Yvette Seifert Hirth
"Dis, dat, and de uddah"
Written by Peter Watson: an excerpt from his article, "The Wages Of Fundamentalism".
For decades, "big science" - indeed any kind of science - has been led by the United States. There are warning signs, however, that American science is losing its edge, and may even have peaked. One reason is that as religious and political fundamentalism tighten their grip, they are beginning to sap America's intellectual vitality.
By contrast, the political turmoil that has broken out on the other side of the Atlantic shows that Europeans grasp how destructive fundamentalism can be.
According to a survey in Physical Review, reported in May 2004, the number of scientific papers published by West European authors had overtaken those by U.S. authors in 2003, whereas in 1983 there were three American authors for every West European. The percentage of patents granted to American scientists has been falling since 1980, from 60.2 percent of the world total to 51.8 percent. In 1989, America trained the same number of science and engineering PhDs as Britain, Germany and France put together; now the United States is 5 percent behind. The number of citations in science journals, hitherto led by American scientists, is now led by Europeans.
As battles have raged in Kansas and elsewhere in America over evolution and Genesis, reputable biologists have spoken up in favor of Darwin's theories, but who knows how many students have already been turned off biology by these skirmishes?
As a result of fundamentalist opposition, America is already falling behind in cloning and stem cell research, now led by South Korean, Italian and British scientists. In February the New Scientist reported a survey in which fully half the scientists working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said they had been pushed to alter or withdraw scientific findings for political reasons.
Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the number of Chinese and Indians traveling to America to study has fallen by more than 50 per cent - they are going to Europe instead. There are now as many Asian PhDs being produced as U.S. ones, more and more of them familiar with Europe.
Yet history shows that fundamentalism leads only to stagnation and disaster.
Look back at the four great eras of fundamentalism in world history. Under the influence of the Israelite zealots in the centuries before Christ, ancient Israel dropped behind the surrounding civilizations both politically and materially, and provoked the Romans, who annihilated them, sparking a diaspora which lasted 2,000 years. Christianity in the Roman Empire led to half a millennium of dark ages, ending only with the rediscovery of Aristotle in the 12th century. Ascetic Buddhist fundamentalism in China from the fourth century to the ninth century resulted in 4,600 monasteries being destroyed, before the Song renaissance released the finest flowering of Chinese civilization. And Islamic fundamentalism beginning in Baghdad around 1067 led to a millennium of backwardness, which still afflicts the Islamic world.
By contrast, the very history of modern Europe - the scientific revolution, the Enlightenment, the modernist battles of the 19th century - may be characterized as the victory of rationalism and science over religious dogmatism. Europe is the birthplace of science. It was in the universities of Europe, in the 12th and 13th centuries, that the experiment was conceived and the testing of hypotheses became a rival form of authority to that of the church, creating the accuracy, efficiency and prosperity on which the modern world is founded.
Whatever Europe is, it is emphatically open-minded, especially about science, the most important activity yet invented.
There is no better illustration of this than a spectacular experiment reported in a recent issue of Nature, the science weekly. A team of 17 cosmologists led by Carlos Frenk, of the University of Durham in Britain, announced they had built a computer model of the universe. After 20 years preparation, the team took over a supercomputer in Germany for an entire month, shutting down large parts of German science, performed 500,000,000,000,000,000 calculations and proved beyond reasonable doubt that Einstein was right, that the universe is expanding, and dark matter a reality.
The same week that Frenk and his team announced their results, French and Dutch voters rejected the European constitution. Among the motives for the "no" vote there was an implicit rejection of the fundamentalist threat that some see in Turkey.
Turkey has tried to rid itself of fundamentalist Islam twice - and failed twice. In the 16th century, the Turks built observatories, translated European scientific texts and sent embassies abroad to study medicine and technology. But these advances never matured since their libraries were forbidden to stock books "filled with lies" (history, astronomy, philosophy). In the 19th century Shariah law was curtailed, the Koran reinterpreted to fit with parliamentary democracy and books on chemistry and biology translated. Again it didn't last.
Above everything else, Europe is not fundamentalist. This is why, in their hearts, many Europeans have misgivings about Turkey's entry into the EU. Europe has no shortage of problems of its own making, and has no need to import fundamentalism of any variety.
(Peter Watson's book "Ideas: A History From Fire to Freud" has just been published in Britain. It will appear in the United States in September.)
This page was last updated on / Dernier mise à jour à
Copyright / Marque Déposée Yvette Seifert Hirth
All rights reserved under the Berne and Paris copyright conventions - Reproduction prohibited
Tous les droits d´auteur réservé au dessous des regles des conventions de Berne et de Paris - Réproduction interdit