There is a particular science fiction author that I really like. His name is James P. Hogan. He writes hard science fiction and it’s fake, but it’s internally consistent, which is excellent. One of his novels, I just reread, is The Genesis Machine.
It takes place in 2003-2004. Without giving away too much, the world is on the brink of war and a scientist is fighting against the massive amount of control of the government. For a book written in 1978, it’s quite good.
As I was reading, this passage stuck out at me and I thought it so accurate with what is really happening today, I wanted to share.
The reason I’m standing here today is essentially to protest – to protest at a society that perpetuates a system of values that are becoming insane. Throughout history man’s greatest enemies – from which practically all our other problems follow – have been two: ignorance and superstition. The most powerful wepon that man has developed to combat these enemies is science – the acquisition and harnessing of knowledge. And yet with every day that goes by, we see more and more science being used not to solve the problems of mankind but to aggravate them. Science is being subordinated to the service of our lowest instincts.
I am a scientist. I live in a world that is being torn apart by hatred and mistrust that I’ve had no part in making, and the reasons for them don’t interest me. The situation is the making of people I don’t know but who claim to act in my names. Those same people now presume the right to expect me to give up my own life in order to meet obligations that they feel I owe them. Just to make my position clear, I’ve never acknowledged any such obligations.
During the scientific Renaissance in Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, men found out for the first time how to distinguish fact from fancy, truth from falsity, and reality from dreams. From genuine knowledge came inventiveness… industry… intellectual freedom… affluence. Europe was unique among civilizations. This country was founded on that same tradition and our society was to be based on those same principles.
But that tradition has not been followed. The promise of the Renaissance has not been kept. The same ignorance and prejudices that were there before are still with us today, but disguised; they still have the same power to inspire fear and suspicion in men’s minds. First it was religious terror; today it’s political terror. Nothing’s changed. The knowledge that was gained and which should have become the birthright of all men has been perverted to more sinister ends, and the rest of the world has not been permitted to follow the path that Europe laid.
That’s the relevant bit from his speech. I snipped the non-speech bits.
But, even today, 25 years after it was written… not much has changed. It’s stunning to me that religion still has a stranglehold over the vast majority of the world. Even in American and the UK, religion rules.
It amazes me today that people use all the benefits of science, from medicine to fuel to electronics, and still actively distrust it. We use the fuel science gave us, but refuse to see the problems that the fuel causes.
It’s depressing. It’s frustrating. It’s maddening.
Perhaps science has allowed us to grow to quickly and become too powerful. For the first time ever in the history of our planet, there is a species on it with the ability to destroy almost everything on it. Even the great asteroid of the KT extinction only killed about 80% of life on the planet. We could probably do much, much better than that if we used our power. And there are people who would rather watch the planet burn than admit for one second that they may not be right.
Scientists aren’t always right. We have our issues as people just like everyone else. But properly done science is the best way, the only way, to make a better world. There are lots of ways to make a worse one.