January 3, 2007
Bush and EinsteinBy Vel Nirtist
One hundred and twenty-five years ago, in 1881, the world of science was in a state of bliss. All big questions about the Universe having been answered two centuries earlier by Newton, what remained was just arriving at more precise values of various physical properties through careful experimentation. Perfect knowledge was within easy reach.
Yet, in that year, a terrible shock came to all those who knew that they knew all about the world. The world's greatest scientists scratched their necks in disbelief, puzzled by the outcome of an experiment that was to measure the speed with which the Earth whizzes through the ether on its orbit around the Sun. The experiment, staged by two American physicists, Albert Abraham Michelson and Edward Williams Morley, measured the difference in the speed of light in the direction of Earth's movement, and perpendicular to it.
It took twenty five years to figure out the solution. Einstein's special theory of relativity showed that the world was a whole lot different from what scientists imagined - and that their confidence of having perfect knowledge was very premature indeed. The classical, Newtonian system of the world turned out to be sadly inadequate, and, in fact, fundamentally incorrect.
In the year 2001, we lived in another sort of perfect world yet again. All friction between different cultures and religions was supposedly ironed out by declaring all of them simply "different", with none of them right or wrong. In the orthodox view, we all lived in harmony, aware of our differences, but mutually respecting them. It was another moment of bliss.
And then, on September 11 of that year, our political pundits were shocked out of the same stupor as were the physicists over a century prior.
Just as then, the best and the brightest - politicians, diplomats, soldiers, scholars - went to work to find answers. Why did the terrorist attack happen? What should we do about it?
So far, we have had no meaningful commonly-acknowledged answer to these key questions. This situation is not surprising, given that our policymakers, brought up in the classically Newtonian understanding of politics, are refusing to rethink their worldview, but rather try to squeeze the circle of uncompromising ideological terrorism into the familiar square of mutually accommodating realpolitik.
Will this approach of treating social, economic, political problems work?
I doubt it. Fundamental rethinking is clearly in order. And comparison to the similar crisis in physics is not encouraging. First of all, it took nothing less than a rare genius to solve the problem back then. The run-of-the-mill professors, even the brightest among them, could not bring themselves to completely change their framework of thinking.
Those now trying to solve the problem of terrorism are exactly the same stripe of run-of-the-mill academics and politicians. Not only are they less than geniuses, their thinking is heavily shackled by the taboos imposed by political correctness.
Time is of the essence now, as it was not for the Newtonian conundrum. It took twenty five years for the right genius to appear who would do the global rethinking which resolved the crisis of classical physics. Do we have twenty five years to rethink our understanding of human motivations, the inadequacy of which was clearly revealed on 9/11?
With Iran desperate to get hold of the nuclear bomb, and well on its way to achieving this deadly ambition, with terrorists eager to kill us and be killed, I do not think we have much time left.
Our first order of business, therefore, is freeing our thinking of all the taboos, and freely examining and debunking all aspects of the motivations of 9/11 terrorists - including the key one: their religion.
Criticizing the religious views of others traditionally has been an acceptable practice in almost all religions. If Moses and Paul could criticize the followers of other religions, there is no reason whatsoever why we can't do the same. If Muhammad felt free to declare religious views of his contemporaries to be no good and in need of changing, the person who argues that Islam and various attitudes among its adherents are no good either and are badly in need of change, does nothing more than merely follow the example of Muhammad.
No offence is intended here - just free, fair, open, and honest debate, aimed at understanding a world that is in a very deep crisis indeed. A debate is badly needed to move us on to the next level of understanding.
Religious war is a very, very bad idea, as J.R. Dunn has explained for American Thinker readers. Islam, as he subsequently pointed out, is by no means the property of the fanatics who cause so many problems for the non-judgmental Newtonians of the realpolitik school. The only guarantee of humanity's survival is freedom to discuss and criticize freely the beliefs of others. Science and religion are different, to be sure, but both thrive when taboos and other intellectual shackles are discarded.
Vel Nirtist writes about the role of religion in violence and terrorism. He is author of The Pitfall of Truth: Holy War, its Rationale and Folly. His blog is here.