About 500 years ago a thing happened in Europe: The Scientific Renaissance. It was part of a larger thing, called the Scientific Revolution. These were the seeds that lead to the Age of Enlightenment, when science and rationality were the saviors of humanity lifting us up from the dark ages.
Now the Renaissance is mostly seen as a traveling annual party where people can play Medieval dress-up and eat giant turkey legs (thus proving that anything can be trivialized and you are what you eat). Which is all fine. I enjoy a good outdoor party as much as anyone, and it is interesting finding out what mead actually tastes like.
But I fear we’re forgetting the advances made in the real Renaissance and setting sail back to the Dark Ages.
As recently as the 1950s “The Atomic Age” was seen as the beginning of the future. Atomic power and science would solve all our problems and provide limitless energy (and various superheroes). Flying atomic cars and vacation homes on the moon were just around the corner.
Then we nuked Japan a couple of times (gotta test those new weapons!), and we began to realize that atomic power wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. [Downside: no Spiderman. Upside: no Hulk!]
Make no mistake, I support the idea of nuclear power, and I know that — when it’s done right — it’s reasonably safe and would go along way to solving our energy problems. The problem is that I also know our current society isn’t capable of doing it right. We can’t even discuss it rationally. Worse, once Big Business gets involved and starts cutting corners to maximize profits, it becomes a disaster waiting to happen.
Which it already has. Several times now.
Was it that we invested ourselves so deeply in beating those pesky “Rooskies” to the moon, and all we got for it was a rock collection? (And not even a particularly pretty rock collection.)
In any event, I wonder to what extent our disappointment and disillusionment causes us to turn our backs on science. And make no mistake: we are turning our backs on science. I’ve heard people say, “I don’t care what the scientists say.”
Is it that science seems “too hard” to learn? Many people freely admit they “hate math!” To me that seems like saying they hate thinking with precision. How can something as simple as “one plus one equals two” be something to hate?
But I can understand hating math, at least a little. Going beyond “1+1=2” does require some education, some effort and some time. It can require learning some new terms and ideas. Yet — given the importance of math in our world — isn’t it worth some effort?
Doesn’t that go even more so for science? We live in a technological, scientific world, so wouldn’t having a basic grasp of science be a Good Idea?
Is it that science forces people to face — and maybe reconsider — their superstitions and beliefs? Polls vary, but according to a 2009 Harris poll, 72% of USAnians belief in angels and 60% believe in the devil. There are 42% who believe in ghosts and 26% who believe in astrology.
The thing is that no evidence backs up any of these beliefs. No one has ever seen any actual sign of an angel or the devil or a ghost. No creditable evidence exists demonstrating the effectiveness (or even validity) of astrology.
What a person chooses to believe is their affair, but how is it that only 45% believe in Darwin’s Theory of Evolution? That one does have plenty of evidence. So much so that it amounts to established fact.
[To those who respond, “Then why is it called a ‘theory’?” I ask only this: please come with me to the roof of a 10-story building, step off the edge and then turn around and talk to me about the “theory” of gravity. It’s only a theory, right?]
In contrast, 40% believe in creationism, and that’s one with plenty of evidence proving it is absolutely, positively, without a doubt false. Believing in creationism is like believing the Earth is flat. It requires ignoring basic, easily demonstrated facts.
[To believe in creationism, you have to believe in a trickster god who created a world in which science clearly works (cars, medicine, radio, refrigerators, cell phones), but despite its utter consistency and universality, it lies to us in myriad very important ways to trick us into thinking the Earth is billions of years old.]
I have written here many times about spirituality, so please understand that I’m not trying to get between anyone and their god. I am suggesting that the same god that created science might want you to appreciate that wonderful creation. I am suggesting that the same god who gave you a mind might want you to actually use it.
Big Money wants you ignorant and stupid so it can have its way with you without intelligent interference. For those who believe in god and the devil, which is mostly likely to benefit from your ignorance? The god who created this glorious creation or the devil who also wants to have its way with you without intelligent interference?
“Evil doesn’t question itself.”
It can’t, because those questions lead to contradictions proving that one is on the wrong path. It is only when you can ask and answer thoughtful questions that you can hope to avoid missteps.
Maybe it’s as simple as that learning science and rational thought isn’t instant. It takes effort and time, and these days we tend to want instant answers and easy solutions. Increasingly it seems that only athletes and artists remember the importance of hard work, dedication and persistence.
Whatever the cause, we seem to be forgetting the value of science and rational thought. We even seem to be losing the ability to discuss and think about these important parts of our world.
We seem to be heading towards a Dark Age, and that scares the hell out of me!
I’m pretty sure it won’t all be turkey legs, mead and ribald ballads.