It is an interesting question. The answer either is that all conservatives down through time have always opposed science (Theory 1) or that conservative opposition to science is a recent phenomenon and has to do with the fact that science rejects most of the foundational beliefs of conservatism (Theory 2).
I would argue that both are true. Conservatism is based on elitism, and elitism is a philosophy that is hard to justify in any remotely empirical sense. It is very hard to argue that a society in which almost all of the rewards flow to a tiny elite at the top while the rest wallow in the worst misery is the best of all possible worlds. Yet this is the argument of conservatism, always has been and always will be.
Another notion is that conservatism believes in freezing time. Conservatives in general are opposed to change. This is because due to the what I would argue are the rules or laws of history, mankind will always move towards change in a more progressive direction.
Conservatives of course will oppose all such change. In societies that have already moved dramatically forwards, conservatives will try to roll back the hands of time towards their Burkean monarchical dream society or whatever looks like it.
Mankind progresses away from hierarchy and towards relative equality. Conservatism opposes anything remotely representing the slightest of equality and always supports the most backwards and primitive of hierarchical orders. So conservatism in our modern era will always be on the wrong side of the historical process.
What meager gains in makes in rolling back time to their wonder era where niggers knew their place, a man’s home was his castle and women were prim and proper ladies will always be rolled back rather quickly by the inevitable forces of history.
In societies that have moved forwards substantially beyond the primitive order, conservatives will always be reactionaries, trying to roll back the hands of time back to the era where everything was fine and dandy (italicized above).
Science does not believe in remaining in place as scientific knowledge always moves forward, always progresses. Science opposes stagnation and so opposes the very nature of conservatism itself. And of course science is not reactionary. Science does not believe in rolling back modern science and going back to the era of Copernicus and bloodletting and leeches in medicine.
Since science is open minded and ready to reject any theory that is not empirically proven, it’s automatically opposed to conservatism. Conservatism is based on dogmas that are deeply believed but imperfectly proven, if they are proven at all.
The general dogma of conservatism is that conservatism is good for the elite and bad for everyone else. Even in the social sciences, conservative dogma falls flat on its face.
Neoliberalism has a record almost as bad as real existing socialism, yet one is a failed ideology while the other continues to be championed around the globe.
In economic science, it’s long been proven that structural adjustment is bad for 3rd world countries, that the 3rd world debt is unpayable and that trickle down or supply side economics has been proven repeatedly to not work. Instead of learning their lessons, conservatives keep repeating the failed policies of the past.
The economic crash proved that neoliberalism and supply side economics always fails catastrophically, yet the conservative response to the crash was to double down and do the same neoliberalism – supply side theory twice, or five times a much!
It’s been proven that abstinence sex ed doesn’t work, but conservatives push it anyway. Denying women contraceptives will have many ill affects on society, but conservatives push it anyway. All research in pubic health completely rejects conservative theory in medicine (private medicine). Private or capitalist education always fails.
Bilingual education works well, and getting rid of it is harmful to L2 speakers. Cutting back on education makes for a worse society, not a better society. Cutting back on science spending harms society on many levels, including economically.
Global warming is supported by 98% of climate scientists, but conservatives uniformly reject it. In fact, conservatives reject almost all environmental science. Use of antibiotics in factory farms leads to antibiotic resistance, but conservatives don’t believe it. Colony collapse disorder is caused by Bayer’s insecticides, but conservatives so no it isn’t.
The more guns you have, the more crime and gun crime, but conservatives say no. If you don’t fix highways and bridges, they will all start to fall apart, costing the economy terribly and possibly killing motorists. Conservatives say that’s not true.
Much of conservative rejection of science is based on religion. Conservatives don’t believe in evolution, so they reject the entire foundational basis of modern biology and indeed a good part of modern medicine too. Conservatives believe male homosexuality is a lifestyle, while science suggests it is not. They say that therapy changes gay men straight, but science suggests otherwise.
In short, almost nothing that modern conservatives believe, almost none of the dogmas that they hold dear, hold up empirically in the scientific community. Of course scientists themselves increasingly reject the backwards and primitive ideology of conservatism. In 1965, 40% of scientists were Republicans. Now only 8% are.
In the academy, conservatives are quite rare, and ideology and research coming out of our institutions of higher learning increasingly rejects conservatism in most ways. The smarter someone is, the less likely they are to be conservative. Conservative PhD’s are rather rare.
Yet as Edmund Burke, admirer of the French monarchy, fierce critic of Jacobinism and father of modern conservatism himself noted, while not all conservatives are stupid, most stupid people are conservatives. This was true in 1866, and it is still true today. In fact, it is even more true.
What is interesting that the leading force of idiotism, anti-education, anti-science and Know Nothingism in the US is now White men. This group was once the leading edge of a movement called Progressivism in the US. This was the group that freed the slaves, emancipated women, instituted universal education, etc. Now it’s the largest and most fiercely idiotic and deliberately stupid group in the country.