I must take issue with Gerard Howlin when he attributes the surplus of hubris in the modern world to the Scientific Revolution in the 17th century and the following Age of Reason.
The hubris of which he complains comes directly from the Book of Genesis. To quote just two relevant passages: “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”
On the contrary, it was precisely the Scientific Revolution and the Age of Reason which began the questioning of these ancient verities, culminating in the discovery of evolution and the realisation that the human species is as much a part of the natural world as the coronavirus.
Admittedly, we are slow learners but we have come to realise that to survive as a species we must live in harmony with the natural world and not dominate and subdue it.
It is the scientific approach, based on evidence and the use of reason, that has led us to recognise that human- induced climate change is the critical reality of our time. It is the scientific approach which has reduced infant mortality right across the globe and increased human longevity to an extraordinary extent. It is a complete misunderstanding of science to claim that its ultimate goal is “perfection and immortality”.
Its aims are much more modest — to slowly advance the sum of human knowledge by painstaking research into the nature of reality, from the lowliest bacterium to the magnificence of a supernova explosion and, at our best, to use that knowledge to make life a little easier for all of our sisters and brothers on this “pale blue dot”.
Of course we have made lots of mistakes along the way as enunciated in great detail in his article, but that is not the whole story by a long shot.
This readers' opinion was originally published in the letters page of the Irish Examiner print edition on March 9, 2020.