Skip to main content.

Back to: >> Controversies

Science, Democracy, and the New Fundamentalism

Dick Taverne
Book Review With Commentary

Taverne sees through the hypocrisy and fraud inherent in modern Fundamentalism. He gets down to some of the perceptual and expressive ills of humanity. He frames his many arguments around the use and misuse of the scientific method in its effects on many facets of our lives. Science may be the ultimate in rational endeavor, but it is under serious attack from many quarters for a variety of reasons. Taverne illustrates the fallacies in resisting the march of science and reason, especially as they affect progress in medicine, farming, industry, governance and religion.

He expertly counters the platitudes, myths, truisms, half-thuths, cliches, and conventions that abound in our culture with facts and sound logic. What "feels" right, often turns out to be quite wrong. His tool, the scientific method, works simply and beautifully whether the subject is science itself, politics, medicine, governance, big business, or marketing. He illustrates at great length how NGOs with laudable missions, can still get it wrong. For example, opponents of triple immunization shots for measles, mumps and rubella, MMR, meant well, but in Ireland where they succeeded in stopping the use of MMR, the incidence of measles went up with children dying. There was never any evidence that MMR shots are anything like as dangerous as not giving them. In another example, Rachel Carson warned of the dangers of cancer from exposure to chemicals like DDT. In fact, not one case of cancer from DDT has ever been confirmed. But what can be confirmed, is that it saved tens of millions of people from death. [DDT however, has been shown by the scientific method to thin the shells of certain birds of prey.]

Taverne touches on the theme of this web-site when he writes:

Criticism of GM [genetically modified] crops by Greenpeace should not be taken seriously when its chief executive admits that no evidence can change his opposition.

This is the Authoritarian Personality in action. However noble the basic assumption that genetic modification is inherently dangerous, there is not yet a shred of proof that it is. Since close to a billion people regularly consume GM crops there should be ample evidence of danger if that assumption is true. It is scientists and technologists, not their opponents, that have given humankind a doubled life expectancy with a more pleasant and interesting existence. This is not to say a scientist can not get it wrong; sometimes they surely do. Nevertheless the risk analyses favors science by a wide margin.

Taverne also does a marvelous job of showing how democracy fosters scientific investigation, side-stepping the Authoritarian issues.

His final shot is that science is not and cannot be everything. As he points out, where would we be without poetry, music, love and laughter?

Our position is simple.

Let the facts speak for themselves. But since we may never know all the facts, there will always be the questions: "What lies beyond?" "What came before?" "How will it all end?" "What is our purpose?" "Is there a purpose?" "What is reality itself?"

The unknowns and unknowables are the regions of and for mythos--unless answers are found by scientific methods. Meanwhile, what is the harm if someone chooses to have faith in some beyond as long as s/he does not harm anyone, gives all others the same right, and celebrates the many possible differences in a spirit of toleration?

Our problem is that that hasn't happened so far. See Monotheism and Violence for one such example.


No comments yet

To be able to post comments, please register on the site.