The Royal Society. FRS. The Modern Enlightenment.


           
ROYAL SOCIETY 2002 ADDRESS
(part)
 
The Enlightenment and the many faces of Fundamentalism Underlying everything I have written here is the assumption that the reader shares the values of the Enlightenment: rational, humane, questioning. These are the values that gave birth to the Royal Society and its motto. When difficult decisions have to be made, we first establish the facts and acknowledge the uncertainties, and then reason together about the choices. I believe these values permeate not only science, medicine and engineering, but also essentially all activity in the arts and humanities, as well as the mainstream expression of many of the great religions. In contrast are Fundamentalist belief systems. These are found in both West and East, and come in a wide variety of forms, of varying virulence. Their essence is authoritarian, seeking to suppress questioning. Canonical texts, dogma, ideology or revelation – not experiment – are the tools for resolving disputes.
 
The clash between such closed Fundamentalist belief systems, and the open and questioning mindset of the Enlightenment is found on matters great and small, both within countries and within civilisations as much as among them. Baruma and Margalit have recently analysed this dichotomy under several headings (12). For science, most Fundamentalists unite in the belief that "truth" cannot be reliably established by subjecting hypotheses to soulless experimental tests. Rather we should trust, if revelation is not available, to instinct. A clear expression of this view comes from Hitler, ranting against the "absurdities" of free-thinking scientific research, because "it leads away from instinct" (13).  

Similar views underpinned Mao’s Great Leap Forward. The Taliban, with their heavy curtailment of access to new technology and denial of access to education for women, provide an extreme example of these phenomena. But other forms of Fundamentalism still march, albeit much less dramatically, in the West. They show in quarrels about the teaching of biblical literal Creationism as a valid alternative to evolution in science courses in schools, and in a kind of Fundamentalism that wistfully looks to a throw-back world in which nineteenth century agricultural practices can feed today’s burgeoning population and unproven alternative medicines can afford the same protection as the products of the pharmaceutical industry. 

Such Fundamentalist appeals to authority can cloud my simple distinction between "the scientific background which constrains choices" and "the value-laden debate about which choices we make". This distinction becomes meaningless if doctrine or ideology can trump observed facts and experiments. It is not so much that opponents may distrust the science, but rather that their world view is disjunct with that of the Enlightenment. Complex examples of this can be seen in some current debates.  

For example, until 1869 the Catholic Church’s doctrine, derived from Thomas Aquinas and ultimately Aristotle, was that the soul entered the embryo on the 40th day after conception if male, and up to the 90th day if female (14). But Pope Pius IX changed all that by declaring the soul enters the embryo at the moment of conception. And one year later, in 1870, the doctrine of Papal Infallibility cemented this declaration. For someone deriving values and opinions from this essentially Fundamentalist position, I suspect there would have been no serious objection to research on embryonic stem cells, as provided by recent UK legislation, on the basis of pre-1869 doctrine, whereas today such research – despite its promised benefits – is understandably unacceptable on ethical grounds.  

There seems to be an escape, however: a handful of tentative scientific papers can be read as suggesting research using adult stem cells will serve equally well, thus providing the medical benefits without the ethical anguish. The overall balance of informed scientific opinion, however, is that we are far from unlocking the potential of adult cells to differentiate in medically-useful ways as embryonic stem cells do, and that the road to one day maybe using adult cells is paved with embryonic ones.

But if revealed doctrine is your guide, you have access to truth, which transcends scientific knowledge. And you can – in good faith – according to your Fundamentalist beliefs – honestly believe that research on adult cells (and prohibiting embryonic stem cell research) is the solution to the dilemma. The "scientific background" blurs, and the debate is ineluctably tricky.   

 

 

About luckyme0

My First family, second marriage, bringing up my 18-year-old twins, boy, and girl. I am a third generation Humanist, who has some old handwritten information and notes; collected over many years. Someone may find the articles interesting, or helpful. They could bring back a little ‘reality’, after being ‘shocked’ and ‘brainwashed’, by some malicious group, or institution (REBT Therapy). People should know better, than to do this, to our very young, and the ‘obviously’ vulnerable! Go to easily accessible, non-superstitious knowledge that is not charlatanism! https://charleslizzy.com/2011/08/06/independent-schools-inspectorate-isi-marketing-spirituality-buzzword-or-maybe-even-for-you-to-shiver-at-the-something/ The blog has given me an incentive to order my thoughts, learn, and read up again, after a few non-thinking years of (very silly) imagination and passion. Why not, get your own key to a ‘door’, customise it to suit you, and it can be, all of your very own! Don’t believe, or be led by someone else’s; inherited, stupid, and a very likely (past, and not of today’s) ‘totally preposterous reality’s’. Only some interest in the ‘really big questions’, keeps life above the level of a farce, and very little else! KEEP THINKING! Some of the posts may need some correcting. Interests: REBT Counselling, Atheism, Secularism, Humanism, Psychology, Reading, Popular Science, School Ethos, Philosophy, History, Family, Parenting, Psychology, Horse Riding, Sailing, Rescue Boat Driver, Skiing (Teppichswinger), TV Documentaries, Motorbike Cross Country Riding, Volunteer Sports Stewarding, Writing, Primitive Man, Pre-history, Social Anthropology, British Humanist Association, BHA, Meaning of Life, The Big Questions, Where am I, What am I, Why am I, Hippie Love, Knowledge, Education, Globalisation. Favorite quote: “The world belongs to those who, at least to some degree, have figured it out.” Carl Sagan, ‘The Demon Haunted World’, ‘Contact’, and other famous books DVD ‘Cosmos’. The warning of another and horrendous, “Age of Superstition”. “Isn’t there something deeply absurd in the presumption that children ought to inherit beliefs from their parents. It can be deeply damaging, even lethally divisive. A ‘them’, with an ‘against us’, mentality” – Professor Richard Dawkins. “The will to believe is stronger than mere reason in the vast majority of people” – Dr J.Brown, Army Psychologist of the 1960′s. Humans will believe in almost anything, in fact, they seek it! Why? “98% of us, trained to be just good consumers, let’s train our children to be the 2% who have their very own creativity and discernment”; quote by a famous surreal artist. “The lack of reason brings forth monsters”. “Global interconnectedness is lethal against mass religion, nationalism, racism, and other destructive memeplexes. Let us connect everybody they hate it in restrictive regimes”; from the ‘meme learning group’, Richard Brodie’s book, ‘Virus Of The Mind’ (Richard Brodie a designer for ‘Microsoft Word’). Following on, J.Bronowski, and ‘The Ascent Of Man’ TV series, and a book http://www.bbcshop.com/science+nature/the-ascent-of-man/invt/9781849901154/ with the last DVD in this series, ‘The Long Childhood’ being especially revealing. ‘Prehistory’ and the ‘Making of the Human Mind’ by Colin Renfrew, with P.Wilson’s, ‘The Domestication of the Human Species’, and Nigel Spivey’s, TV series and book, ‘How Art Made The World’, offers some further explanations. Latest reading: Jared Diamond http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jared_Diamond
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