I’ve been sitting on this post for 3 months because I didn’t want to hurt Google. But Google has given me permission to post this, and in any case, it speaks for me and not Google.
Unlike many of my peers in the computer industry, I was a history major in college and have loved and read history ever since. I studied, in particular, the progressive era in history, an era when the industrial revolution evolved from the grim satanic mills of England into the modern industrial world. But the understanding I always had was that none of this would or could have been possible without the renaisaance and without the slow but sure rise of secular humanism and the spirit of scientific and intellectual inquiry that started at that time. After the fall of the Roman empire, in many ways the lights went out and, in the 14th century particularly, life in Europe hit a new low stroke the the terrible plague, the start of the mini ice age, and the wars between France and England. In the 15th century we saw the Spanish inquisition and the reconquista, but really, it was the last gasp of intolerant religious fanaticism and the spirit of inquiry and discovery from art to music to science was everywhere. The lights had been turned back on. As a child, growing up in New York City, I took for granted that mankind had learned these lessons. I assumed that mankind understood that freedom to think, to reason, and to experiment were paramount and that any irrational intolerant irrational beliefs that threatened these freedoms or, even worse, abused or injured people in the name of some mystical or fanatic cause were horrific reminders of the past.
I fear now for my children growing up into a world where the leaders turn their backs on the spirit of reason and inquiry. Where the new cardinals of the church deny evolution not on any grounds of empirical reason or evidence, but rather like children having a temper tantrum because they want it not to be so. Where the leaders of this country try to take Terry Shiavo’s husband to court not because of any evidence, but because they are angry to have been proven wrong by science. Where cowardly murderers kill innocent men, women, and children and claim to do it in the name of a religion, meaning something that no one can possibly argue with from a rational point of view. Where the education board of Kansas makes the state a mockery by demanding that irrationality be held to be as valid as science. Where 1.2 billion people consider it acceptable for some man with a vision to utter a Fatwa ordering some person killed simply because he doesn’t like what the other person chooses to believe in or even just disapproves of his line of inquiry. Where political correctness means that if some lines of inquiry are pursued, others feel free to harass and abuse and even threaten the people trying to find out the facts. Where people believe that they have the right to tell others what to believe, what to wear, what to eat, what to say, and what to think.
I fear because today, so many seem to fear to speak out. So many seem to fear to say that any “faith” which presumes to dictate to others not because there is some clear fair process that led to the dictates (laws voted on by people whose individual rights are protected by a constitution) or because they are clearly preventing bodily harm to others (preventing rape, robbery, murder, or abuse), but rather simply because people of that faith believe that they have the “right” to dictate to others is wrong. Those who believe otherwise are trying to drag us back to the 14th century because they fear and hate a world in which the facts trump irrational belief and where, therefore, inquiry may always show that their “obvious truths” are just obsolete shiboleths.
It is wrong. The belief that some imam has that he has the right to snuff out someone’s life through a Fatwa because of their apostasy or heresy is wrong. The belief that terrorists have that they have the right to kill and maim and burn innocent people because they are angry at injustice is wrong. The belief that some governments have that they have the right to kill and wound their own citizens when they protest peaceably is wrong. The belief that some Catholic prelates have that they can dictate what people believe about science is wrong.
It is all akin to letting a child’s tantrum dictate the judgement of an adult. It promotes irrationality over reason and faith over facts. The reason that homicidal madmen are so frightening is that one cannot reason with them. No more can one reason with the people who rule on the school boards in Kansas, the people who bomb innocent people in buildings and subways, the people who shoot their own citizens for protesting, or the prelates who presume to tells others how to live rather than simply choosing that way for themselves and hoping it acts as an example for others.
It is time to speak up. It is time to say that facts are what matter, not faith, that human progress is accomplished through unfettered use of reason and inquiry and tolerance and discussion and debate, not through intolerant and irrational acts of terror or edicts. For all of our children and for the future, speak up against this wave of intolerance and irrationalism washing over the world.