Scientists as Elite?
Here is a conversation, with an arbitrary person whom I'll call Azelma, that occurs frequently with me:
Azelma: what do you do?
Me: I'm a graduate student at Virginia Tech.
Azelma: O, really? What are you studying?
Me: Mathematical physics.
Azelma: Wow! I could never do that. You must be brilliant.
Which forces me to be honest and exclaim against the compliment; I really have to do that, because I am quite simply not brilliant. The Lord has given me some intelligence, to be sure, but I'm no Richard Feynman or Stephen Hawking.
What brought this conversation to my mind was a very interesting quote, supported by an interesting science fiction novel, which I wanted to share with you. In the book Reading Between the Lines: A Christian Guide to Literature, Gene Edward Veith, Jr., writes the following:
Even if the masses sink into illiteracy and drug themselves by "amusement," the influential and the powerful will still be readers, as they are today. In the ancient pagan world, reading was a zealously guarded secret for the priests and the ruling elite, who, because they had access to knowledge, had access to power. [Neil] Postman explores the paradox of a society increasingly dependent upon its scientists but undermining the literate thought-forms science demands. "It is improbable that scientists will disappear," he concludes, "but we shall quite likely have fewer of them, and they are likely to form, even in the short run, an elite class who, like priests of the pictographic age, will be believed to possess mystical powers."
I have no wish whatsoever to be thought of in this way, since it's thoroughly unbiblical. Unfortunately, I can see the beginnings of it already.
Interestingly, Veith and Postman aren't the only ones to see this sort of idea. Isaac Asimov, one of the greatest writers of science fiction, wrote the Foundation heptology, to coin a word. This was originally a trilogy, but then he added a prelude and three more books at the end. In any case, in the first book in the series that he wrote, called simply Foundation, he has the following interesting scenario. Suppose a group of people have the knowledge of nuclear power, and they are ejected from a mighty empire to the far edge of the known universe, among peoples who definitely do not remember the ideas of nuclear power. What would such people look like to their neighbors? They look like priests and magicians, and indeed, they set up a priesthood with all the trappings of a religion.
For Veith, the more immediate solution to the problem is to read, though he's not arguing that such is our salvation. Instead, he advocates the Reformation ideal: learning to read in order to read the Bible. That is the goal. But, as Veith also states, "Reading the Bible tends to lead to reading other books, and thus to some important habits of mind."
Veith's book is excellent; I'd highly recommend it! He explores all the major genres of literature, including nonfiction, fiction, poetry; tragedy and comedy, realism, fantasy; history; and the relationships between writers, publishers, and readers.
Veith's book is one of the Turning Point Christian Worldview Series, all of which I can recommend (Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning and All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes are in that series.)