Monday, September 27, 2010

Dark Ages

Having Netflix Instant, I've been working through some programs and movies that I might not have watched otherwise. One of those programs is Stargate SG-1. I had seen random episodes through the years but had not watched a whole season. I liked the show but just didn't take the time to follow it. Anyway, I saw an episode (called Enigma in season 1 that had a line that I found interesting:

We'd be colonizing space right now if it hadn't been for the Dark Ages. There was a period of over eight hundred years where science was heresy and anathema. Maybe they didn't have that set-back.” – Daniel Jackson on the reason for the Tollan’s superior tech.

The SG-1 team had found a human society that appeared to be at least 500 years advanced of ours despite the fact that their humans had originated on Earth (and thus should be no more advanced). Dr. Jackson was commenting on the reason for Earth society's stunted scientific growth. The quote is interesting for a couple of reasons. First of all, is it true? I believe so. Given an additional 500 or 600 more years, imagine the advancements in propulsion, computing, physics, etc. (assuming we haven't destroyed ourselves).

That's the fascinating thing about science fiction. Sci-fi poses questions about life in an entertaining way and broaches subjects that would seem controversial or preachy in another context. Stargate is by no means on the level of Battlestar Gallactica as far as relevance is concerned. But, in its own way, it didn't do too bad in that department.

The quote is interesting for another reason. Does it say something about the current state of science and religion? Are we working towards a modern Dark Age? There is rampant anti-intellectualism. Anyone that dares to to doubt the existence of God is pilloried. Science that doesn't agree with someone's worldview is dismissed. People of influence and power in our government and media make quotes such as these:

Rush Limbaugh: "Despite the hysterics of a few pseudo-scientists, there is no reason to believe in global warming."

Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell on Bill Maher's show:

O’DONNELL: You know what, evolution is a myth. And even Darwin himself –

MAHER: Evolution is a myth?!? Have you ever looked at a monkey!

O’DONNELL: Well then, why they — why aren’t monkeys still evolving into humans?

And on FOX News: "They are — they are doing that here in the United States. American scientific companies are cross-breeding humans and animals and coming up with mice with fully functioning human brains. So they're already into this experiment."

And the always entertaining James Inhofe, global-warming denier par excellence:

" ... much of the debate over global warming is predicated on fear, rather than science. I called the threat of catastrophic global warming the "greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people,""

"I don't have to tell you about reading the Scriptures, but one of mine that I’ve always enjoyed is Romans 1, 22 and 23. You quit worshipping God and start worshipping the creation -- the creeping things, the four-legged beasts, the birds and all that. That’s their (the environmentalists') god. That’s what they worship. If you read Romans 1:25, it says, ‘and they gave up their God and started worshipping the creation.’ That's what we are looking at now, that’s what’s going on. And we can’t let it happen."

As Cincinnati columnist Ben L. Kaufman put it,

"In a nation accustomed to seeking simple answers to complex questions and a culture increasingly driven by belief rather than evidence, scientists today often are trying to communicate with the willfully deaf."

Something to think about. If rationality and reason are constantly subverted while belief and mysticism are elevated, are we diving headlong into another age of stifled development? Can our society survive another dark age?

"Science can teach us, and I think our own hearts can teach us, no longer to look around for imaginary supports, no longer to invent allies in the sky, but rather to look to our own efforts here below to make this world a fit place to live in, instead." -- Bertrand Russell


wunelle said...

One of our longest standing fears is that WMD will find their way into the hands of someone driven by ideology rather than rationality.

And in a move I suspect few expected, we're becoming those ideologues, converting from a people who value education and respect science and fact-based reasoning into a mob pummeling each other with our competing imaginary friends.

How ironic that the WMD have sat here in relative stability while it's our culture which has degraded around them.

I didn't see that coming!

CyberKitten said...

I think that there's a danger that *parts* of the world might turn their backs on science to one degree or another. Other parts will not, or at least not to the same extent, Hopefully those bits (that don't) will prosper at the expense of those that do.