In 1740, Commodore George Anson of the Royal Navy left Portsmouth in command of seven ships and 2,000 men, beginning a journey that would become the navy’s first circumnavigation of the globe. Of those 2,000 sailors and marines, 1,400 died during the voyage, almost all from scurvy.
In fact, at the time, scurvy was probably the most worthy opponent of British maritime power.
A few years later, on May 20, 1747, a Scottish naval surgeon named James Lind decided to do something constructive about scurvy. He divided twelve sailors into six groups and gave each group a different but commonplace treatment for scurvy. These included cider, a royal patent medicine, vinegar, nutmeg, saltwater, and citrus fruit.
After six days the two men who received the oranges and lemons were fit for duty, while the rest showed no real improvement.
Lind was so excited by this development (the first-ever clinical trial, in fact) that he resigned his naval commission and wrote a treatise on his findings. You might assume that he was celebrated for his achievement, considering that he had single-handedly ended scurvy as a reasonable threat to the navy.
But nah, that’s not what happened. What happened is that no one really paid attention…particularly those in command in the Royal Navy. As a result, sailors continued to die unnecessarily. It wasn’t until 1795–a year after Lind’s death–that the navy implemented citrus juice as a solution to scurvy in their fleet.
I paraphrased this story from an commencement address given by William R. Brody because it illustrates an important point–most people don’t really reject science so much as they are simply bored by it.
A lot of us think of science as a subject we were forced to study in school. If it weren’t for that pesky three-credit requirement for your Business Administration degree, maybe you wouldn’t have taken those classes at all.
But memorizing the names of molecules and components of the eyeball and planets in the solar system isn’t science. Even understanding the Theory of Relativity isn’t science.
Those are simply concepts that have emerged FROM science, which is a method that helps us find out how physical processes work. That’s all it is. A method. You guess why something might be happening, you attempt to run experiments that test your guess, and then observe if your tests succeed or fail.
Science is not Star Trek and it’s not nerds with pocket protectors and it’s not a belief system designed to refute any organized religion.
It’s just a testing method.
Sometimes scientists use the method improperly, or they make false assumptions, and their guesses will prove to be wrong. For years doctors thought peptic ulcers were caused by stress and too much stomach acid, even well after 1982, when two Australian scientists theorized that peptic ulcers were caused by a bacterial infection. Many years passed before the theory was fully accepted by a majority of doctors, and in the meantime lots of people with ulcers suffered unnecessarily.
Scientists aren’t perfect. No one is. And there are many concepts that currently fall outside the ability of testing. Still, the scientific method has provided us with so many wonderful inventions and conveniences that it boggles my mind how people can still, in this day and age, spit in its face.
On Monday the Creation Museum opened in Kentucky. This facility cost a reported $27 million to build and was funded by private donations. It contains such exhibits as a supposedly full-size reproduction of a section of Noah’s ark and dioramas of men and dinosaurs co-existing. The purpose of this facility is to demonstrate “scientifically” the historical accuracy of the Bible…particularly Genesis. (All dinosaurs were herbivorous before Eve ate the apple, and even afterwards Noah brought them onto the ark. Imagine how was fun it was to clean the T-Rex cage.)
I don’t think anyone would be surprised to know that most of creation “science” claims fly in the face of accepted scientific theories of geology, biology, and astronomy. The battles between science and religion have been going on for hundreds of years.
What I find so bizarre and disheartening is that some believers in Genesis expend enormous effort and money to “prove” how Noah’s ark could have really worked, or how the Grand Canyon was carved in a day when a giant natural dam burst.
I found a paper that explains in detail why Noah’s ark and a Great Flood completely defy any rational explanation. All sorts of math and physics are employed to prove how fitting the animals onboard would be impossible. The paper explains how mountains could not have formed the way creation “scientists” would have you believe.
But all that math and physics completely misses the point. Christianity is a BELIEF SYSTEM, like all organized religions are. There should be no need to prove why the ark is impossible, because if there is a God and He made it happen, then all the math and physics in the world can’t contradict that.
The math and science become necessary, however, because without it proponents of creation “science” are free to spread their ridiculous propaganda. And the biggest irony of all here is that this group of people is doing the most damage to their beliefs, because they help undermine spirituality as a legitimate intellectual concept. They invite ridicule. And by far the worst crime of all is that they advance ignorance.
Though I don’t hold the sort of beliefs that most people do, I respect the idea of spirituality. No one can say for sure what the real answers are, so we must leave room for a variety of possibilities.
But the people who willfully mislead the lay public into believing that religious creation stories have ANYTHING at ALL to do with the scientific method are proactively attempting to stifle intellectual conversation. They are doing real damage to the United States and humanity as a whole by spreading ignorance. It is shameful and embarrassing.
But unfortunately it’s not very surprising. The same thing has been happening for centuries.