.....Science began its fight to supplant myth and magic on the grounds that it provided more valid explanations of nature.
Yet myths and magic rituals and religious beliefs attempt the same task. Science produces a cosmogony as a general structure to explain the major questions of existence. So do the Edda and Gilgamesh epics, and the belief in Creation and the garden of Eden. Myths provide structures which give cause-and effect reasons for the existence of phenomena. So does science. Rituals use secret languages known only to the initiates who have passed ritual tests and who follow the strictest rules of procedure which are essential if the magic is to work. Science operates in the same way. Myths confer stability and certainty because they explain why things happen or fail to happen, as does science. The aim of the myth is to explain existence, to provide a means of control over nature, and to give to us all comfort and a sense of place in the apparent chaos of the universe. This is precisely the aim of science.
Science, therefore for all the reasons above, is not what it appears to be. It is not objectively impartial, since every observation it makes of nature is impregnated with theory. Nature is so complex and so random that it can only be approached with a systematic tool that presupposes certain facts about it. Without such a pattern it would be impossible to find an answer to questions even as simple as 'What am I looking at?'
The structure is institutionalised and given permanence by the educational system. Agreement on the structure is efficient: it saves investigators from having to go back to first principles each time. The theory of the structure dictates what 'facts' shall be, and all values and assessments of results are internal to the structure. Since theory 'creates' facts, and facts prove the theory, the argument of science is circular. Commitment to the theory is essential to orderly progress. The unknown can only be examined by first being defined in terms of the structure.
The implications of this are that, since the structure of reality changes over time, science can only answer contemporary questions about a reality defined in contemporary terms and investigated with contemporary tools. Logic is shaped by the values of the time; for Abelard it is revealed truth, for Galileo experimental evidence. Language, too, changes: in the fifteenth century 'earth' means 'fixed, unmoving'; in the eighteenth century 'electric' implies 'liquid'; 'space' before Georg Riemann is two-dimensional. Method is similarly dependent upon context: dialectic argument is replaced by empirical observation which is replaced by statistical probability. Science learns from mistakes only because they are deemed as such by the new structure.
In spite of its claims, science offers no method or universal explanation of reality adequate for all time. The search for the truth, the 'discovery of nature's secrets', as Descartes put it, is an idiosyncratic search for temporary truth. One truth is replaced by another. The fact that over time science has provided a more complex picture of nature is not in itself final proof that we live by the best, most accurate model so far.
The knowledge acquired through the use of any structure is selective. There are no standards or beliefs guiding the search for knowledge which are not dependent on the structure. Scientific knowledge, in sum, is not necessarily the clearest representation of what reality is; it is the artifact of each structure and its tool. Discovery is invention. Knowledge is man-made.
If this is so, then all views at all times are equally valid. There is no metaphysical, super-ordinary, final, absolute reality. There is no special direction to events. The universe is what we say it is. When theories change, the universe changes. The truth is relative.
This relativist view is generally shunned. It is supposed by the Left to dilute commitment and by the Right to leave society defenceless. In fact it renders everybody equally responsible for the structure adopted by the group. If there is no privileged source of truth, all structures are equally worth assessment and equally worth toleration. Relativism neutralises the views of extremists of all kinds. It makes science accountable to the society from which its structure springs. It urges care in judgment through awareness of the contextual nature of the judgmental values themselves.
A relativist approach might well use the new electronic data systems to provide a structure unlike any which has gone before. If structural change occurs most often through the juxtaposition of so-called 'facts' in a novel way, then the systems might offer the opportunity to evaluate not the facts which are, at the present rate of change, obsolete by the time they come to public consciousness, but the relationships between facts: the constants in the way they interact to produce change. Knowledge would then properly include the study of the structure itself.
Such a system would permit a type of 'balanced anarchy' in which all interests could be represented in a continuous reappraisal of the social requirements for knowledge, and the value judgments to be applied in directing the search for that knowledge. The view that this would endanger the position of the expert by imposing on his work the judgment of the layman ignores the fact that science has always been the product of social needs, consciously expressed or not. Science may well be a vital part of human endeavour, but for it to retain the privilege which it has gained over the centuries of being in some measure unaccountable would be to render both science itself and society a disservice. It is time that knowledge became more accessible to those to whom it properly belongs.James Burke - Wolrds Without End