The Role of Science and Technology

The Role of Science and Technology

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-4586-8.ch011
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The role of modern technology needs to be reduced because of the ongoing threat of catastrophic environmental consequences. Regardless, some modern technology needs to be employed to monitor the ecosystem and to deal with potential celestial collisions. Other parts of modern technology that do not contribute to survival need to be reduced as quickly as possible without causing any more damage than necessary. Economic growth needs to be rethought with environmental costs properly included.
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Our examination of the role of science and technology in reaching equilibrium with the ecosystem starts with two conflicting facts: First, modern technology can never be compatible with the ecosystem because it does not acknowledge the ecosystem as something to be preserved. Second, science with its modern technological apparatus is essential for telling us where we stand with respect to the ecosystem, especially about threats to humans and to the ecosystem. For example, killer asteroids could wipe out both us and the ecosystem, completely resetting the clock of evolution, as happened when the dinosaurs died.

If modern technology has compatibility problems with the ecosystem, what about earlier technology? Classic agricultural technology is a paradigm for humans of nature itself: Pastoral scenes are nature for us. However, the classic technology of civilization has always collapsed, normally through practices which resulted in the inability to sustain their populations (Diamond 2002). So it seems that even this technology (agriculture practiced for the benefit of civilization) has compatibility problems—although collapses of classic technology were local and did not threaten entire ecosystems.

Because science does not regard human activity as the highest reality, it may play the role of a saving power. For it is largely science and its technological apparatus that are responsible for our knowledge of our position in the environment. And it is because of science and technology that we can even begin to have any hope of overcoming the difficulties in our current position. If our intelligence has failed us in leading us in the direction of destroying our own ecosystem, it has not failed us in revealing this very situation to us.

I speak of science as “our intelligence,” but powerful forces—especially in the US—disparage science for religious or economic reasons. Republican presidential candidates state their disbelief in evolution, presumably because of their religious beliefs. In any case, their reliance on religious belief in only some matters is suspect. It is not religious beliefs which keep planes in the air and automobile engines from exploding. It is the same scientific methodology that establishes evolution and climate change. So there does not seem to be any rational justification for picking and choosing between science you like and science you do not like. Either do not drive cars and do not fly, or start believing in evolution and climate change. Beliefs against evolution and climate change as a basis of policy make it impossible to deal with environmental problems in any effective way.1 Although freedom of religion is a basic human right, the separation of church and state in the US means that religious beliefs should not impact public policy. Religious beliefs determining public policy can only result in human extinction.

The alternative to evolution is creation by a mythical humanlike being whose actions are rather arbitrary. Human beings on this account are not part of nature but are not physical beings at all, but rather souls which on death move to another much better world. Thus on this alternative, this world is a throwaway world, and we do not have to grant it much respect. The discovery of DNA in chromosomes as the basis for all life should have rendered creation by a large human being in the sky unbelievable. But, after all, the discovery that the world is not flat and therefore not a three-storied affair should have rendered unbelievable the idea of souls going to an afterlife in a world in the sky. Belief in an afterlife is, however, relatively harmless. It does not impact public policy in any direct way. However, disbelief in evolution can impact public policy by ignoring or downplaying the impact of human action on the ecosystem. Faith-based beliefs also support climate change denial. Climate change denial as of now is the most serious threat to the continued existence of human beings and even the continued existence of the ecosystem.

Attempts to disparage science for economic reasons are in some ways more disturbing. When fossil fuel corporations spend upwards of thirty million dollars to disparage climate change science, they do not have alternative correct ideas. They are motivated solely by removing a threat to their profits. In their case, the disconnect between the science, they accept and the science they reject is even greater: Their business of producing fossil fuels requires sophisticated science.

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