Science & Democracy

By James White

I think that the most iconoclastic revolutionaries of all time were not Lenin, Mao, Bakunin, or Zapata, but rather Galileo, Einstein, Darwin, and Newton. Scientists have repeatedly overturned superstition and fought on the barricades against ignorance. Scientists are a testament to humanism, the belief in man, a belief that is essential for democracy.


Science is a tired pugilist clinging to the ropes, however. A fundamentalist Christian group Answers in Genesis is building a $20 million museum outside Cincinnati. The museum wants to present a myopic view of history that is contradictory to everything known about physics, geology, biology, and chemistry. The people responsible for this affront to knowledge claim to do so to combat the forces of “secularism” (read: empiric knowledge).

Who can blame these people, though? After all, if you were never educated about the wonders of nuclear physics, could you fathom Carbon-14 dating? If you never learned about biology or chemistry, how could you understand evolution or deoxyribonucleic acid? Indeed, I have chatted with a kid who planned on becoming a chemist, yet he had no idea where the elements came from (Nuclear fusion and decay, by the way). Why are the American people so scientifically illiterate? Why do so many people mistrust scientists and their conclusions?

Most kids in high school are never instructed in the beauty and anti-authoritarianism of science. I know that I never was. Even in my Advanced Placement class, the instructions were sit down, shut up, and do these worksheets. Naturally, that left a bitter taste in my mouth. Comprehension was determined by a letter grade on a sheet of paper. There was to be no wonder, no inquiry; just the soulless turning of pages and lectures as animate as a block of wood.

Even Antioch is culpable in terms of scientific ignorance. First year students have been deprived many academic opportunities this year. I have been denied the opportunity to take a biology class. Two loved professors are leaving, one retiring, one denied tenure by the Administration. Will there be changes to the program? Some, but the damage has been done. What will become of Antioch’s 90% medical school placement rate? What of the legacy of Stephen Jay Gould?

An ignorant population is incapable of democracy. Faith in the supernatural leads to faith in Il Duce, Hitler, and Franco. Indeed, faith in the supernatural is just a copout, the equivalent of saying “I don’t know how this happened. It is beyond me and, therefore, forever beyond comprehension”. I do not know about you, but I find that humility a bit presumptuous; I cannot fathom the wonders of quantum mechanics, yet I do not state that it is forever beyond comprehension and, ergo, supernatural.

If Newton had said “Planetary orbits are beyond me. Ergo, I am not even going to try to fathom them.” There would have been no calculus, no computers, no rocketry, and no relativity among other things. Indeed, Einstein even said, “The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible.”

Science is based in humanism and humanism is based upon the believing in man’s faculties. The human race (forgive the verbal chauvinism) has continually sought to understand the world in which we live. Indeed, inquisitiveness is probably the best way to judge that drat ethereal thing called intelligence. People have unraveled the mysteries of fire, nuclear decay, evolution, genetics, chemistry, relativity, and many other things that make our world beautiful. Indeed, one cannot help but to feel awe when hearing of super fluidity, astrobiology, self-replicating RNA, and the many wonders of bacteria.

Democracy wilts when people turn to men of steel to protect them. One has to wonder if the current administration would be in power if people did not feel threatened by “terrorists” or homosexuals or whomever the new boogeyman is. Is it any wonder why so many fascist regimes were religious? Fascism and supernaturalism both believe in human ignorance. Placing faith in superstition is very much like placing faith in despots. The only way to combat both is with knowledge and an ignorant population cannot fight tyranny. Is it any wonder why the Nazis closed many universities upon coming into power?

The Scientific Community is the new Prometheus, bestowing a light to help the human race. Scientists are not megalomaniacs maliciously meddling with DNA or atoms; scientists are more like sailors upon an unceasing sea, desperately trying to find some land, Truth. Indeed, science stems from the Latin word scire or “to know”. To sacrifice knowledge is to sacrifice the most precious thing we have.