Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The war on science

We are all depressed by the madness that seems to be presently engulfing the world, the fury of mindless antagonisms between peoples of different religious faiths and cultures. Of course, there is nothing new in any of this; thus it has always been. Is there any chance that we might rid ourselves of this irrational fear of the other?

In his introduction to Michael Shermer's book Why People Believe Weird Things, the late, great Stephen Jay Gould wrote: "Only two possible escapes can save us from the organized mayhem of our dark potentialities -- the side that has given us crusades, witch hunts, enslavements, and holocausts. Moral decency provides one necessary ingredient, but not nearly enough. The second foundation must come from the rational side of our mentality. For, unless we rigorously use human reason to discover and acknowledge nature's factuality...we will lose out to the frightening forces of irrationality, romanticism, uncompromising 'true' belief, and the the apparent resulting inevitability of mob action."

It is a sad commentary on the present political climate in America that it emphasizes what is presumed to be "moral decency," while at the same time denigrating "nature's factuality."