A Word In Edgewise: When Did “Science” Become a Dirty Word?


When I was a kid, “Science” brought to mind wonder–the discovery of new things and the explanation of old mysteries. From the Latin scientia or knowledge, it has roots also in words meaning divide, separate, split. Breaking a given datum down into manageable bits will, if a theory is sound, yield consistent and repeatable results.

Dismissal of scientific process is not confined to modern fundamentalists and creationists. Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis published findings in 1847 showing that hand-washing by doctors drastically reduced maternal deaths from puerperal fever. He was derided and drummed out of the profession, institutionalized in 1865 and beaten to death by guards.

After Pasteur and Lister confirmed germ theory in the 1860s, Semmelweis’s practice gained acceptance–too late for the 47-year-old Semmelweis and for hundreds–perhaps thousands–of women who died unnecessarily in childbirth.

Note the term “germ theory.” Evolution is a theory; gravity is a theory, as is electromagnetism. A theory is not a whimsy, a fabrication or an article of faith. The definition given by the American Association for the Advancement of Science is: “A scientific theory is a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of facts that have been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment.”

While some insist, through biblical inerrancy, that the earth is only 6000 years old, while scientists date the oldest stone tools to around 2.9-2.7 mya (million years ago). The December, 2012 National Geographic offers scientific proof that the ancient Peruvians were popping corn for ceremonies 6,700 years ago

The “Say No to Science” mentality today has the potential to destroy not only women in childbirth, but future generations while denying modern theories such as weather patterns and stem-cell research, leaving unaddressed problems growing exponentially.

I offer this as an observation. Nothing can be solved in 375 words. I urge that we think, and heed Charles Darwin’s own words in the introduction to his The Descent of Man:

“It has often and confidently been asserted, that man’s origin can never be known: but ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.”

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