Comes this War on Science?
recently read some interesting vignettes about two of the best-known
and respected founders of the United States, Benjamin Franklin
and George Washington.
While serving as a minister to France during
the Revolutionary War, Benjamin Franklin issued letters protecting
English naval explorers from being harassed by the American fleet.
It told American captains that as scientists, these Englishmen were
friends of all mankind.
Also during that war, General George Washington
returned a cache of medical lecture notes to the English that was
acquired at sea. According to what I read, he made it clear that
the United States did not make war on Science.
Another founder of high repute, John Adams
is quoted as saying that "Science and literature are no party
nor nation." In other words, knowledge, be it literary or scientific,
is to be respected as outside the boundaries of nationalism, politics
and war. It belongs to no one, and therefore belongs to all, and
to our shared safety and benefit.
These high-minded men reflected the age they
lived in, the Age of Reason. Benjamin Franklin was renown as a celebrity
throughout the world for his scientific achievements. Thomas
Jefferson was considered quite the Renaissance man, engaging
his free time in botany, zoology, agriculture, architecture and
philosophy. He not only respected the scientific method, he reveled
Two and a half centuries later, we find ourselves
in a world transformed by scientific discoveries that include the
ubiquitous uses of modern age electricity; gas driven engines that
provide tools and vehicles that carry us on land, sea and air; creative
means of generating power; agricultural advances that support the
nutritional needs of over six billion people; medical discoveries
that enhance our quality of life not only with increased health
but longevity as well. Science, rising to a national challenge,
has brought human footsteps to the moon, and exploratory craft to
the far reaches of the solar system. One by one, mysteries of the
universe, from atomic particles to the creation of stars, have added
to the sum of human knowledge, due to the rigorous methods of science.
How is it, then, that so many people in our generation
choose to ignore and even deny its present day warnings about climate
They do not just disregard warnings at the peril
of us all. They attack them as being false, subversive, politically
motivated lies. Foregoing common sense, they simple declare that
human pollution, no matter how much is generated and spewed into
the air and sea, has no effect on the world we live in.
It is easy too say things like "it isn't
proven," or "it's bad science," or "it's a conspiracy
started by a former vice-president." Such comments are based
on what? Wishful thinking? The insistence of a handful of media
commentators who make their money pushing political agendas? They
hold more credibility than the consensus of the world's scientific
community? The trouble is, we live in an age where partisanship
is such that one party feels obligated to take the opposite view
of the other, no matter what the consequences.
Perhaps the objections are religious. The bible
states that after the great flood, God stated that he would never
again punish the earth for the evils of man.
Does that cancel out the destructive threat of
climate change? The damage being done is not by God, but by human
irresponsibility. We have seen constant environmental destruction
unimpeded by the deity, including the American dustbowl of the early
20th century. Deforestation in the Amazon is responsible for multiple
extinctions. Our nuclear arsenal can annihilate life on this planet
a thousand times over. History shows us that genocides occur. It
seems obvious that the God of the bible has long allowed human beings
the freedom to wreck havoc on the earth, destroy entire species,
systematically kill millions of people, and selfishly continue behavior
that may eventually destroy us all.
Climate change is real. It was predicted in the
1960s, and overwhelming evidence continues to show that it is happening!
Even non-scientists like us can see it!
At first, those who want to convince you otherwise
denied that climate change was real. Now that we see it happening,
they have changed their claim to yes, it is real, but part of the
earth's natural cycle. Human behavior, they insist, has nothing
to do with it. They expect us to believe that we can constantly
pollute the atmosphere with toxic chemicals and nothing will happen!
How could anyone believe that? When we pollute streams and rivers
and aquifers, they eventually become poisonous. Why not the air?
The question arises why anyone would listen to
these deniers, who repeatedly prove themselves to be wrong? I am
reminded of when tobacco CEOs testified to Congress, under oath
(and knowing better), that there was no proof that tobacco products
contributed to cancer, despite all the scientific evidence. How
many people died because of that?
Truth is a force to be reckoned with, whether
we believe it or not. Science is not the enemy. It is a method for
discerning truth for the sake of better knowledge, for our convenience,
for our health and longevity, for our defense, and for letting us
know when we are doing something drastically wrong, and what to
do about it.
Those who deny science, even as they use and
profit from what science has given every day, are missing the very
best of what Western civilization has bequeathed us. They are missing
the best of the American experience, which includes having a mind
that is open to truth, and not afraid to confront the mysteries
that universe challenges us to understand.
Consider this profound quote from the book Finite
Games, and Infinite Games, by James P Carsse:
are at least two kinds of games. One could be called finite, the
other, infinite. A finite game is played for the purpose of winning,
an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play."
Let us live
our finite lives with an eye to infinite concerns.