So Much for Knowledge!

Larry 'n NassauMy parents preached that the only means for my brother and I to attain a decent life for ourselves was to get an education. For a many years I simply discounted and/or ignored their advice. By the time I the US Navy was through with me I had more than matured a little. Armed with that maturity I decided to heed the advice of my parents and go looking for a college door that was willing to open for me.

The more I studied world history the more convinced I became that the single most important factor that dragged us out of the Middle-Ages was advancements in knowledge, especially scientific knowledge. Most of us no longer die at age of forty or believe that the earth is at the center of the universe. If cancer and other plagues are to be conquered it will be advancements in science and medicine that does it. Not some primitive voodoo priestess conjuring up ritual spells.

For most of my life I assumed that as more people gained access to education the reliance on such things as mystics, palm readers, soothsayers, astrologers, and pseudo science to explain the unknown would diminish. In the past couple of decades I’ve had the sad feeling that too many Americans are taking steps backward into the dark hole of ignorance and denial.

It appears that Americans are increasingly willing to give attention to the ideologies of ultra conservative religious and political leaders who refuse to accept the truths revealed by increased study and knowledge. In spite of what ninety-five percent of the world’s scientific community believe they denounce the warnings about man’s effect on the climate as being a hoax. They espouse claims that homosexuality is a chosen lifestyle, that victims of rape and incest can’t get pregnant, that evolution has no basis in reality, and to stubbornly and to stubbornly insist that the earth is but a few millennium old.

For sixty years American municipalities have been putting fluoride in our water supplies to advance dental health. Just this week I saw a bumper sticker claiming, as the radically conservative John Birch Society did in the 1950s, that fluoridation was an evil government plot against its citizens. This in spite of the obvious evidence provided by so many fewer decayed smiles among today’s children and adults.

I suppose seeing that bumper sticker planted the seed of this article. What actually got my fingers on the keyboard was reading an editorial in the August 24, 2013 New York Times. An editorial titled, Welcome to the Age of Denial. Its author, Adam Frank, states at the end of his piece that science is a tradition,

“And as we know from history’s darkest moments, even the most enlightened traditions can be broken and lost. Perhaps that is the most important lesson all lifelong students of science must learn now.”

There was a time in human history when much of the world’s accumulated knowledge and quest for enlightenment was lost following the destruction of Egypt’s Library of Alexandria. For centuries Western civilization plunged into an age of darkness. Since the fifteenth century, however, we have been slowly crawling towards a light fueled by learning and knowledge. Knowledge has become our tradition again but I fear that we may be, once again, stacking up the firewood around the library.

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