The Relative Comment

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Founding Scientists

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Some things that I like are: History, Science, and Politics. In fact, at TRC these are three of the world’s most interesting and important pursuits. So, though I have little to add here, I wanted to post about Science Progress’s question article by Thomas Moreno: Are We Still a Nation of Science?

Why present it here? It is delightful, and because I spend a lot of time (a lot being relative) arguing that the Founding Fathers were not the Christians that today’s American Christians make them out to be. In fact, I would argue that most of them would barely qualify for salvation under the broad conservative Protestant denominations of 21st century America (half surely would not make the cut). The founders were religious folks, it is true, but not solely. They were  also scientists, or at least, advocates for science.

Wondering whether scientists should engage in public debate and advocacy, Moreno writes:

There are many good reasons for science to be put on the front burner of our public agenda. More than fifty percent of our economic growth since World War II is attributable to science and technology; this is the best investment our country has made. And our scientists and engineers are the best possible advocates for reinvestment in innovation, especially considering the state of our economy.

But the very fact that American scientists feel the need to aggressively advocate for science conceal a bitter irony that the Times article failed to note: We once had a group of brilliant, influential and politically engaged leaders who were fascinated by science, wanted the country to be the world leader in the pursuit of new knowledge about the natural world, and in some cases even made original contributions.

They were called the founding fathers.

Starting with Franklin and Jefferson, and moving straight through the Revolutionary generation and beyond, the article gives a quick history of how the forces behind the greatness of America always supported, encouraged, and engaged in the sciences. Thomas Paine, for example, “theorized that there must be millions of worlds like ours millions of miles apart.” (Wonderfully spoken, Tom).

Then, argues Jonathon Moreno, modern biology arrived, and threw the whole narrative of science in the United States into disrepute. But surely we can overcome this hurdle, as reason continues to make clear that evolution is not false, and not such a terrible threat after all.

As the calls increase for United States to regain a leadership role in science and innovation and technology and space exploration and the whole endeavor, it seems useful to remember that the drive for science in society goes right back to the historical heart of the country.


Written by Christopher ZF

August 15, 2011 at 16:55

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