Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Our post-scientific era
Counterknowledge, the corpus of pseudofactual narratives that dominate much of today’s discourse, shocks many in the scientific community. I often talk to scientists who cannot comprehend why intelligent people, some with science degrees, are so gullible that they take homeopathy drugs, read their horoscopes and believe that aliens frequently visit our planet aboard UFOs. Richard Dawkins has been prominent in forging a camp of polemical atheists who, presumably fed up with counterknowledge, have raised their intellectual arms against the resurgence of religion. Meanwhile, creationism gains ground in the west and is the dominant belief in the Muslim world as well as among Muslims living in western countries. I am told that the President of China has been reported claiming that Chinese vessels circumnavigated the world in 1421 and established colonies in South America. Is the world going crazy? It seems to me that the world has entered a post-scientific era. The Enlightment project, still unfinished, is on the defense everywhere. A medieval mentality had returned whereby belief is more important than fact, where connections and patterns between disparate things are put together in order to “prove” the most incredible things. The media, applying the only filter they care for (i.e. ratings) propagate these narratives and thus legitimize them further. The results range from comical to tragic. People in South Africa have been dying of AIDS because their ex-President believed that the disease is not caused by a virus but by social conditions. Scientists have a new social responsibility. They cannot hide in their labs, watch the other way, delegate the issue to politicians. If they do, soon there may be no labs. If the trends of today are left unchecked, then in the not-so-distant future tax money may be diverted to building astrological observatories and laws may be enacted that require the ritualistic blessings of "enlightened" beings in order for society to function. Dawkins has been criticized for causing a “polarization” between science and religion. My opinion is that he has not caused anything of the kind; he has simply shown to the rest of us that such a polarization already exists and we should wake up and do something about it. The future could well be of a world in possession of nuclear technology and the lack of rational thinking. Imagine the Crusaders attacking medieval Jerusalem with atom bombs and you’ll get the picture. This is the definition of a nightmare.