Written by Lee Schneider, founder of DocuCinema.
Comments on last week’s 500 Words ran the spectrum from “you freaked out Dad,” to “I’m concerned about your mental state.” It got me thinking about which side I was on in the science-spirit game.
Say you’re on West 4th Street in NY. You’re choosing sides for a pickup ball game between the New York Logics and the California Intuitives. The guy leaning on the fence has a great jump shot and is obsessed with hard data. He goes to the Logics. The guy in three point land always makes the right move without thinking about it. He’ll play for the Intuitives. Easy choices? Before I push the basketball metaphor and tear a ligament, consider a crossroads I found myself in a few years ago.
I was making a documentary for the History Channel about the Shroud of Turin, interviewing investigators who wanted proof that the Shroud was the true burial cloth of Jesus. One reputable researcher told me, “if you do the experiment that way, you don’t get the result you want.” The result you want? I realized the guy was no longer a scientist even though he called himself one. He wasn’t playing for the Logics. He’d been traded to the Believers. Thing is, however, other Believers have been pretty good scientists. Francis Bacon, originator of the scientific method, was a Believer. Isaac Newton worked on biblical numerology when he wasn’t working with calculus. This is where the dividing line gets fuzzy.
Charles Darwin was cozy with the Church. According to a piece in Seed Magazine Darwin was close friends with his local pastor, John Brodie Innes. They served on various committees and church-funded groups, including the Sunday School. “We often differed,” Darwin wrote to Innes, “but you are one of those rare mortals, from whom one can differ & yet feel no shade of animosity.”
Innes wrote of Darwin: “He is a most accurate observer, and never states anything as a fact which he has not most thoroughly investigated … He follows his own course as a Naturalist and leaves Moses to take care of himself.” Walking in this crossroads of science and spirit you might encounter Deepak Chopra, who seems a little pissed off at science lately. Dr. Chopra recently wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle, an article reprinted on intent.com, about what he calls science’s “diabolical creativity.” The atom bomb, Thalidomide, DDT and hormone-injected meat are all on Dr. Chopra’s “Bad Science” list. He says scientists shouldn’t act like they are above morality.
That’s a tough one. You place limits on research and the free flow of ideas isn’t so free any more. This sort of action produces not Bad Science but Bad Religion: Believers vs. Infidels, Crusades, Holy Wars, regimes that suppress the rights of women. Moral absolutes might feel good to some but do they help investigators get at the truth?
Maybe, in truth, the truth is blurry. Creationists hate Darwin, but in truth he was involved in Church affairs because he knew it was good for the community. Truth is Chopra thinks from the heart, but he has years of medical training and has a scientific mind.
What team do you play for? Or do we need to choose up sides at all?
Stay curious and see you next Thursday.