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Is Science The New Latin?!

High Resolution Latin Text with planetSo the Pope (@Pontifex) is tweeting in Latin. And apparently without any hint of self-mocking irony. It hardly feels like a progressive move.

One of the big problems of Christianity in the Middle Ages was that most copies of the Bible were written in Latin. Although Biblical texts underpinned the prevailing belief system, only a tiny elite of educated people was able to read those texts. If you can’t access the source of your knowledge of the world, you can’t question it and you become enslaved by your beliefs instead of liberated by them.

This situation was transformed when the Bible was first translated into English (and other vernacular languages) and then printed and distributed throughout Europe. This revolution enabled ordinary folk to study and understand the original texts themselves. It was the gateway to the Enlightenment.

We have the same kind of problem now. In the modern era, science has replaced religion as the pivotal belief system of the age. It’s critical to our lives, and it informs nearly every debate, and yet still only a small elite truly has access to the source material underpinning modern science.

Scientific discoveries aren’t written in Latin, but they may as well be. They are written in highly academic jargon and are found mostly in specialist publications out of reach of the public. Most scientists aren’t natural communicators. The few who are, like Richard Dawkins or Carl Sagan can become like High Priests, interpreting science for an ignorant populace. The idea that only a small number of authoritative sources can be trusted for knowledge was exactly what the Enlightenment sought to overcome.

There is a real danger here of scientific idolatry. And idolatry can lead to witch-hunts, superstition and the suppression of free thought. In this environment, creationism and denialism thrive.

As with Christianity before it, science needs to be brought out into the open where it can be understood directly by the general public. That’s why everyone who understands science has a duty to help communicate it to others. To educate, inform and empower them. To explain scientific thinking and scientific limitations.

One day perhaps everyone will have the knowledge to understand the scientific explanation of the world for themselves, and not simply have it interpreted for them by others. Then we will have entered a new Age of Enlightenment.


About the Author:


Steve Morris is dangerously enthusiastic about science and is currently teaching his 9 year old son nuclear physics. He writes about science & technology at S21 and on his blog.

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