Friday, July 25, 2008

Mystical Mischief

Excerpts from an article I read in Time magazine by Aravind Adiga while riding the train to Berlin yesterday:

Technology may be vibrantly alive in the U.S. — cell phones and laptops are everywhere — but faith in the science that produces this technology has weakened in the past decade. Evidence ranges from the proliferation of street-side palmists all the way to the White House: in 2005, the religious fundamentalists who oppose Darwin's theory of evolution got a boost when President Bush suggested that American schools should have the freedom to choose instead to teach intelligent design — a slick, pseudoscientific version of Biblical creationism. To a visitor from the supposedly mystical East, all this is disturbing — even repulsive.

In my family, as in most middle-class Indian families I knew when I was growing up, science and mathematics were held in awe.

Reason has replaced God for many Indians of my generation. Nothing gives us greater pride than the importance of India's scientific and engineering colleges, or the army of Indian scientists at organizations such as Microsoft and NASA. Our temples are not the god-encrusted shrines of Varanasi, but Western scientific institutions like Caltech and MIT, and magazines like Nature and Scientific American.

How disturbing, then, to come to the U.S. in 2008, and find that faith in science has diminished..

Why blow the whistle as the West declines into mumbo jumbo? Let them take our dozen-armed deities and magic incense sticks; we'll transfer their busts of Galileo and Descartes to our engineering colleges and outsourcing companies. One day soon, their mystical children will wear turbans and serve our rational children at restaurants in Mumbai.

The author addresses a very real possibility in America's future. We are used to thinking that we are the "best and brightest". But in a country where scientific evidence is denied in favor of religious belief, and where pseudoscience is accepted without discernment, we are at risk of falling far behind. Technology and science are progressing in leaps and bounds. If we don't shake ourselves out of our stupor we will wake up to find that the rest of the world has left us far behind.

For a country that relies so heavily on technology, scientific advancements, and the freedom to speak and think as we choose, we show practically no gratitude to the ideals that brought these things to us.

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Andy Field said...

I've noticed this about America as well, but don't necessarily think it's a bad thing.

I taught math for years and years and the more we explored it, the more God made himself evident to me. When you start discovering amazing, beautiful patterns that boggle the mind, when you start to touch the tip of infinity in all of its infiniteness, you just have to step back and think about how absolutely small man is.

Science is so amazing -- but we don't really invent anything. We discover it. Man is not so amazing in his ingenuity, just in his curiosity.

The Amiable Atheist said...

I've noticed this about America as well, but don't necessarily think it's a bad thing.

Thank you for illustrating my point! It is this kind of attitude that will send us back to the dark ages, but perhaps religious people would prefer that?

Just because something is mind boggling and beautiful does not make it beyong explanation.

Since you don't mind America falling behind in science, would you like to go back to a time when the average life expectancy was around 30 years, when we had no vaccines or medicines? When we had no freedom to think or speak what we wanted?

This total disdain for science and knowledge, which has brought us so many advancements, is frankly, very frightening.

Andy Field said...

I did not indicate a disdain at all. A fascination, maybe. I think our two viewpoints may illustrate our worldviews pretty well.

Although I would certainly not like to return to primitive times -- indeed, I would likely be dead already -- the people of those times did not sit around and bemoan how technologically far behind they were. "If only we could extend our lifespan by 10 more years, we could really get some stuff done!"

I'm not in a hurry to visit Mars, develop a larger hard drive, or cure AIDS. I'd love to see all of those happen. Soon. But whether they do or not, and whether they happen as a result of good old American ingenuity or Indian dedication is not keeping me awake at night.

Regardless of your religious beliefs or unbeliefs, we're only here a short time. Whether it's 30 years or 120, the day you step out of here, you don't care about man's collective achievements, you care about your own.

The Amiable Atheist said...

I agree with your point that we are only here a short while, but I don't think we should use that as a reasoning for not striving to make improvements for future generations.

If every generation thought that way, we would not have the advances that we have today.

I understand it is not vital that the US is at the top of everything in science and technology. I realize it may have sounded like I implied we should be.

I just mean to say that we should not let the rest of the world pass us by as we sit back and reject the very science that gave us so many good things.

I appreciate your input, and again, I'm sorry that my responses were misinterpreted.