The old adage, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” deserves a corollary. Power tends to dismiss its corruption, and absolute power dismisses its corruption absolutely.
I recently ran upon an academic online discussion that suggested to me just such a corollary needs to exist. While political power might be among the first arenas of abuse which pop to mind, this discussion revealed voices from within the halls of academia reflecting upon the popularizers of science.
In commenting about Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos television series, historian of science Joseph Martin lamented, “It is troubling that the forums in which the public gets the most exposure to [the] history of science also tends to be those in which it is the least responsibly represented.” (https://networks.h-net.org)
Cosmos promoted a false version of history. In its reinterpretation, religion was cast as superstitious and ineffective in advancing an understanding of science.
In actuality, many of the greatest scientific thinkers throughout history have been and are motivated by their deep religious convictions that the Creator has made an understandable and orderly universe. Good science is not at odds with a healthy faith in the Creator.
What suggested the corollary to me was his later Machiavellian reasoning in support of the sociological power of philosophical naturalism. This philosophy likes to masquerade under the guise of science. To me the reasoning seemed to be that if atheism has to cheat to wield cultural influence, why not?
After noting that the stakes over the authority of science are very high right now especially in the United States, Martin suggested that, “Perhaps the greater truth here is that we do need to promote a greater public trust in science … and maybe a touch of taradiddle in that direction isn’t the worst thing.”
Ever heard of a taradiddle? It means a lie.
The public has no doubt about the value of technology or of the scientific method. However, doubt persists over the central claim of Carl Sagan’s original Cosmos series, “The Cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be,” which was replayed in the opening of Tyson’s reincarnation of Cosmos.
So what does all of this mean? An astrophysicist along with the additional science support team for Cosmos apparently thought it appropriate to misrepresent history in order to communicate their naturalistic message. Furthermore, at least some of those from within academia while lamenting the distortions, concede such deception could serve the greater good by shaping society’s viewpoint.
From the halls of academia to those whom they influence, philosophic naturalism is the culturally respected assumption. So how does such a status quo protect its position keeping the divine foot out of the door? One tool, albeit a corrupt one, could involve disseminating falsehoods. To be sure, what is useful and what is right are not always the same.
So what type of information do you want to ingest when forming your understanding of the most profound questions of life? Taradiddles?