Secularism, by at least one definition, is about the separation of religious institutions from governmental ones. As an atheist, this is pretty much a no-brainer for me, but it’s a good idea, even for religious people, because it prevents all sorts of abuses of power both in terms the state’s influence on religion and religion’s influence on the state.
But what about science? In various conversations, as well as other contexts, I’ve been presented with the idea that if scientists were in charge, the world would be a better place. I have to say, I find this idea a little scary, if moderately less scary, than if religious people were in charge. Science can tell us what is and how it is, but that doesn’t mean ‘what is’ is always desirable, or that the people who are experts in what is, can be relied upon to make the best choices for society as a whole. It is up to all of us to decide what has value, and what we want to accept or change.
What we have to remember is that there is a big difference between an empirical finding and a policy recommendation. Data can be used to show many things we might not like, including differences between groups. But would we, or should we, legislate based on that? Infringe on anyone’s rights? To do so would be to reduce an individual and his/her potential to the group he/she happened to be born into. To place limits on a person’s rights based on incidental factors beyond his/her control should be recognized as bigotry. We don’t need to reject data to make that political point.
We all have our own ideological assumptions, and it’s very common for people to want to use science to support their assumptions, agendas and goals. But keeping ideology and science separate is as important to good governance as it is to good science.