Mere Humans

(This article is being submitted for publication in the Joplin Globe.)

Mr. Riley T. Jay in Sunday’s (5/16/2010) Globe guest editorial takes issue with the reality of the whole “global-warming notion.”  He states that modern society has a “. . . penchant for elevating science and scientists to the statues (sic) of deity; our lives are greatly affected by our belief of their pontifications.”  He goes on to call scientists “merely human” and points to several instances of scientists misleading the public, such as the Piltdown Man and one Ernst Haeckel.


Of course scientists are human.  Of course they make mistakes.  But to focus on those aspects is to disregard all that science has brought to the humanexperience.  The knowledge gained is too long to list of course, but it includes modern medicine, machines, electronics, astronomy, biology, and so on.

I think Mr. Jay misses the point of what science means, as would anyone who “deifies” any scientist.  The essence of science is skepticism.  It achieves understanding through experiment and consensus.  Science approaches knowledge as a continuum, not as an absolute.  Charles Darwin, whom I like to think of as an excellent scientist, studied, thought-out and discussed the elements of his theory for over 20 years before committing it to publication.

Mr. Jay left me wondering, if scientists are indeed so misleading, then whom or what are we to believe?  I was wondering if he means that we should we trust only religion, to the exclusion of science?  Suppose, just hypothetically, I were to challenge the reliability of religion by citing religious leaders like Jimmy Swaggart, Jim and Tammy Bakker, or Peter Popoff, a prominent 1980’s-era faith healer whose scams were exposed on television.  Would that mean that we can’t believe preachers?  Of course not.  The same is true of scientists.

As to believing preachers, there is another difference of course.  Acceptance of scientific theories can be demonstrated through experiment, but religion is not testable.  You can pray that tornadoes avoid a town, but it doesn’t always work.  Storm-tracking radar, on the other hand, does.

About Jim Wheeler

U. S. Naval Academy, BS, Engineering, 1959; Naval line officer and submariner, 1959 -1981, Commander, USN; The George Washington U., MSA, Management Eng.; Aerospace Engineer, 1981-1999; Resident Gadfly, 1999 - present. Political affiliation: Democratic.
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6 Responses to Mere Humans

  1. Jim says:

    Jim one, you have summarized the situation with science & religion in America about as well as can be done in a limited space. So, anything that I add exploits the benefit of additional space.

    Not many scientists are impressed by their purported ‘deification’. As if. Yes, a few achieve public recognition and a little fame and popularity. Most are as anonymous and unappreciated as my trash collectors (who are hardworking folks).

    I don’t trust anyone other than scientists when I am about to have a medical procedure or take medicine. I don’t trust anyone else to design the bridges that I drive over. I don’t trust anyone else to develop sophisticated weapons, communications devices, and other implements of national security. And I doubt that folks like Riley T. Jay are any different. They are different in being able to compartmentalize their thoughts – specific topics, having emotional connotations for them, are viewed in a different way.

    As you have indicated with your comments about skepticism, science is the only human endeavor for which a major aspect is falsifiability. Science recognizes that proving truth is elusive, while proving falsehood is reliable.

    As for the general public’s skepticism and attention to falsifiability: every disgraced (and some criminal) religious leader you mentioned regained sufficient stature with the public to continue their prior ‘work’. – Jim too


  2. Duane Graham says:


    Excellent response to Riley Jay, who doesn’t deserve such civilized restraint as you displayed.



  3. Duane Graham says:

    You are much better than I. Soft words are appropriate for reasonable debate, not for some of the stuff that appears in our paper. While Riley Jay is not the worst of the lot, his past writings about the “socialist” Obama don’t deserve respect simply because of the example he gave last month:

    I am very opposed to the policies of the current president because they are so patently socialistic, and I believe that socialism is a political evil. I have been a thoroughgoing socialist, influenced by a man who was convinced that he was the most savvy human on the face of the Earth. He finally got to spouting such egregious nonsense that I could see through his facade. One day he came up with this winner: “Every human deserves to be given a living wage regardless of whether or not he wishes to work”! Such an attitude reduces men to a state of being less than what they ought to be. Being exposed to such nonsense started me on a path to becoming quite conservative (an erstwhile liberal if you will).

    I have lost my ability to play nice with people who say such things. Oppose Obama all day, and it doesn’t matter to me. There are legitimate political positions one can take that run counter to Obama’s pragmatic liberalism. But to claim that Obama is a socialist, particularly one like in the example above, is beyond legitimate.
    And, since you went biblical on me, perhaps Riley Jay could appreciate this approach, which was condoned by a famous messiah:

    O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.



  4. Jim Wheeler says:


    Somehow I missed that one – I think we were out of town. Is the quote out of context? Hard to believe Big O said that, or even thought it.

    Jay debates with name-calling rather than substance. It’s unsatisfying, except in replying with substance. Felt like shooting fish in a barrel, a little, but your comment makes me feel better about it.

    Interesting quote, although, like many biblical passages, its meaning is fuzzy to me – the second sentence seems at odds with the first. Like some of the passages printed as the daily message in the Globe, the context is usually missing. I tried to look it up but couldn’t find it in the concordance of my “New International” version. The reason I ask is that the phrase “generation of vipers” jangled my few remaining memory cells.

    There was a controversial author, Phillip Wylie, who wrote a book called “Generation of Vipers” in 1942. It was a collection of essays and a best-seller in its time. He attacked many social myths of his time with often brutal candor. I came upon it as a teen and it made a lasting impression. You would have liked it, or at least appreciated his approach. Wikipedia has a biography on him.



  5. Duane Graham says:


    Big O would never use such language except in private, where he does all of his Marxist dirty work.

    And Wylie sounds like an interesting guy. I’d never heard of him, but I’m surprised the title, “Generation of Vipers,” wasn’t used more than once for a book title.

    As for Jesus’ recorded utterance, the premise for understanding him is that since he is the Son of God, anything he allegedly said is unquestionably sagacious. In this sense, theologians are sort of like high-brow art critics who will somehow find meaning in a piece of excrement under glass, so long as it was done by an artist. If you fail to see the obvious, the fault is in you, not in the source.

    But in this case the saying does comport well with the rest of Jesus’ blistering critique of the religious establishment, which was that they were corrupt because they demanded fealty to the Old Testament Law without obeying the spirit of it themselves. There was also an element of his criticism that involved the religious leaders enriching themselves at the expense of ordinary folks.

    In other words, not much has changed in 2000 years.



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