Recently I’ve been watching a show dealing with a 20th century woman–an army nurse–who finds herself in Scotland in the 1700s…and reading a novel about a young Christian in the Middle Ages who travels from England to Persia to learn to become a physician from a Muslim physician who was the most skilled physician of his time.
It’s easy to look back at what we call the Dark Ages and laugh at what passed for science…or to wonder what on earth people were thinking. It’s easy to feel ourselves superior.
But I am finding myself wondering if we are perhaps moving into a time that future historians will look back on and call the New Dark Ages.
Because I sense in our American society today a denigration of learning…that somehow education isn’t really important, and that teachers are really just glorified babysitters.
Because as we are dealing with this pandemic, the knowledge of those who have studied these types of diseases is being questioned and/or discredited in favor of those who are peddling what in the past would have been called snake oil.
Because we have a president who refuses to listen to scientists in favor of his own gut knowledge…regardless of how dangerous that “knowledge” may be to those who take him seriously.
Because we (as a society) demand that our own wants be met, regardless of the impact on others–especially the vulnerable.
I used to wonder what it must have felt like for Galileo, da Vinci, Pasteur, and others who bucked the current knowledge of their time, open to new discoveries about the universe…our bodies…diseases. When they ran afoul of the authorities because they were willing to look at newly discovered facts, what gave them the courage to keep going?
What will it take for us to acknowledge that we are moving in the wrong direction? What will it take for us to again be open to science? to using that information to help us deal with situations such as the one we currently find ourselves in?
Isaac Asimov, one of my favorite science-fiction writers had this to say:
“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’”
I’m not suggesting that science has all the answers. The best scientists will acknowledge there is much yet to learn. But to turn our back on all that science has to offer us leads us down the road to a time when horse dung and urine were seen as legitimate medications…when bleeding was seen as the answer to almost all medical challenges…and then pandemics decimated countries.