Unification News for December 2002
This article is the second of three dealing with vocations. Some people share ideas, while others make, sell, or move things. A few come up with discoveries and inventions. They’re known as scientists.
In past ages, science did not exist. In a pagan world, no one thought the universe had coherent laws, or basic structures.
Plants grew at the behest of a mother goddess, and lightning flashed with the storm god’s anger. The stars alone followed exact patterns, and for this they were worshipped. All else needed to be coaxed forth by supplication and sacrifice.
Tinkerers occasionally invented new things, but in isolated tribes, too often these died with the inventor. Even if not, centuries might pass before adjacent tribes accepted that tool or technique. (In fiction, Jean Auel’s cave dwellers Ayla and Jondalar invented darn near everything!)
With the establishment of cities came guilds, which fiercely kept the secrets of their particular craft. The commitment of their apprentices was deep and lifelong.
Useful or beautiful new products were extremely valuable, and their manufacture could fund an entire regime. (For example, Hittite iron and Egyptian faience beads.) By land or sea, trade was a hazardous undertaking, but early civilizations depended on it.
The Greeks laid the foundations of science as we know it. The Egyptians were good with patterns, the Chinese invented gunpowder, and the Babylonians were impressive engineers. But first ‘pure research’ was done by Zeno, Archimedes, Thales, and their fellows. They studied the basic structure of the universe.
Today, scientists are a class by themselves. In a venerable tradition, they’re allowed to be quite eccentric.
Your author has seen this first hand. At recent conferences I’ve met brilliant technicians wearing jester costumes, participated in discussions about "morals and etiquette in alien societies," and conversed with many delightful characters.
Sometimes these great men (and women) have feet of clay. While clergymen are always scrutinized, a scientist’s private life is virtually ignored. They’re judged by their work, and lauded even when their personality is difficult, or their relationships troubled. (Of course, there are many who do as well at home as in the lab.)
If a scientist’s marriage is in trouble, they’d be well advised to seek help. Not from another scientist, but from an experienced minister. Some would shy away from that, and call psychological therapy a science. If so, it’s a hundred times more fractured than any other field of study. Overall, the clergy has a better record.
Becoming a scientist isn’t easy. It takes years of dedication, and (usually) a whole series of degrees. They must specialize very narrowly while climbing the ranks, and again if privately employed.
A few geniuses go beyond their chosen niche, and even fewer become famous for doing so. Stephen Hawking and Paul Davies come to mind, as does the late Carl Sagan.
The media quotes scientists all the time. Often this benefits both; the media gets ratings and ‘gravitas,’ and the scientist gets free publicity, plus a boost for their fundraising efforts.
Scientists often speak out on issues not related to their field of expertise. The "two thousand scientists" trumpeted as supporting the previous Administration’s environmental policy included only a handful of global climate specialists. (Others disagreed.)
Scientists have opinions like everyone else, and their genius makes them more credible. Perhaps this is fitting, but some have strange ideas. Noam Chomsky is an accomplished linguist who is also a well-known radical leftist. Lately, in my opinion, physicist Michio Kaku has been working hard to match Chomsky’s ‘progressive’ credentials.
Modern society takes it for granted that science will progress, and that medicine, consumer gadgetry, and just about everything else will advance in its wake. Most taxpayers are happy to spend a few billion dollars on particle accelerators and space telescopes.
Analog magazine reports that young people who identify themselves as feminists and liberals are less likely to support the space program, and goals like the exploration of Mars. (So much for their recent adoption of the label ‘progressive.’)
This isn’t really a surprise. One can imagine the wife of Og the caveman nagging him: "Forget that monster-filled land across the mountains! Don’t we have enough problems here at home? Besides, you promised to do something about that pesky warthog . . . "
Ditto for explorers throughout history. Scientist Robert Zubrin, in his SF novel First Landing, makes the point that a new land is only tamed when women are confident to go there and raise a family. (In his case, referring to Mars.)
Some people are suspicious of science; even downright hostile. In contrast, most scientists blame religion for humanity’s ills. At least half of them are atheists.
Which has really hurt humanity the most? The plain fact is, science gave us gunpowder, poison gas, and atomic bombs. Medical research gave us anthrax powder and the vaccine for it.
The tension between science and religion goes on. In a recent Analog column, editor Stanley Schmidt comments about our brother Jonathan Wells (without naming him). Schmidt questions his ‘anti-Darwin’ motive for getting two major PhDs, but says nothing about the aggressive Humanism of many working scientists.
One college-level science teacher told me about quarrels he’s had with students from a religious background. Both sides claim to be high-minded, but the emotions sounded pretty raw to me! (I hope he found my suggestions helpful.)
In a recent Unification News, Frank Kaufmann wrote an insightful essay about the Thirty Years War, and the modern assumption that "too much belief is a bad thing." Often, he points out, it’s the other way around.
There is another aspect to this debate. Real scientists are willing to conduct fresh observations and experiments, to accept new evidence, and to formulate new theories. If needed, they must toss out fundamental assumptions -- and change their minds. In one sense, this is asking more of a person than religions ever ask of their adherents.
In published speeches, Rev. Moon has stated that "knowledge does not matter." Also that, since "God knows everything," true love is paramount. The Bible, in I Cor. 13, heartily agrees.
Is that the entire story? No! Alfred North Whitehead pointed out that the Christian worldview allowed science to flourish. Rev. Moon himself sponsors many scientific endeavors.
Perhaps knowledge isn’t a big criterion for admittance into Heaven. However, it does have its benefits. Moses spoke to crowds within the sound of his own voice, while modern prophets can be seen everywhere via satellite TV and the Internet. Jesus walked a few miles per day, while Rev. Moon takes a private jet worldwide.
God’s Word is being shared more than ever. We can thank scientists for that.
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