I agree with most of what you’ve posted, but just for the sake of playing devil’s advocate…
Concerning the “dogmatism” of science, perhaps an example or two would be in order. I can think of couple right off the top of my head.
A weak example is the sort of day-to-day, layman’s dogmatism regarding science, that involves a sort of skeptical, knee-jerk response to anything that might go beyond the bounds of the commonly accepted, scientific view of the world. I see this sort of thing quite often, even here on the SDMB. The moment someone suggests that the universe might not be constructed in exactly the manner science claims, s/he is often called upon immediately to provide “scientific” evidence that his/her version of the universe might possess a modicum of validity. Since the version of things promoted by such an individual might not be particularly scientific, the proof is rather hard to come by. When such “scientific” proof is not forthcoming, the person in question is often heckled or ridiculed for being “gullible,” “misguided,” and so on. Basically what I’m trying to point out is that for such skeptics, science functions as a secular belief system, in a manner not at all unlike a religious belief system. They do actually have “faith” in science, and categorically, even dogmatically, dismiss all other possible interpretations of Nature.
A second example, which is arguably less dogmatism and more conservatism, could be the one Polanyi used in the paper I mentioned earlier. It concerned some research he had personally done regarding the behavior of polymers on a smooth surface. Because he proposed a rather radical interpretation of his experimental results, they were discounted, and wound up in the dust bin. 15 years later, some new experiments produced similar results, and eventually his interpretation was accepted. We can debate whether or not this should be considered an example of dogmatism or conservatism, but Polanyi uses the term “dogmatic” to describe the reaction he received. He argues that had no one performed the experiments that confirmed his work, it would probably still be in the dust bin. Nevertheless, Polanyi considers the “dogmatism” of science to be a good thing.
My final example, which I consider a strong argument for scientific dogmatism, is a debate currently raging here in Sweden over the status of a specific group problem children, many of whom have been diagnosed with some of the newer versions of MBD (minimal brain dysfunction), such as DAMP and ADHD. These disorders are relatively new neuropsychological entities (although MBD has been around since the 1930s). It is my understanding that the experimental evidence for the existence of these brain dysfunctions is in fact quite ambiguous, and the etiology is even more in dispute – proponents claim the physical “stigmata” of the are disorders so slight we have no real means of detecting them. (MBD was based on the idea that the lesions in the brain were so small as to be basically invisible.) Anyway, all that is a bit of an oversimplification, but never mind. The point is that a prominent psychiatrist here in country is pushing for the general acceptance of these diagnostic categories, which he also claims affects nearly 10% of the population. He proposes to treat them with lifetime doses of Ritalin.
Now, in the field of psychology, which is where I work, there are a lot of gray areas, and this is one of them. There are some people who argue that DAMP is just a means of stigmatizing a large number of unruly children, many of whom suffer from psychosocial difficulties rather than biological illness. But please believe me when I tell you that the scientific community gives short shrift to this kind of argumentation – in part because there is little or no scientific research to back it up. The scientific response to these sorts of arguments really cannot be described as anything other than dogmatic.
Sorry about the long-winded post. Just another couple of quick points and I’ll be finished.
Concerning Popper, for what it’s worth, I’ve read quite a bit. In fact, I have his Logic of Scientific Discovery sitting behind me on my bookshelf as I write this. I don’t know too much about his Probability Calculus, however, which is a dense thing indeed. I’m not sure my poor brain can encompass it. But I can say this; the relevance of Popper is a matter of context. Falsification is certainly used in formulating scientific experiments, at least here. But I am of the impression that aside from a few die-hard fans, Popper is no longer considered relevant in philosophical circles. I could, of course, be wrong, as this is merely a subjective impression. Anyway, off-hand I can come up with lots of difficulties in applying falsification as a demarcation criteria.
Regarding the differences between science and religion, I would have to say that at the very least, science lacks any sort of standard rituals for the laity, which I consider to be a necessary characteristic for a religion.
Finally, I wonder if you can explain the “scientific method” to me. Or, should I say, “methods?” “Unity of method,” along with “intersubjective sense certainty,” were the clarion calls of positivism, but the problem was that no one could actually agree on precisely what this method was.