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close this bookWIT's World Ecology Report - Vol. 09, No. 1 - Critical Issues in Health and the Environment (WIT, 1997, 16 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentSPECIAL FOCUS: The World's Forests and Human Health
View the documentPOINT: Modern Timbering Contributes to Forest Fires
View the documentCOUNTERPOINT: Only the Logging Industry Can Save Our Forests
View the documentDid You Know?
View the documentCHERNOBYL UPDATE: Turning Nuclear Swords Into Hazardous Plowshares
View the documentFOOD FOR THOUGHT: A Hopeful Future for the United Nations Under Kofi Annan
View the documentHEALTH AND ENVIRONMENT: Environmental Health Policies: A View From Africa
View the documentGood News
View the documentVoices
View the documentPOINT OF VIEW: Faith and Fear of the Future

POINT OF VIEW: Faith and Fear of the Future

For those of us who operate on the Gregorian calendar, the second millennium is just three years away. The most important development of the current millennium soon ending is the ascendancy of scientific thought based on reason. Over the past thousand years, science gradually replaced beliefs in magic, superstition and divine intervention thus allowing for all of the theoretical and applied achievements in medicine, mathematics, the social and physical sciences, engineering, and the arts that have increased the human potential for development. Slowly over the same period, the authority of the individual gradually replaced the supremacy of god and the practitioners of magic. Scientific thinking is in a sense based on the individual's capacity to look at the world with wonder and skepticism, as the recently deceased eminent scientist Carl Sagan remarked in his last book, The Demon Haunted World: Science As A Candle in the Dark (New York: Random House, 1996).

It seems anachronistic that now in the last decade of the twentieth century, angels are making a come back. To the believers, angels are appearing more and more in the every day lives of ordinary people. In a recent book Omens of Millennium: The Gnosis of Angels, Dreams and Resurrection (US: Riverhead Books, UK: Fourth Estate), the American literary scholar Harold Bloom refers to a survey showing that over 66% of Americans believe in angels and about one third claim to have had direct experience with the divine. According to the Economist (Dec. 7-13, 1996), Bloom interprets the US as a "nation of prophecy" with strong tendencies towards a belief in the direct experience with God.

In NYC in 1995 scientists and defenders of the scientific approach to knowledge convened a conference titled, The Flight from Science and Reason. Spurred by the growing arenas of belief in magic, including experiences with the angels and other representations of the supernatural, extraterrestrial encounters, and the growing respect for anti/or pseudo science, this conference looked at the various assaults on scientific thinking and recognized that science's approach to the acquisition of knowledge and truth is linked to democratic processes. Conversely, one could argue, anti-science is associated with autocracy. Why now at the approach of the millennium are more and more people around the world embracing non-scientific modes of thought and beliefs in magic as their means to knowledge?

The answer may lie in the fears that grip individuals by a feeling of helplessness. The world is challenged by frightening problems so overbearing that many have lost a sense of hope in the future. Hope is psychologically required to prevent depression; therefore, belief systems which offer easy answers to events as yet unexplained by science fulfill the emotional need. One's belief can function as the means to manage otherwise overwhelming trepidation about future survival. The angels will give me guidance, while the ancient manuscripts contain the answer to our nightmarish world. The Celestine Prophecy about the search for an ancient Mayan document that contains insights into the secret of life, by James Redfield (US Warner and UK: Bantam) is a world wide bestseller. The popularity among Americans of the book and movie, Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton has been interpreted as a psychological response to Americans' fears of HIV/AIDS and other egregious threats for which there is no known scientifically demonstrated defense.

What is required is the recognition that the greatest fear of all is the fear of change. Change requires flexibility and adaptability, characteristics which depend on the questioning of ideas - a central feature of both scientific reasoning and democratic process. These qualities have been important elements of the American character. Change in and of itself is insufficient. Making the dreams of human dignity, democratic ideals and environmental sustainability come true can only happen when the fears that paralyze are seen for what they are. If we recall Shakespeare's words from the Tempest, "What is past is prologue," we are reminded to build on the strengths of the current millennium by maintaining the primacy of scientific reasoning.

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