“Science is like a good friend.” Why? Because “sometimes it tells you things you don’t want to hear.”
That’s the message Charlie Brooker gives in a hard hitting introduction to a documentary The Genius Of Darwin currently showing on British TV. The documentary kicks off a series of TV and radio programmes the BBC is running to commemorate anniversaries of the Birth of Charles Darwin (200th) and publication of his work The Origin of Species (150th). (See The BBC announces a major season marking the life and work of Charles Darwin – I just hope we get some of these documentaries in New Zealand).
Brooker’s comments are very relevant – not just because of these anniversaries. But also because there is a widespread suspicion of science, if not outright hostility towards science. The issue seems to be not just evolutionary science – but science in general.
Here are some of Brooker’s comments:
Must be frustrating being a scientist. There you are, incrementally discovering how the universe works via a series of complex tests and experiments, for the benefit of all mankind – and what thanks do you get?
Scientists are mistrusted by huge swathes of the general public, who see them as emotionless lab-coated meddlers-with-nature rather than, say, fellow human beings who’ve actually bothered getting off their arses to work this shit out. The wariness stems from three popular misconceptions: 1) Scientists want to fill our world with chemicals and killer robots; 2) They don’t appreciate the raw beauty of nature, maaan; and 3) They’re always spoiling our fun, pointing out homeopathy doesn’t work or ghosts don’t exist EVEN THOUGH they KNOW we REALLY, REALLY want to believe in them. That last delusion is the most insidious. Science is like a good friend: sometimes it tells you things you don’t want to hear. It tells you the truth. And we all know how much that can hurt, don’t we, fatso? Many people find bald, unvarnished truths so disturbing, they prefer to ram their heads in the sand and start dreaming at the first sign of scientific reality. The more contrary evidence mounts up, the harder they’ll ignore it. And even the greatest, most widely-admired scientists can provoke this reaction. Take Darwin.
Darwin’s theory of evolution was simple, beautiful, majestic and awe-inspiring. But because it contradicts the allegorical babblings of a bunch of made-up old books, it’s been under attack since day one.
The evidence confirming [Darwin’s] discovery has piled up and up and up, many thousand feet above the point of dispute. And yet heroically, many still dispute it. They’re like couch potatoes watching Finding Nemo on DVD who’ve suffered some kind of brain haemorrhage which has led them to believe the story they’re watching is real, that their screen is filled with water and talking fish, and that that’s all there is to reality – just them and that screen and Nemo – and when you run into the room and point out the DVD player and the cables connecting it to the screen, and you open the windows and point outside and describe how overwhelming the real world is – when you do all that, it only spooks them. So they go on believing in Nemo, with gritted teeth if necessary.
What was it that spooked them so?