was created with an order that follows consistent natural laws, and that human minds, working with the scientific method can illuminate that structure for the rest of us.
Can scientific knowledge be misused? Of course. Scientific discoveries can, at times, open avenues to great power and wealth for those who can dominate them. And, we know, where there is a pool of power and wealth, it will draw narcissistic and greedy people. The temptation is for demagogues to use new technologies to monopolize the machinery of government for their own political power. The strength of a democracy is that in a nation of diffuse political power, where people of good will work together, the cabals of narcissism, power and greed can be kept under control. This control is the work of rational laws and a government of common sense moderate citizens cooperating with each other. Our role as citizens of a democracy is to be committed to building a society where scientific achievements benefit the many, and not just enhancing the power and wealth of elites or political factions.