Marilyn vos Savant is some sort of genius who sells her logic to Parade Magazine. People write with questions, Marilyn answers. The question on January 31, 2010, concerned the Mayan prediction of the end of the world in the year 2012. The question: Can you add some logic to calm the hysteria? The flaw in the question itself was that anyone who uses ancient Mayan calendars or Nostradama or the Book of Revelations to predict the future has no respect for logic.
Marilyn answered the question:
Logic can’t prove that the prediction is wrong, but it can offer plenty of reassurance in the form of this reasoning:
The Mayans were smart, but they weren’t any smarter than we are, and we are vastly more knowledgeable in every way. Plus, present-day science is far in advance of what was known only a century ago, and the peak of the Mayan civilization was more than 1000 years ago. And modern scientists don’t predict that anything especially troubling will occur during the year 2012.
Well whoop-dee-doo! I live in Punkin Center, Missouri, and the folks around here like to use terms like ‘common sense.’ If you agree with them they say you have common sense – if you don’t agree they say you are a liberal without common sense. My neighbor, Clyde, is a born-again wacko – so I decided to ask him what he thought of Marilyn’s reasoning. I was surprised that he actually used some common sense to arrive at a completely different conclusion.
Clyde laughed at Marilyn’s answer, saying, “Marilyn assumes we trust modern scientists. Everyone with common sense knows that science is wrong about evolution. We know that science is wrong about the Bible. You don’t have to go to college to know the truth.”
“But Clyde,” I said, “Don’t you agree that we know more today than the Mayan’s did a thousand years ago?”
Clyde laughed again, “There are pictures in that Mayan neck of the woods that show a white man with a halo. The Mormons think that is Jesus coming to America to give us a heads-up. We know that is wrong. We can tell by looking at the pictures that aliens came to this planet and their scientists knew more than our scientists.”
Befuddled, I asked, “But I thought you did not agree with scientists.”
Clyde shook his head in disgust, as if he felt he was wasting his time talking to a liberal. He raised his eyebrows and scowled at me, “I’m not talking about human scientists. I’m talking about alien scientists. They knew more than us. They built the Egyptian Pyramids didn’t they? Human scientists can’t make no building that will last for five thousand years.”
I simply replied, “I thought the Pyramids were more like ten thousand years old?”
“So,” I asked, “Did God create the aliens too?”
Clyde appeared stunned at my slow uptake, “Who do you think sent the Aliens to the Mayans? Duh!”
I walked away pondering Marilyn’s answer. The question was how to ‘calm the hysteria.’ I don’t think her answer served the end purpose.
The answer is to convince large masses of people that math and science are better predictors than ancient superstitions.
This is not a quick or simple solution. The answer lies in long-term education reform. It would be helpful if the teachers actually believed in science themselves. It would be helpful if school boards were composed of people other than Bible creation ideologues. It would help if our politicians endorsed modern science.
It would also be helpful if people in Christian Ministry would learn enough to know that science does not threaten their theology. Ironically, by studying literature we can learn about the concepts of allegory, metaphor, and simile. With respect for math and science and an understanding of literary concepts – the Bible can become a vibrant and powerful book of wisdom. Man did not invent the literary concepts any more than he invented the universe – man merely discovered the concepts that were present all along. God gave us brains, he only asks that we use them.
One of the most important concepts that I learned in college (yes, I am an educated liberal) was that we can use mathematics to make predictions. For instance, we can build an airplane by using math and science to predict how it will fly – we build it, it flies. We can build a ‘smart bomb’ and successfully direct it to a target by using math and science.
The predictions of math and science are much more exciting than the predictions of the Book of Revelations. They are exciting because they actually mean something. These predictions actually have value.
The problem with math and science is that we actually have to take some time to learn something. It is much easier to take the word of the clerk at the local convenient store. Learning does not have to be difficult. My neighbor Clyde cares that his son graduates from high school – but only because he thinks the diploma will get his son a job driving a fork lift. Actually learning something while in school is secondary.
Perhaps science has done us in – we live in an era of mass and immediate communications. I watch my teen age grandchildren ‘texting’ while watching a football game and carrying a conversation with a friend. What I don’t see is the deep thinking of a person pondering a problem of mathematical prediction.
We, as a society, need to step back and ponder a moment what our priorities are. Otherwise we are doomed to mass hysteria.