Mini-lecture: 'Is science always good?' (UCL)

Uploaded by UCLTV on 09.11.2009

I'm Dr Joe Cain. I'm a historian in the Department of Science & Technology Studies.
And a couple weeks ago I did a project at the Old Vic Theatre here in London.
They asked me to come in and talk about the Scopes Monkey Trial, which is a
which is a law case that happened in the 1920's,
where basically a state in America passed a law that said you can't teach evolution
in the schools.
And there's a play running now called 'Inherit the Wind' that relates to
that case, that court case.
And I came in and they asked me to talk about the history of anti-evolution and to get into
the science of evolution.
My broad view is the Scopes Monkey Trial and the play 'Inherit the Wind'- they're not really
about evolution.
And indeed the anti-evolutionism or pro-creationism that's alive today
isn't really about the technical science of evolution. What it's really about are deeper things.
So, for example, a lot of people who call themselves Creationists, when you ask them, 'What are you
so angry about?'
One of the things that always say is, 'We just don't like science. We don't like the
scepticism that science brings. Science teaches us to question everything.'
A lot of people say, 'Well, I just don't want all my values, all the parts of my life questioned.'
The other thing that they always talk about with science is
is the materialism of science, the idea that there's only matter in motion, that there's
no spirit, no soul,
or anything else. Science purposefully
avoids the unobservable things in the world and so by leaving those things out,
some people think that by leaving those things out, science hasn't done its job.
Another thing people
talk about when they talk about being against science
is just
the broad view that science is modern. Science is modernist.
One idea behind science is you just reject the old, and you favour the new. Always look
for the new thing.
And as soon as the new thing comes, you replace the old.
And the traditionalists behind the procreation side of the discussion
they don't want things to change. They want to stick to tradition.
That's an important point, I think, to pick up.
So at the Old Vic in a broad kind of conversation about
what's the historical importance of the Scopes Monkey Trial,
we talked about things like, is science always good?
We got into some great
conversations. So, for example, for every
good thing I could name about science, somebody in the audience stood up and said,
'Well, there's a comparable bad thing.'
Mobile phones are fantastic.
They put is in contact with
everyone, but
we've all sat on buses and trains, where people have yakked away at their phones for no good reason.
Or the internet- the internet brings in wonderful things into our lives.
But at the same time, every parent worries about
what it brings into their kids' lives. So it's good and bad. And in
the context of talking about the Scopes Monkey Trial, the anti-evolutionism, the
question is science always good or bad,
boy, we had a great conversation that
really, really raised the roof at the Old Vic,
talking about, 'Is science always good?'