In all of human history only twenty-seven people have ever seen the unobstructed entirety of the globe of the earth with their naked eyes. It is fitting that one of the very last photographs commemorating the wonder of this unique view, “The Blue Marble,” taken in December of 1972, captured at its center the continent of Africa, the mother of our species.
We can thank the Apollo program for this and many other wonders. It’s fitting, on the 50th anniversary of the first lunar landing, for us to also thank science for the Apollo program. Science has stood alongside and made possible the best and most noble and most inspiring achievements of our species, just as ignorance and the repudiation of science has been in attendance when we were at our most disgraceful. Except in the production of weapons of war, science has always proved itself to be the enemy of the despot and the boon to Homo sapiens.
With the mapping of the human genome, the discredited theories of race, and variations of potentialities according to race, have been laid to rest. Science has bequeathed us vaccines against disease, light against darkness, our global networks of communication against human misunderstandings and an ever-improving picture of our place, our origin and our destiny in the universe.
The backbone of science is the Scientific Method leading to discovery, and the proving ground for all scientific discoveries is the scholarly, academic peer review. Peer review, while imperfect, is the best method we have for testing, refining and improving our scientific theories. Peer reviewed articles, published in journals devoted to science, are tacit but honest admissions that our theories may be wrong, and an open invitation to other scientists to test their validity. It is this admission of possible error, and the changeability of science, that is so often seized upon by the critics of science, the ignorant steeped in dogma, as proof of the weakness of science itself. It is in fact its towering strength, and why we are, ironically, debating such questions with computers and not stone tablets.
Dogma, on the other hand, has no room or patience for change. It is written in cement for all time, and its reluctance to change is often its very downfall. When, for example, taking time out from his busy schedule before getting back to the business of being infallible, Pope Paul V consigned Galileo Galili to house arrest for life, for the “heresy” of heliocentricity, the dogma of the church rendered the Papacy’s ability to retract this verdict an embarrassment to Papal authority.
The current evangelical view of science is that it is the “wisdom of the world,” and is therefore to be treated with suspicion, particularly where it comes into conflict with the received wisdom of holy scripture. It’s a shame this reluctance of the evangelicals to engage with the world does not extend to politics.
Americans are woefully ignorant of science and complacent to be so, and were it otherwise a man like Donald Trump would never have been elected president of the United States. A grounding in science would have sharpened and trained the skeptic in us all. Trump’s claims would have been subjected to review and found irreproducible. His repudiation of global climate change would have been laughed at. Americans educated in the fallibility of anecdotal evidence and the superiority of statistical evidence would have never fallen for Trump’s bigoted generalizations about the people of Mexico. This is why Trump doesn’t want an educated America, and why he continues to promote the superstitious myths of our demon haunted world.
It is the recollection of the “Blue Marble,” hanging in space, the vision of all that we are and all that we have ever been, that affects me the most when contemplating this Trump presidency. Trump has placed that azure gem sparkling in the vastness at terrible risk. Science has shown us what we look like. Science alone can save us.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.