The Science of the 21st Century: Utopian Promise or De-Humanizing Threat
Never has the utopian promise of science been more fully realized than it is today: science has lifted the punishing burdens of physical labor, has opened almost instantaneous channels of global communication, has vanquished many diseases and alleviated the symptoms of many others, has given women new freedom in scripting their own lives, has eased the pressures of want and poverty, and has given researchers the power to peer into the atom and the galaxies. Why is it, then, that many now regard science as a looming threat? For these individuals, science means horrific weapons and nuclear wastes. It means a real daily assault on human dignity through regimentation and quantification, and it means a medically possible assault on human dignity through cloning and genetic manipulation. And perhaps most fundamentally, it means a darkening of intellectual horizons through the rise of theories that define humans as mere beasts locked in a relentless genetic struggle and that predict the eventual extinction of the cosmos in sterile lifelessness. Because science relies heavily on specialized mathematics and formulae, what role can humanists play in resolving the tensions between these antithetical perspectives on modern science? Has the science-humanities gap of "The Two Cultures" widened in ways that prevent humanists from addressing the contemporary hopes and fears that attach to science or have we actually acquired new tools for bridging that gap? Perhaps it is only humanists who can see the broad-gauge cultural issues at stake in current disagreements over the human meaning of science. Humanists, after all, can speak the language that has given us both the scientific ebullience of the utopian philosopher and the deep anxieties of dystopian novelist. Science matters too much to leave it entirely to the scientists: humanists must help define its purposes, applications, and interpretations.
Keywords: Science, Utopia, De-humanization
Dr. Bryce Christensen
Assistant Professor of Composition, Department of English, Southern Utah University