Not long ago, I was reading a book, What Hath God Wrought, an epic, 850-page history about the transformation of the United States from 1815-1848. It won the Pulitzer Prize for history in 2007, and is part of the acclaimed Oxford History of the United States series.
I mention this because the other day, I came across a passage that leaped out in the midst of Pope Francis's visit to the United States and his addressing Climate Change. This was followed by a range of conservative voices outraged that the Pope would delve into matters of science, most notably GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush who said that the Pontiff's words on Climate Change should be disregarded because "He's not a scientist, he's a religious leader."
(Never mind that the Pope actually is a scientist, with a degree as a chemical technician. And never mind, too, that the Pope is also a head of state, as leader of the Vatican, which is a city/state, and has a council of scientists advising him.)
More to the point at hand is the division we've seen in the conservative perspective of distrusting, often even dismissing science as being almost an agent of the devil (I don't exaggerate, more on that in a moment), instead of trusting the Bible when it comes to matters like Climate Change or evolution or women's health. Which brings us back to the book at hand, What Hath God Wrought. Discussing Samuel Morse's invention of the telegraph (whose first message was the words out of the Bible that serve as the book's title), the author Daniel Walker Howe writes:
"Morse's synthesis of science and religion represented the predominant American attitude of the time; only a few eccentrics believed there was any conflict between scientific and religious truth."
So much for the whole concept of how life progresses and that we learn from the past. I guess not for everyone. This is the natural, expected result of what happens when you deny education, deny science, and retrench your foundation of knowledge, scholarship and reality purely on a system of faith. You regress, as the rest of the reality-based world passes you by. Accepted thought becomes what was once the domain of "eccentrics."
On the other hand, when your education is based solely on what you believe, it makes passing tests in school so much easier. Unless your teacher believes in grading on a curve.
"Revelation and reason alike, Americans were confident," Howe continues, "led to knowledge of God and His creation."
Go figure. Back in the 19th century, in the midst of the greatest period of religious revivalism in U.S. history, Americans believed that education actually increased one's understanding of the Bible. Not just did religious leaders accept science, but "Evangelists welcomed technological advances along with mass education," he writes, because science helped them "spread the good news of Christ."
Compare this to the religious Far Right of today who view the work of scientists as evil. Who want to push science out of the classroom, or at the very least obfuscate it with things like Creationism.
Compare this to when Scott Brown tried to pander to the religious Far Right and snarkily demeaned his then-Senate opponent Elizabeth Warren by continually referring to her as "Professor."
Compare it to the pronouncements of people like Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) who actually serves on the Science Committee of the House of Representatives, saying - not that "Religious awakening, expansion of education, interest in science and technological progress all went hand in hand," as Howe describes national and religious thought in the mid-19th century, but rather - "All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell."
Life changes. Opinions change. Values change. But life is supposed to move forward. Otherwise we'd all be living life in reverse like Benjamin Button or Merlin. Starting with all our knowledge, and then forgetting it day-by-day, getting more stupid by the hour. Which is a theory that does appear to work for some people. But fortunately, not for Mankind.
What's interesting is that long ago, the very opposite reality reigned. Back in 1615, the scientist Galileo was the eccentric, found guilty of heresy by the church's Roman Inquisition for daring to suggest that the Earth revolved around the Sun, rather than the other way around. He was found guilty. Belief ruled the day. Two hundred years later, the reality of science was accepted, and it was only the "few eccentrics" who didn't understand that science and religion were seeking the same thing - the truth.
Unfortunately, when some people intentionally pander to the worst instincts of others in order to stir up fear in a base to score political points, the result tends to be falling backwards towards ignorance - which is the very opposite of that whole "mass education" concept. But then, that's what happens when one looks to politicians for religious and spiritual guidance.
Of course, it does beg the question -- if one believes that if the Pope shouldn't talk about politics and science, why is it OK for politicians to talk about God and morals?
You know, here's one way I look at it - if God had intended Man to ignore the discoveries, teachings and advances of science, He would never have created scientists.
To read more from Robert J. Elisberg about this or many other matters both large and tidbit small, see Elisberg Industries.