Moorthy Muthuswamy, Sep. 2005
Many sociologists and internet pioneers have begun to realize -- societies for the first time across continents and on large scale are becoming part of a new civilization -- an Internet Civilization. Will America continue to its science and technology dominance in this era or will it be upstaged by a resurging China or any other nation? These questions are not merely academic as security, wealth or even global order will be determined depending on an answer. I argue here that current trends and outlook indicate an upstaged America if certain policy decisions are not taken now to strongly promote science education in America.
Merriam-Webster on-line dictionary defines civilization as “a relatively high level of cultural and technological development”. Implicit in this definition is the critical role of scientific knowledge driving technology development. Even if one were to use the term “progress” or “development”, it becomes apparent that this is first achieved by understanding nature and then manipulating it to suit our needs.
Internet has brought unprecedented level of access to wide ranging and up-to-date information. This information was previously accessible mostly to exclusive domains -- through print media. Of course, Internet impact is far more than that – the level of access and connectivity have led to forming communities and commerce that transcend physical boundaries! Is there any correlation between increased information access and progress?
Let me first address the issue of which institutions had limited information access in the recent past. Organized religious institutions have relied on “revelations” given to “God’s messengers” several hundred to thousand years ago to indoctrinate masses, and to limit the masses’ information access in order to keep their powerbase and control. A case in point: The dismal scientific output of Islamic societies correlates with Islamic clerics’ iron information control over their societies – mostly restricted to a narrow interpretation of a certain “God’s revelations” -- at least a thousand year old. A study of past several hundred year history shows a direct correlation between civilization advancement, and diverse opinions and ideas available through various types of media. These diverse opinions limited the influence of organized religions’ directives on how masses should live. Hence this encouraged people to investigate, develop ideas and manipulate nature to achieve progress.
In this era -- real wealth, national confidence or even security comes down to creating and owning Intellectual Property in the form of patents. In 1950s America generated over 70% Intellectual Property worldwide. Now its share has reduced to about 55%. Even as Internet opens up America to achieve the next level of progress the grip of religious theology can be a retarding force. A survey released by Rasmussen Reports in April 2005, found most Americans – 63 percent – believe the Bible is literally true and the Word of God -- just 24 percent thinking otherwise.
In my mind this statistics bare open the weakness of American society to new knowledge and ideas in this era. It also shows a lack of American appreciation of scientific knowledge in building modern civilizations. Such a civilization doesn’t attract enough bright students to specialize in science and technology. Indeed -- at least 30-40% of graduate students in American science or engineering graduate programs are of foreign origins.
All of this contrasts with China or even India where younger generation has realized lucrative career paths through learning science and technology. Importantly, the majority in these countries are not dominated by an outlook that puts emphasis on book(s) of “God’s revelations” to help guide them. In the era of information-based Internet Civilization, this is a significant advantage over an America that is clearly theology-influenced. America was able to out-compete and bankrupt the atheist former Soviet Union because unlike America or even China Soviet Union never focused on wealth creation for its citizens.
Instead of going in the direction of less religious theology and more science, now American schools are in danger of offering “alternate” ideas on evolution based upon theology. The proponents of “Intelligent Design” on the development of human race have not understood that this theory was formulated and handed down by civilizations that had far less understanding of nature than what we have today. Admittedly, modern science does not have a complete or some say a satisfactory answer to the question of human evolution. But the modern science is based on a solid footing; it is the basis of the civilization we live today. Besides, we continue to improve our understanding of nature.
How credible is the theological understanding of nature? It is well-established that building an extensive understanding (“theory”) of nature requires sophisticated experimental verification that in turn requires highly complex infrastructure – like we have in the modern times. We know from archeological studies that medieval civilizations that existed thousands of years ago had far less sophisticated infrastructure. Hence, there exists little basis that medieval civilizations could have come up with a credible all-encompassing "theory of origin" and governance called religion when they had a very primitive, mostly shown to be false, understanding of nature around them. Given their state of ignorance it is highly unlikely that they could really appreciate any of "God’s revelations" or distinguish the "real" ones. Also even if “God’s revelations” had been made it is an open question how accurately these were taken down, preserved and converted in the form of books or any other form of information storage -- when we know from archeological studies that as early as a thousand years ago humans lacked credible technology for processing and storing information.
Finally, archeology tells us that evolving humans had thrived for hundreds of thousands of years, well before “God’s revelations” arrived to “guide” humans within the past several thousand years. Thriving are other forms of living organisms that do not appear to follow any theology!
Emphasis on science and technology over religious ideologies is also a win-win war-on-terror strategy. As discussed previously, it has become apparent that religious clerics have suffocated Muslim communities from embracing new ideas – a must for development. In addition, these deprived communities have been brain-washed by clerics into looking for scapegoats in the form of non-Muslim “non-believers (-- of Muslim theology)” and to extend the frontiers of Islamic theological control – at the expense of non-believers.
The current religious and social dynamics in America are such that America is unlikely to put strong emphasis on scientific education – as it did when Soviets put man for the first time on space. Given its size and the track record of wealth creation during the past twenty years, China is likely to emerge as the most powerful nation in the new era of Internet Civilization.
What about India? A bright future holds for India only if it can break away from the shackles imposed by militant Islam (How can India Defeat Militant Islam?) and if it works to shield its population from America-based evangelical soul harvesters, trying to impose a retrogressive and outdated religious theology on poor and unsuspecting Indians.