There is much concern today over religious zealots and fanatics. But what about the problem of scientific zeal?
Science as Religion
We have discussed the problem that the word ‘religion’ means to be tied up, and is not necessarily connected to theology. People may be ‘tied up’ – i.e., dogmatic – about anything, spirituality, the humanities, arts, fashion, politics.
And science. Scientific zeal is a large problem that is often overlooked.
We also considered that the alternative to religion/knowledge is faith, in the broadest sense of the word: an open-minded humility about life, value and progress. Humility reminds us that other people are also thinking, inquiring, sentient beings who are deserving of compassion. Given time, patience, and encouragement, people will arrive at valid conclusions on their own. They may not be our conclusions, of course. But first, in complex systems there can be multiple solutions. Second, if more than one solution can work, someone else might come up with a better one. Third, we just may be wrong. That’s the problem with scientific zeal, that’s where open-mindedness comes in. None of us has access to absolute Truth.
None of us.
Open-mindedness and humility: above all, we have to question ourselves and be tolerant of others’ ideas. The discussion about evolution over the past few posts is a good example. Creationists and Darwinists have been tearing at one another, religious fundamentalists vs scientific zealots, when in the grand scheme of things the fight is minor. Where in the management of our lives, our careers, or in our debate about national policy, do we ever make decisions that need to be based on either creationism or Darwinism?
Fundamentalists, in any camp, don’t want us to think for ourselves. That’s part of the definition of fundamentalism, that there’s only one interpretation. And oh, by the way? That one interpretation just happens to be the fundamentalist’s.1)See the post on disagreements among conservatives: fundamentalists may insist that they agree, that they trace all of their beliefs back to some fundamental document. They don’t agree. Seat any two fundamentalists – Christian, Islamic, Constitutional, or other – in the same room and have them work through the relevant texts. They won’t agree. If you keep them at it, eventually they may begin accusing each other of apostasy. They just tell themselves that they agree and then ignore any contradicting information.
In this debate there are fundamentalists on both sides. And in their struggles to be the sole arbiters of truth, both sides miss the important middle ground where there is not only consensus, but useful consensus.
Galileo: Who Moves?
Look at the picture above, Galileo Pushes Away the Bible. Scholars debate why Galileo was persecuted for simply restating Copernicus’s 70 year-old theory, when Copernicus was not. Let me offer that picture as one possibility: Copernicus was reticent about his ideas, while Galileo was adamant. Copernicus said that the heliocentric approach was useful, it made the calculations easier; he never said it was true. There is no way to know, but we have to wonder how much of Galileo’s arrogance and scientific zeal created not only his problems, but problems for free inquiry which persisted for the next 350 years (the Roman Catholic Church only apologized to Galileo in 1992).
And over what? Neither position would have any measurable impact on the human condition for centuries. The debate between geocentrism and heliocentrism wasn’t important to anyone, nor to anything except intellectual inquiry – and scholars already had access to Copernicus. So why did Galileo feel the need to launch his own crusade (irony intended)? We must wonder whether Galileo’s scientific zeal hastened the spread of heliocentrism, or delayed it.
Adversity as Advocacy
It’s not a small point. There is a comment I ran across many years ago, about how Paul traveled the Mediterranean preaching his version of Christianity. In many cities he faced persecution, and in those cities he frequently founded churches. In Athens, however, they listened to Paul politely and discussed his ideas.
And Paul founded no church in Athens.
How often when we attack a person or his position do we strengthen his cause, and undermine our own? And when both sides attack one another, how often are the real victims independent thought and diffuse progress?
This is where scientists and other intellectuals can become religious and fundamentalist. In their zeal to repudiate those who disagree, scientists can become every bit as unreasonable and closed minded as fundamentalists in theological religions.
And when creationists and Darwinists battle each other, in their scientific zeal they foment intellectual abuse. In the donnybrook over minor particulars, they tear away at the grand truths of independent thought, objective inquiry, and intellectual freedom.
And they deny others their right to their own ideas; and so they deny them the right to learn, to grow, and to become larger people. In insisting that the Earth moves, Galileo was insisting that he would not. If his adversaries would not submit, he refused to respectfully listen and discuss, to teach, to educate. Rather, he would hector, he would ridicule, he would attack.
So this pivotal moment in the emergence of humanism demonstrates a regrettable lack of humanity. It’s no small point; scientists and historians overlook the fact that Galileo was also wrong. Granted, Galileo was partly correct, the Earth is not the center of the universe. But he was partly wrong: neither is the Sun.
And neither was Galileo.
When scientists are sure of what they ‘know’, they become as closed-minded as religious fundamentalists. Consider how Darwinism became social Darwinism, how genetics became eugenics and genocide, and how closely allied the two abusive approaches are.
Education does not insure accuracy nor justice. Hitler, Stalin and Mao were well-read, highly intelligent people. But they were highly intelligent people who Knew The Truth, who knew what was best for everyone else. And what was best for everyone else was a fundamentalist conformity to their ideologies. Hitler is notorious for executing over 10M civilians, but Stalin murdered in excess of 40M, and Mao slaughtered more than 70M. They did these things under The Truth, under perversions of Darwinism and genetics and communism, with the support of scientists and thinkers who equally possessed The Truth. It bears remarkable resemblance to what Christians did in the Inquisition, and what ISIS is doing today. When you’re a hammer, the whole world is a nail. Or a game of intellectual Whack-a-Mole.
The fact is, the problem was never geocentrism vs heliocentrism, creationism vs Darwinism, communism vs capitalism, genetics vs culture, Islam or Christianity.
The problem always was, and is, intolerance vs open-mindedness.
Intolerance and intellectual abuse deny people their own minds, their own ideas, and worst of all, their own innate humanity.
Up next: Thomas J. Lupo and Taffy 3
Picture: Galileo Pushes away the Bible, courtesy Wikimedia.org.
Footnotes [ + ]
|1.||↑||See the post on disagreements among conservatives: fundamentalists may insist that they agree, that they trace all of their beliefs back to some fundamental document. They don’t agree. Seat any two fundamentalists – Christian, Islamic, Constitutional, or other – in the same room and have them work through the relevant texts. They won’t agree. If you keep them at it, eventually they may begin accusing each other of apostasy. They just tell themselves that they agree and then ignore any contradicting information.|