Today’s speaker was Michael Thompson who gave an absolutely fascinating talk entitled, “Science, Technology and the Rise and Fall of Democratic Culture”. Prof. Thompson took a fairly recondite topic, what is it that makes scientific thought so valuable and why it is intimately tied to humanistic values, and explained it in a way that all could understand and did so with great verve and passion.
Prof. Thompson, who teaches at William Patterson University, explained that “science” isn’t an activity but a way of thinking that values empiricism over authority and objectivity over opinion. He explained, for example, that when Galileo actually tested whether objects of different sizes and weights fall at different rates, he was doing something radical for his age. Two thousand years before Aristotle said that heavier objects would fall faster and from then until Galileo nobody had thought to actually test it.
He went on to explain that the values that support this new way to look at the world were inherently humanistic because they valued individual investigation and the right of all to evaluate evidence in light of their own conscience.
As you might imagine, Prof. Thompson feels that these values are at risk now, that people don’t know who to judge fact from non-fact and are suspicious of genuine experts (e.g., young earth Creationism and biblical liberalism, climate change denialism, decrying the media as “fake news” when it presents facts that don’t comport with one’s politics).
If I may sum this up with a quote from the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, “People are entitle to their own opinion but not their own facts”.
From the announcement of the talk:
Sunday Platform: ”Science, Technology and the Rise & Fall of Democratic Culture”
November 18 @ 11:00 am – 12:30 pm
Sunday Platform: “Science, Technology and the Rise and Fall of Democratic Culture”
We meet congregationally Sundays at 11:00. Today’s speaker is Prof. Michael Thompson who will be speaking on, “Science, Technology and the Rise and Fall of Democratic Culture”
The emergence of science and of democracy share similar roots in history. Challenging authority, questioning tradition, and finding solutions to problems through experiment are all features of both science and democracy. But contemporary culture is witnessing a demise in public attitudes toward science as well as democratic attitudes. Technology has taken over much of the ways that we think and act in everyday life, and gives us a false idea about what science is and what science does. I will try to explore the democratic aspects of science and why a democratic culture that is modern, tolerant and rational will require us to reclaim the democratic dimensions of science.
Michael J. Thompson is Professor of Political Science at William Paterson University where he offers classes in political theory, political philosophy, political sociology, political psychology, and the history of political thought. He received his B.A. in Languages and Literature from Rutgers University and his Ph.D. in Political Science at The Graduate Center of the City University of New York. His areas of research are in political and social theory, moral philosophy, political psychology, Critical Theory, German Idealism, Classical political thought, and Western Marxism.