This is how the Indian Prime Minister responded to the success of the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) yesterday:
“History has been created by our scientists”, said PM Narendra Modi in his speech immediately after the scientists declared the mission a success. “We have dared to reach out to the unknown.”
“When our cricketers win a tournament, we celebrate in a big way. What these scientists have achieved is thousand times bigger,” he added.
It’s certainly a great achievement – India managed a succesful Mars orbit introduction with the first spacecraft they sent to Mars. We can measures ts success against the fact that more than half the world’s previous attempts – 23 out of 41 Mars missions – have failed, including attempts by Japan in 1999 and China in 2011.
The Indian Mar’s Orbiter arrived in Mar’s orbit just a few days after the US Maven orbiter. Both orbiters have similar tasks. MOM’s scientific goals including using five solar-powered instruments to gather data that will help determine how Martian weather systems work and what happened to the water that is believed to have once existed on Mars in large quantities. It will also search Mars for methane, a key chemical in life processes on Earth that could also come from geological processes.
The BBC described the cost of MOM as “staggeringly cheap” by Western standards. The US Maven orbiter is costing almost 10 times as much. This bodes well for the future of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) – especially for launches of commercial satellites for overseas countries and companies.
Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) scientists and engineers monitor the movements of India’s Mars orbiter at their Spacecraft Control Center in the southern Indian city of Bangalore (Credit: Reuters / Stringer)
In my debates with some theists over the nature of human morality I am sometimes accused of being utopian. Of only seeing a good side to human nature. Ignoring the history of violence and persecution.
Maybe it’s just a matter of my critics finding a balanced view of human nature impossible. However, I reject their criticism because I have in fact written about the human nature and intuitions, such as the “then vs us” intuition, which have motivated negative examples of human activity.
Still, these critiques have put me in admirable company – Steven Pinker has received similar unwarranted criticism. Particularly in the publicity surrounding his new book: The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.
I have a copy and look forward to reading it. His earlier books are impressive and this has certainly had excellent reviews.
Pinker argues, and provides evidence for his argument, that human violence has declined. He is not claiming this trend is inevitable or that it cannot be reversed. Just that it is a fact of recent history.
The Guardian recently published an interview with Pinker about his findings. You can read it at Steven Pinker: fighting talk from the prophet of peace. This included a table from the book that impressed me. it was a list of the 21 worst atrocities (conflicts or tyrannies) in human history. Pinker recalibrated these, to express the number of victims in terms of an equivalent 20th Century population.
I have listed the data below in order of the recalibrated death tolls. It certainly provides some food for thought. (And, incidentally put’s paid to the simplistic ideologies which blame all wars and atrocities on either religion or atheism).
||Death toll (20C equivalent)**
||An Lushan revolt
||Middle East slave trade
||Fall of the Ming dynasty
||Fall of Rome
||Annihilation of the American Indians
||Atlantic slave trade
||Second world war
||Mao Zedong (mostly government-caused famine)
||British India (mostly preventable famine)
||Thirty years’ war
||Russia’s “time of troubles”
||First world war
||French wars of religion
||Congo Free State
||Russian civil war
||Chinese civil war
*Median/mode of figures cited in encyclopaedias or histories. Includes battlefield and civilian deaths
**Deaths were calculated against global population at time, then scaled up to mid-20th century level
One of the figures from Pinker’s new book also illustrates his main point. This is his Figure 5.3: 100 worst wars and atrocities in human history.
Perhaps we are getting better?
Posted in atheism, belief, philosophy, politics, religion, SciBlogs, science, Science and Society
Tagged American Native Indians. slavery, Congo Free State, History, India, Mao Zedong, Middle East, Pinker, SciBlogs, Steven Pinker, Timur