One of the sad facts of human psychology is that knowledge can be used for evil just as easily as it can be used for good. If the human race had never figured out how to use fire, for example, we wouldn’t have to worry about those pesky arsonists.
If some people are willing to use the fruits of knowledge to hurt people, should we stop acquiring knowledge? It sounds absurd, but that’s a question that is often asked, though it’s invariably couched in different language.
When Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist and outspoken atheist, made an appearance on The Daily Show last week to promote his new memoir, host Jon Stewart asked: “Do you believe that the end of our civilization will be through religious strife or scientific advancement?” The answer, Dawkins said, is probably both. “Science provides, in the form of technology, weapons which hitherto have been available only to reasonably responsible governments,” said Dawkins, and those weapons “are likely to become available to nutcases who believe that their god requires them to wreak havoc and destruction.”
The conversation then moves beyond religious fanaticism. “Science is the most powerful way to do whatever it is you want to do,” said Dawkins, “and if you want to do good, it’s the most powerful way of doing good. If you want to do evil, it’s the most powerful way to do something evil.”
Dawkins’s last statement echoes the words of Albert Einstein, who warned that the scientific method is only a means to an end, and that the welfare of humanity depends ultimately on shared goals. You can hear Einstein make his point by visiting our post, “Listen as Albert Einstein Reads ‘The Common Language of Science’ (1941)”.