05 March 2012

Ken Miller: “America’s Darwin Problem”

Significant numbers of Americans have come to regard the scientific enterprise as a special interest group that rejects mainstream American values and is not worthy of the public trust. Governor Rick Perry of Texas spoke to this view when he claimed that “There are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data” to their own benefit. Why? Perry was clear about this. It’s personal greed. Scientists cheat “so that they will have dollars rolling in to their projects.” Perry is hardly alone in his effort to depict scientists as greedy outsiders, “scamming the American people right and left” in the words of one Fox News commentator. Kenneth R. Miller

I can’t help but draw a parallel between this anti-science movement in present-day America and Martin Luther’s Reformation of the Catholic Church. As theology tries to understand God, so does Science strives to make sense of the Universe around us and man itself. As the Reformation encouraged people to reject the establishment of the Church, the priests and that past status quo and develop a personal relationship to God, so this anti-science trend undermines the scientific reasoning, scientists and their conclusions and promotes the notion that each individual somehow magically knows best, even without any training on the matter. Evolution can’t be true, neither can global warming; and why should I have to inoculate my child against common diseases? Surely that must be some conspiracy to sell those medicines or turn us all sterile! That old reactionary attitude seems to have lived on in modern-day Protestantism; a suspicion that a small group of people will gather to much power and use it to their own ends. Unfortunately, while such reformation can be accommodated on a spiritual level, in the field of science it’s unsustainable. Single persons can’t possibly comprehend the entirety of science, built during centuries of theories and experiments, from quantum mechanics to general relativity, to biology and medicine, let alone turn them into practical applications for every-day use. To continue to benefit from knowledge and scientific progress we must also accept that sometimes somebody else knows best. Just as we have been doing since the dawn of our species – otherwise we wouldn’t have made it this far.

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