Wednesday, September 18, 2013

American Exceptionalism. How the Right is destroying it.

              Our numbering system uses Arabic Numerals. Algebra is an Arabic word, as is algorithm. 2/3 of the named stars have Arabic names. Why?

From 800 C.E. til around 1100 C.E. the Islamic Caliphate was centered in the great city of Baghdad. This city was the crossroads of civilization after the collapse of the classical Roman Empire and the decline of the Eastern Empire. It brought together China, Persia, North Africa and Europe in an intellectual stew.

The collapse of Rome left Europe in disarray. With the lack of traditional nation states far too much power was ceded to the Church. They controlled education. The tomes that were salvaged from Rome were transcribed by monks. In Europe the Catholic Church was the gatekeeper of education and existent knowledge for all practical purposes.

With their dogmatic views the conditions in Europe were not conducive to unfettered research.The major advancements in Europe were related to the construction of Cathedrals and other religious edifices. Architecture, engineering and related mathematics.

Baghdad however saw the mixing of ideas and cultures. The classical knowledge and ideas from the Greco-Roman era. Ideas and knowledge from India and China. Muslims, Jews and Christians mingled freely exchanging insights.

The result was an explosion of scientific knowledge and preservation of the earlier scientific gains threatened by the collapse of Rome.

Astronomy flourished hence the Arabic star names. Mathematics was expanded. Algebra and the adoption of the Arabic numerals.Those replaced the use of the cumbersome Roman numerals eventually in the West. The use of zero as a mathematical concept was refined.

Books from all over the world were translated into Arabic. Knowledge was saved, shared and preserved for the future.

Science, arts and literature flourished for around three hundred years then stopped.


The rise of Islamic fundamental thought where knowledge was seen as the work of evil put an end to the intellectual dominance of the Caliphate. It showed scientific thought and discovery can not exist in an atmosphere of fundamental rejection of human knowledge as evil and ungodly. This fundamentalism effectively killed progress and innovation in the Arab world. A thousand years later it still hasn't recovered. Who knows what advancements were sacrificed on the alter of a point of view that sees everything in religious terms.

Now we hear a lot about American Exceptionalism from conservatives. The irony is they may be killing what they are extolling.

American exceptionalism isn't a myth. The explosive emergence of The United States onto the world stage was fostered and fueled by intellectual freedom. A refusal to take "I can't understand this" as a limit to progress. Americans have always sought answers.

Freed from religious hegemony and the resulting intellectual shackles by the Enlightenment, America was born. The men who founded this great nation were steeped in the intellectual, philosophical and scientific revolutionary thought of their time. Secular Humanism was replacing Dogmatic Religion as the driving force in human advancement.

When faced by a problem in science answers were sought and the default position of "Known only to God" was rejected and a solution was found.

Americans took European ideas and made them distinctly ours. From the founding of this nation Americans rose to the front of the wave of modern science. We blazed the paths that severed our bonds to the Earth as we learned to fly. We took the British Industrial Revolution and showed the world what it could be.

Americans in the 19th and 20th Centuries took scientific advancement in stride seeing it as a birthright.
Science and technology made the United States the Arsenal Of Democracy during the Second World War. It enabled the defeat of the Nazis and the Japanese Empire in years rather than decades.

The American dominance in science is seen in the Nobel prizes accumulated. There are a lot of elements that have uniquely American names. We opened up the Solar System. Americans expanded the size and scope of the Universe. We've explored the building blocks of reality. Only Americans have walked on another celestial body.

Science gave us hope for the future. History taught us about our past. Intellectual freedom made us what we are today. Both disciplines were seen to be neutral as fact based education should be.
So why do modern conservatives feel that science and history is a la carte? Pick and choose what's true. One from column A and one from column B?

The only reason I can see that makes any sense is the unholy marriage between social conservatives and what once was fringe Evangelical churches. There has been a disturbing growth in the literalist, Fundamentalist, Evangelical Christian worldview.

Due to opportunistic political decisions made in the 70's, 80's and 90's the Christian Right and the willfully ignorant have gained positions of power. They control school boards. They are in State Legislatures and Congress. Think Tanks are pushing anti-science and history agendas. PAC's, Churches and other organizations back up these policies with money. There are people seen as so-called experts extolling these views in the media as rational positions. They are aided by cynical outlets promoting a reactionary agenda.
I realize many hold these positions as a matter of true belief. Zealots are extremely resistant to differing points of view. Many reject it as blasphemy.

Others hold these views as a bedrock political position and compromise is seen as weakness.
Many though have adopted these beliefs as simple political expediency. Simply taking money and support to hold power.

Combined, these movements are deadly to America's future.
Most of a persons core beliefs are formed in childhood. This is how America's future is threatened.
Since our manufacturing base has been decimated by shortsighted corporate and Government policies our economic future rests on technological advances and innovation. This is not possible without a scientifically literate population. Policies that are being adopted preclude that future.


It's a cascading effect. When a cornerstone of scientific thought is denied, other scientific truths must also be denied.

The two most reviled scientific principles are Climate Change and evolution.

Evolution. Where to start?

Intelligent design is being touted as a legitimate scientific alternative. This is simply creationism dressed up in a gown and mortarboard to avoid church/state issues.

First off, Intelligent Design does not hold up to the basic scientific process.

The rap against evolution is it's "only" a theory. Well, so is gravity and I don't see them jumping off tall buildings to test it. The basic premise of Intelligent Design is not measurable in a lab or the field like the well
tested theory of Evolution.

Evolution is the bedrock of modern biology and medicine. You want to see evolution? Antibiotic resistant bacteria.

Intelligent Design does not explain our sharing a majority of our genome with the great apes. It also doesn't explain shared genes with lifeforms that aren't mammals.As a scientific position Intelligent Design is a nice fairy tale.

There is a school of thought in Creationism that because something wasn't witnessed it didn't happen. This applies to evolution and the creation of the Universe. That is as ludicrous as it sounds.

Creationism also has spawned the "Young Earth" movement. This embraces the idea Earth and the Universe is only 6,000 years old. This rejects multiple sciences.

Astronomy has determined the age of the universe by measuring the Doppler shift in light from distant objects.This is applied physics. This is explained by young earthers like this. We know the speed of light here. Since we haven't visited other stars to measure we don't know the speed of light for that star. Thus, it invalidates the idea the Universe is around 15 billion years old. A variation on if you did not witness it it didn't happen.

Geology is rejected along the same lines when pegging the Earth's age as 4.5 billion years old. We can't know for sure decay rates have always been constant.
Since we didn't witness how fossils are made we can't know their age. Thus Adam rode a Dinosaur like Alley Oop.

So, basically all science and history is rejected if it contradicts the idea that anything is more than six thousand years old. The Bible as text book.

If all this accumulated scientific knowledge is flawed the technology the world runs on couldn't exist.
As this view spreads into our educational system America will slide into irrelevancy. Discovery and innovation will move to more enlightened environments. As will the intellectually curious.Say good bye to a proud tradition of discovery.

The right is so worried about creeping Sharia Law(which doesn't exist) they are blind to their own imposition of religious law here. One is reviled. One is revered.

Without innovation we are doomed as a civilized nation. Teaching Creationism is tantamount to intellectual child abuse.

We are about to recreate the fall of the Caliphate into superstition and divine law.

To survive we must reclaim American thought from extremists that wish to enforce Bronze Age views as all that's needed. There are those in power who call science lies from the pits of Hell. We need to reestablish the founders faith in rationalism or just hand off our future to whomever will take it.

If we fail, this great experiment is a failure.

We can't allow that.

The future is now. We need to save it.

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