Back in the Nineteenth Century, a group of English workers (illustration at right) who felt threatened by the technology being introduced in the spinning and weaving industry went about smashing the new equipment and became the everlasting symbol of stupid opposition to progress. Historians call them Luddites.
You may have been called one yourself as you fumed over some newfangled video game or fumbled with the latest cell phone application. And I must admit that I am sometimes tempted to take a skeptical view of technological progress – and science in general – myself.
Sitting here in Central Florida, while an endless cold spell grips the land, I am beginning to wonder what happened to global warming, for example. Ricky, across the street, and Rob, my youngest daughter’s boyfriend, are convinced that the global warming theory is a conspiracy to introduce a New World Order. I don’t give their argument much credence. Nobody is smart enough to organize a conspiracy of that scope. It would take some really clever maneuvering to melt the polar ice cap, for example. And I am convinced the world’s number one problem is not too much smartness but way too much dumbness.
However, it’s hard to sell the idea that the world is getting warmer – for whatever reason – when all of North America, including Florida, is in Old Man Winter’s icy grasp. And I’m sure you know that the conventional wisdom in the scientific community today holds that the world is rapidly becoming warmer, and that it’s mainly mankind’s fault.
I hope the majority of scientists are right about that climate change threat. It’s not that I want the world to be swamped by the rising ocean or charred by the magnified rays of the sun, but I shudder to think of the loss of credibility that might ensue if science is proved wrong – again.
Science has taken a beating through the ages. There was the Seventeenth Century idea that something called phlogiston formed when matter was burned, for instance. That theory turned out to be nonsense. Back in my childhood, DDT ruled supreme – until Rachel Carson wrote “Silent Spring,” revealing the monstrous effects of that “wonder” chemical.
I saw a TV program recently showing that the “benefits”of scientific farming methods are being challenged. Turns out plowing the land for generations has impoverished it and made it disastrously dependent on fossil fuel-based fertilizers.
I’m sure you can think of many other scientific theories that are under fire. Evolution, for example, is getting hammered.
Despite the criticism they have endured, scientists have managed to retain an aura of mystery and wonder. And they have come up with some amazing things – organ transplants, hair and dental implants, microsurgery, antibiotics, cloning, fertility drugs, Viagra (and Cialis and so on), non-smear lipstick and non-smudge mascara, nanotechnology, space travel (no, I don’t believe the moon landing was faked), robotics, camera phones, touch-screen technology, night-vision goggles, spy satellites, military drones, bunker busting bombs … (I didn’t say all of the advances were beneficial.)
In view of the above, it would be sad if the world were to abandon scientific inquiry in favor of a new Dark Ages. And that looms as a troubling possibility, what with all the chatter about Nostradamus, the Mayan Calendar (above), Armageddon, the End Times, and so on.