A recent McClatchy news story raised an issue that should be getting more attention than it has regarding an apparent lack of interest for science in this country.
Americans have trouble dealing with science, … says Shawn Lawrence Otto. Otto is the author of a new book, “Fool me twice: Fighting the assault on science in America,” which opens with a quote from Thomas Jefferson: “Whenever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government.”
And if the people and their leaders aren’t well informed and don’t use scientific information to solve modern problems, Otto suggests, the United States could soon skid into decline.
“Without the mooring provided by the well-informed opinion of the people, governments may become paralyzed or, worse, corrupted by powerful interests seeking to oppress and enslave,” he writes SOURCE
This country has benefitted greatly from the advances of science and it’s hard to find many Americans who don’t feel some affinity toward this field of inquiry. But I think it is safe to say that this affinity stops for most at their basic high school courses and its association with technological advances that have made life fun and easier. There are bodies of science though that try to find answers to man’s life-long concern about how earth and all that inhabit it came to be. Most notably of course is the Big Bang theory that speculates our origins have evolved following an explosion of space within itself billions of years ago.
It was this scientific concept preceded by others that questioned the religious views who hold that the answers to such questions lay within ancient religious scriptures. From this conflict the attitude by those within society that feel science can’t be trusted seem to have made an impact on science’s ascendency as well as it’s defamation.
Now it’s not that science is automatically the enemy of those who feel a supernatural power lay at the base of all of our knowledge. Many like myself at one time held that there perhaps indeed was a creator as described in the Bible but that all knowledge was still yet to be discovered. Much of what was thought to be true in scriptures surrounding the physicality of our planet has been dismissed by science, i.e., a flat world and the sun revolving around the earth. Such flaws weaken the claim that the Bible is “the inerrant word of God”. I have always held that science is the window into this creation, though today I have no affiliation with organized religion. We make a serious mistake holding to the view that all perceptions of ancient “wise men” are absolutes.
Science seems to suffer most during moments of high social anxiety, when life seems threatened by natural disasters and economic hard times; not that the discipline can’t make reasonable responses to these threats. It is striking too that we often fail to make the connection between scientific discovery and it’s negative consequences that result when self-interests or so-called national defense needs exploit it without contemplating any long-term, negative aspects, until of course it is too late.
It is at such times that a handful of people attribute our woes to the falling from grace from some traditional views about a supernatural Creator and convince the unsophisticated masses that if we were only to return to a time when we were in some perfect “Eden” state would our problems be resolved.
All great cultures have seen their ruin begin about the time there was a religious fundamentalist movement afoot that condemned the “excesses of our culture” and shifted the social paradigm where strict orthodoxy laid claim to the social power structure. This theme is predominant throughout Jewish history but it is also apparent in other cultures. Once Christianity assimilated into the great Greek and Roman cultures with all of their scientific advances and ultimately dominated the power base, we see those countries under their influence in Western Europe slowly devolve into a state of ignorance and subservience that we appropriately call, The Dark Ages.
Science becomes relegated to a few quasi-science fields, like alchemy, that don’t threaten the religious status quo of the time. Similar results can be seen with the expansion of the Arab World
Much like America today, the Arab world of the seventh to the thirteenth centuries was a great cosmopolitan civilization. It was an enormous unifying enterprise, one which joined the peoples of Spain and North Africa in the west with the peoples of the ancient lands of Egypt, Syria and Mesopotamia in the east. SOURCE
The scientific advances attributed to Arabs in the field of mathematics, astronomy, medicine, geography and horticulture are still with us today. In fact, had it not been for the Arab culture of this period while Europe lay dormant in the Dark Ages, much of the scientific knowledge that had been achieved by greats like Aristotle, Plato, Hippocrates, Eratosthenes and Leucippus would have been lost.
So what prevented the Arab world from keeping pace with scientific progress in the West? According to Dr. Lourdes Alvarez, Director of Medieval and Byzantine studies at the Catholic University of America, the Islamic fundamentalist dynasties of the Almoravid and Almohad came to rule Spain during the 12th and 13th century. They used torture to force non-Muslims to join their system of belief, a practice that ultimately diminished the communities of scholars and intellectuals.
“ … the Almoravids, were more puritanical than previous Muslim rulers of Spain .. [and] were more traditional in their beliefs than any Islamic caliphate that came before them. SOURCE
These fundamentalist rulers were aligned with the thinking of twentieth-century Muslim thinker Sayyid Qutb. Qutb feels there have been only two methods of organizing human life:
“ … one that declares God to be the sole sovereign and source of legislation, and another – SCIENCE – that rejects God, either as a force in the universe or as the lord and administrator of society. These two methods are irreconcilable: the first denotes Islam, the second paganism. Once human beings accept legislation to be dependent on the will of an individual, a minority or a majority, and not as the prerogative of God alone, they lapse into a type of paganism, be it a dictatorship, capitalism, theocracy or communism.” SOURCE
Through out our nation’s history there have been religious revivals that promote the view that our way of life is threatened by the “paganism” of science and all who advocate it. This is clearly evidenced by many within the religious-right today who attack the science of climatology that exposes us to the very real threat of man-made global warming through our growing use of carbon-based fossil fuels to power our homes and businesses. This unnatural rapid increase in global warming melts glaciers and polar caps, elevating sea levels around the world, threatening large populations in coastal cities and island inhabitants. But such a view is incomprehensible in the eyes of one fundamentalist politician.
John Shimkus, an evangelical Christian representing Illinois, quoted the Bible in a congressional hearing last year on a proposed “cap and trade” legislation designed to limit carbon emissions.
Reading from God’s post-Flood promise to Noah in Genesis 8:21, he said: “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though all inclinations of his heart are evil from childhood and never again will I destroy all living creatures as I have done.”
Mr Shimkus added: “I believe that’s the infallible word of God, and that’s the way it’s going to be for his creation.
“The Earth will end only when God declares it’s time to be over. Man will not destroy this Earth. This Earth will not be destroyed by a Flood. I do believe that God’s word is infallible, unchanging, perfect.” SOURCE
It bothers me deeply that the faith I once attached myself to and relied on to comfort me in tough times has been hi-jacked by whack jobs who insist on reading into the claims of scripture more to defend some corporate agenda for the coal and oil industries than one that serves a more genuine need to preserve what people of faith claim God created for us all. It equally disturbs me too that religious extremists insists that science is anything other than a method by which we can better understand this life we all share.
If scientific inquiry is not a gift of our “God-given brain” then such a function must have been just another mistake like birth defects and suicide bombers. Such a notion however doesn’t register with fundamentalists who firmly believe a perfect God is in complete control of all things.
“Religion’s incurable disability … lies in its insistence that the answer to [the cosmos and of our own nature] can be determined with certainty on the basis of revelation and faith. ” – Christopher Hitchens