Welcome to our Semi-Dark Age: The Darkness Strikes Back
Well, here we are in 2011 CE.
I am simply amazed at the accumulated knowledge that science, through the scientific, naturalist method, has diligently produced over the last 2 centuries or so.
In fact, just the past 3 decades alone have constituted a veritable exponential expansion of knowledge and understanding with regards to the fabric of chaos and order, the formation and nature of planets, stars and galaxies, the nature and fabric of energy, light, matter, the atom, elements, molecules, macromolecules, genes, chromosomes, cells, tissues, and so on and so forth.
Indeed, all the various scientific disciplines continue relentlessly to push back further the boundaries of Humanity’s ignorance, thus working together in order to keep playing – and improving upon – the enlightening and joyful symphony of Humanity’s accumulated knowledge of this intriguing, complicated, dangerous – and yet so enticingly wondrous – reality of ours.
Yes – I am amazed.
And yes – I feel a child-like wonderment and excitement at such continuously built monument to Humanity, by Humanity, for Humanity.
Take for example our origins. We now know for a fact that we have evolved some 200 thousand years ago, that our species – homo sapiens sapiens – is but the currently living, single twig of a branch that previously sprouted other hominids. Yet, this very hominid branch from which Humanity stems is itself an offshoot of an older branch, which in turn is an offshoot from a yet older branch, and so on, until we reach the oldest branch that is common to both ours and that of our well known modern chimpanzees.
Sure – details need to be worked out further, yet this in no way invalidates the factual knowledge that we are indeed evolved, self-aware primates that are capable of abstract-thinking and reasoning, of speaking, of creating culture, of technological progress, and of building civilization.
Furthermore, molecular biology and genetics have demonstrated that all of us have in common ancestry a small group of humans that lived in Africa, one through which Humanity ended up colonizing the whole world - over a span 60-80 thousand years.
Hence, we are Africans – all 7 billion of us. And we are all related!
Even more fascinating is the evolutionary tree of life on our planet.
It’s gradual and incremental understanding over the last 152 years, thanks to the integration of various scientific disciplines, reveals to us not only our specific place in the diverse web of life around us, but furthermore conveys the simple verity that all lifeforms on Earth – including us – are related to each other closely or distantly at the very genetic, molecular and cellular levels, thanks to the factual process of evolution over the span of 3.5 billion years.
Sure – details need to be worked out further, yet again this in no way invalidates the reality of the existence of this evolutionary tree of life, let alone our place within it.
In fact, thanks to the knowledge that keeps on being accumulated by science and the scientific method, we now have broad, yet factual, answers to many of the most fundamental questions that we have ever asked of ourselves since the beginning of our recorded history. Such as:
“Who are we?”
“Where do we come from?”
“What is our place in this world?”
Well, we now know. Period.
Sure – once again, details need to be worked out further, yet this in no way invalidates the reality of the answers that we have to these questions.
We also know the answer to yet another fundamental question, namely: “what is our place in the universe?”
Well, here is the broad, yet factual, answer:
We know precisely where our planet earth is situated within our solar system.
In turn, we know the place of our solar system within our galaxy, the Milky Way.
And in turn, we know the location of our galaxy within our local group of galaxies.
Still in turn, we know the location of our regional galactic group within our local supercluster of galaxies.
And in turn, we know where our local supercluster is situated within our universe, in relation to other superclusters.
We even know with confidence not only the age of our universe, 13.75 billion years, but how long ago our solar system – our own planet included – was formed.
Some 4.5 billion years ago.
Sure – again, details need to be worked out further, yet this in no way invalidates the reality of the knowledge that we have of our place in the universe.
In effect; science - and namely the scientific method – are the proven, very best tool invented so far by Humanity, constituting a rigorous, integrative and self-correcting process of fact-based and experimental demonstration-supported inquiry which allows us to gain further understanding of the inner workings of the Universe, of Life, of ourselves and, ultimately, of Reality.
And knowledge has always been used by us human beings to devise new technological applications, ever since the dawn of Humanity.
And as we increase our overall knowledge, we devise new ways to improve our daily living conditions, our daily activities, our health, our means of transportation and communication, and so on and so forth.
As we understand more, we are able to create better tools and means to improve our lives. And in turn, we devise improved and/or new means to continue our scientific inquiries.
That is how we keep maturing not only as a self-aware, abstract-thinking species, but also as a civilisation.
That is what we do - it is the very essence of who and what we are.
Yet, as much as we are fortunate to live in this modern era of ours, the overwhelming prevalence of ignorance and irrationality in our supposedly civilized societies leaves us mired in superstition, dogmatic beliefs and a reactionary rejection of scientific facts evidenced and demonstrated by the scientific method.
Indeed, never mind that current scientific knowledge already has potential solutions to problems such as the despoilment of our environment, the warming of our global climate, the over-exploitation of the very finite resources of our planet, or the over-exploitation of animal and plant food sources.
And never mind that although we know with absolute genetic certainty that we are all the same species *and* race, that we are all related, the cosmetic variations that are ethnicities are still met with tribal and xenophobic fear, hate, and even violence.
We have the knowledge.
But it remains ignored – whether unwittingly or willingly.
In effect, ordinary people and so-called leaders the world-over, including within our supposedly advanced societies, are more than ever quick to dismiss scientific knowledge, reason and rationality, for the promulgation of self-interests, ideology and/or superstitious beliefs.
Thus we find ourselves in a Semi-Dark Age of sorts.
Despite our current, advanced biomedical knowledge and related technological, curative innovations, people flock en masse towards “alternative medical practices”, such as aura cleansing, aromatherapy, faith healing, homeopathy, magnetic therapy, chelation therapy, reflexology, naturopathy, and so on, and so forth.
These pseudo-sciences represent big business with billions in profits each year, pushing and selling pills, extracts, philtres, potions and books, all sold in pharmacies or in bookstores or in self-proclaimed “health centers”.
Worse, these are not only promulgated by their pushers, but by actual nurses and physicians as well.
Even worse still: such alternative medical practices are either silently or openly supported by governmental health agencies the world-over.
But never mind that such collective quackery is incapable of curing anything – instead, at best, being able to act like a placebo; at worse, doing actual harm.
Indeed, over the last decade, 2.5 billion has been spent in research to demonstrate curative properties – if any - for such quack practices. What was rather demonstrated is that, indeed, most of them do act no better than placebos.
And yet … people still flock to these sham practices, enriching the quacks that promulgate them.
No doubt, the encouragement – or pushing - in the usage of such quackery comes first and foremost through simple ignorance and a profound lack of knowledge and understanding of science ...
... all overly amplified over by word of mouth. And the printed word – on paper or online – with “health columns” or “sections”. And the talk-radio shows about health. And television newscasts with their so-called health segments, or reports.
And again – via those nurses and physicians that should know better.
Hence, all of these keep on providing highly audible/visible platforms, either unwittingly or willingly, to the quacks and their devout adherents, thus allowing them to confuse and convince too many gullible individuals.
In any case, people happily and eagerly swallow such fantasy selling points because too many among us would rather believe in magic cures and magic potions and spiritual incantations and in anything that promises fast, miraculous – but non-existent - cures, rather than accept factual, proven medical treatments – however relatively limited some may still be.
Thus, seemingly more than ever, too many people prefer to wallow in superstition and the supernatural in order to sustain a so-called spiritual need for health and guidance in life.
The pervasiveness of seers, astrologers, mediums, and other assorted quacks, illustrates well this tragic state of affairs.
Consequently, ignorance and superstitious beliefs remain indeed prevalent – at the expense of rationality and scientifically-demonstrated factual knowledge.
Yes - still in 2011 CE.
And does the world ever believe – in God, Gods, ghosts or spirits.
From the three abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity, Islam – and their various, usually fundamentalist off-shoots; through Budhism, Hinduism, Shintoism, Taoism and Universalism; and to all other sorts of beliefs and cults embracing witchcraft, druidism, spiritism, including – of course – scientology.
Yes, the world does believe indeed.
Take this recent survey throughout various nations: an average of 45% of Humanity absolutely believes in a God or a Supreme being.
But that is a part of the overall, dismaying picture: another 17% of Humanity on average is ambivalent about believing in a Deity or Deities, sometimes believing and sometimes not. And another average of 13% of Humanity is simply uncertain whether they believe or not in a Deity or Deities.
So, in effect, that amounts to about 75% of Humanity that either always believes, sometimes believes, or aren’t sure if they believe or not, in some supernatural being or beings.
Yes, still in 2011 CE.
Now, how does this impact on the acceptance of scientifically demonstrated facts?
Let’s take the case of evolution, for instance: that same world-wide survey shows that on average, only 41% of Humanity accepts that human beings evolved.
Still, these numbers are staggeringly depressing, for they should range in the 80-90% across the board – if only because evolution is a fact and that facts are, you know, facts.
Yet, look at the US: a dismal 28% accept evolution. In Canada, my country: only 45%. In Great Britain: only 55%.
But wait – the picture is not complete: we find that on average 31% of Humanity finds itself ambivalent – sometimes accepting evolution or sometimes accepting …. creationism.
In the US: there is 32% of such people; in Canada and Great Britain: 34%.
And then, on average 28% of Humanity believes in creationism. Not surprisingly, the percentages are astronomical in essentially theocratic countries such as Saudi Arabia, or even Turkey.
Yet in the US, it is nonetheless a whopping 40%.
So, in effect, an average majority of 59% of Humanity either firmly rejects the fact of evolution, and/or remains apparently unsure or confused on the question.
Let’s look at another example, such as anthropomorphic global warming.
This one year-old survey was conducted in Canada, the US and Great Britain. Once again we find dismaying numbers of people that accept the scientific evidence which supports the fact that global warming is primarily caused by our emissions of greenhouse gases.
Indeed, actual majorities of people in the US and Britain either reject outright that there is any global warming going on at all, or concede that it is going on but not caused by humans.
Are you beginning to see a pattern, a link, a correlation, here?
In his book The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a candle in the dark, Carl Sagan wrote the following:
“I worry that, especially as the millennium edges nearer, pseudoscience and superstition will seem year by year more tempting, the siren song of unreason more sonorous and attractive. Where have we heard it before? Whenever our ethnic or national prejudices are aroused – in times of scarcity, during challenges to national self-esteem or nerve, when we agonize about our diminished cosmic place and purpose, or when fanaticism is bubbling up around us - then, habits of thought familiar from ages past reach for the controls.
The candle flame gutters. Its little pool of light trembles. Darkness gathers. The demons begin to stir.”
This was published on the year of Sagan’s passing, some 15 years ago. Yet here we are, in 2011 CE.
Over the last decade, the light of reason, knowledge and science has been under an increasing, systematic and relentless attack by the darkness of ignorance, fear of the unknown and superstitious beliefs.
And this, sadly enough, shows no sign of ebbing.
Yes - the darkness has been striking back – with a vengeance.
Similarly to the previously mentioned horde of proponents of pseudo-scientific alternative medicines, there is an even more formidable horde of men and women that have embraced ignorance and fear of the unknown, all the while rejecting reason, rationality and science, for the benefit of their parochial and intractable beliefs.
In Canada and the US alone, they are mostly pastors, priests, reverends, pseudo-scientists, spokespeople, and so on and so forth, all determined, along with their devout flocks of believers and fund-backers, to confuse and convince the too large proportion of people that are gullible, unsure or likewise ignorant, so as to impose their own superstitious beliefs.
Many of these proponents of the darkness we know all too well, already.
In fact, their devout followers will be found at all levels of our societies: in town or city councils; as mayors; on school boards; in state or provincial legislatures; as your state or provincial heads of government; in your federal legislatures.
They have been, are, or really want to be, your federal heads of government.
They are in the mainstream media – in print, on radio, on tv.
They are in entertainment.
They are nurses, physicians and pharmacists.
They are in your judiciary.
In law enforcement, armed forces; as prosecutors, or vendors, or neighbors.
They are everywhere.
Yes, the light of reason, knowledge and science is under siege by the ever growing darkness of ignorance, fear of the unknown and superstitious beliefs.
All thanks to its proponents, promulgators and defenders.
They are about the rejection of evolution.
Rejection of anthropomorphic global warming.
Rejection or distrust of evidenced-based medicine.
Rejection or distrust of science and scientists.
They reject knowledge, and consequently, they reject progress.
Thus they also reject reason and rationality.
Where have we heard this before?
Without the light of critical reasoning and scientific investigation in our curiosity-driven endeavour of understanding our universe, our world and ourselves, we would still be living in ignorance, paralyzed by fear of the unknown and imprisoned in the vice-like grip of superstitious notions, fabled myths and dogmatic beliefs.
Yet they – these agents of the darkness – would do away with this precious light, therefore thrusting us back into a veritable Dark Age.
In the meantime, thanks to a pervasiveness of gullibility, as well as a prevalent lack of understanding concerning scientific facts and knowledge, among a seeming majority of people, the darkness has kept on gaining ground, has kept on growing back to engulf Humanity anew.
Thus, over the last decade or so, we find ourselves in a Semi-Dark Age where reason and science are constantly being waged war upon – in the classroom, in legislatures, in the mainstream media outlets.
The darkness has been striking back against the light at every turn and opportunity.
Hence, more than ever, those of us that would promulgate and defend the light of reason, rationality, knowledge and science must stand up and use our voices to say enough, to push back the darkness anew – so that it may one day, finally, dissipate into nothing more than fleeting shadows.
I am therefore adding my own voice to the number of people with greater minds, and/or better eloquence, than me, whom have written books, blogs and produced incisive and thoughtful YouTube videos to this effect, and are still doing so.
Thus, I humbly cast myself among these resolute agents of the light.
Now the question is – what about you?
REFERENCES (Books, scientific articles)
Dawkins, R. (2008) The God delusion. Houghton Mifflin, New York; 463 pages.
Dawkins, R. (2010) The greatest show on earth. Free Press, NewYork; 472 pages.
Einstein, A. (2010) Relativity. the special and general theory. Martino, Mansfield Centre; 188 pages.
Gore, Al (2007) The assault on reason. Penguin Press, New York; 320 pages.
Hawking, S. (1996) A brief history of time. Bantam, New York; 212 pages.
Hawking, S. (2010) The grand design. Bantam, New York; 198 pages.
Herrada, A., et al. (2011) Scaling properties of protein family phylogenies. BMC Evol. Biol. 11:155.
Hitchens, C. (2008) God is not great. McClelland & Stewart, Toronto; 307 pages.
Lappalainen, T., Dermitzakis, E.T. (2010) Evolutionary history of regulatory variation in human populations. Hum. Mol. Genet. 19:R197-R203.
Sagan, C. (1996) The demon-haunted world. Science as a candle in the dark. Ballantine, New York; 457 pages.
Underhill, P.A., Kivisild, T. (2007) Use of Y chromosome and mitochondrial DNA population stucture in tracing human migrations. Annu. Rev. Genet. 41:539-564.
Wood, B., Harrison, T. (2011) The evolutionary context of the first hominins. Nature 470:347-352.
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