President Barak Obama has wisely suggested that it is time to take the heat out of the debate over abortion, and that people on both sides of the aisle (pro-life vs. pro-choice) need to stop demonizing each other and try to find some common ground that they can agree upon. Obama’s counsel might also be applied to the debate over “where we come from”.
Public debate is usually driven by the more strident supporters of both sides of an issue; this is especially true in the debate over the theory of evolution vs. creationism (or intelligent design). The result is that both sides come off badly. Creationists who see evolutionists as godless heathens, need to stop it. Evolutionists who think that all creationists are nutcases who believe that the earth was created by God literally in six days (after which he took a breather) need to quit it too.
The scientific community must regain their devout temper and agree that no subject nor discussion is ever off the table. They should also discontinue the practice of behaving like theories (no matter the alleged supporting evidence) are indisputable facts. Only facts are facts. Fully open minds, reasoned debate, and a spirit of inquiry should rule the roost. At the same time, it should be remembered, as Carl Jung once said, that science is but one tool to acquiring knowledge, it is not the only tool.
To achieve common ground today’s scientists might take the counsel of Alexander von Humboldt, a German naturalist who was among in the earliest explorers to adopt the modern scientific view. In his 5 volume master-work Kosmos (1845), Humboldt writes:
The thoughtful scientist’s most important achievement is this: to recognize the unity in diversity, to comprehend all that the discoveries of recent times tell us about the individual, to sift and scrutinize details without succumbing beneath their weight, and, mindful of humankind’s high destiny, to perceive the Spirit of Nature, which lies beneath a covering of external phenomenon. In this way, our endeavors will reach beyond the narrow confines of the external world and we shall succeed in mastering the raw material of empirical observation, as it were, by ideas.
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