It's the end of the world as we know it!

The editorial in Science last week (8 April '05), "Twilight for the Enlightenment" (subscription required), laments the challenge to our "confidence in science and in rational methods of thought" by a trend for "some school boards [to] eliminate the teaching of evolution or require that religious versions of creation be represented as 'scientific' alternatives".  Donald Kennedy, the Editor in Chief, is also perturbed that, "In several school districts, geology materials are being rewritten because their dates for Earth's age are inconsistent with scripture (too old)."  This challenge obviously comes from the right.

Interestingly, there is a commentary in last week's Nature by Dick Taverne, a member of the UK House of Lords, entitled, "The new fundamentalism" (again, subscription required).  Lord(?) Taverne (never thought I would type that particular appellation) is concerned about, "The growing influence of 'green' activists who approach environmental issues with a semi-religious zeal and seemingly little regard for evidence".  Taverne suggests that these viewpoints, "Imperil not only the future of the biotech enterprise but also the health of society as a whole".  Thus science is getting it from the left, too.

So it seems the problem is a bit more general than "evangelical Christianity" pushing to smudge the boundary between church and state (Kennedy), or Greens engaging in "scaremongering" that might "allow new technology to be summarily dismissed on the basis of unsubstantiated claims...technologies on which our future health and wealth depends" (Taverne).  Across a broad swath of the political and social landscape, from the right and the left, there is a fundamental turn away from the mindset that has brought us profound increases in our standard of living and profound decreases in human suffering.  Though we have lots of work to do on both points on a global scale, we aren't going to get there by turning away from the Enlightenment.

Then again, perhaps it is just our turn to watch the empire pass.  India, China, Islam in the middle ages; these cultures all had their day in the sun and made choices that let the mantle pass to others.  But with the passion for science and technology throughout Central and East Asia, coupled with education and an excellent work ethic, the wheel may be coming back around.  At least progress will happen somewhere.  We get to choose whether they have all the fun.