GK Chesterton, the writer and philosopher once wrote that “Science in the modern world has many uses; its chief use, however, is to provide long words to cover the errors of the rich.”
by Tim Middleton
We have all been taught to believe that science is indeed extremely important, though we may come to a different conclusion regarding its chief use than Chesterton. We all remember, with varying degrees of fondness, the basic sciences that we were taught at school: physics, chemistry and biology. However, these are not the only sciences. At the next level to those three, we might add botany, geology, zoology and astronomy; if we are really keen we will perhaps include psychology, archaeology, sociology and ecology before trying to impress our neighbour with our specialism in neurology, anthropology and cardiology. Yet, what about philematology (look it up; it will be worth it!) or sarcology (nothing to do with sarcasm)?
There is no question that science is important; it is no surprise, therefore, that the world places much emphasis on it. The drive in some educational systems is towards science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) with science at the front of the queue, no doubt. Science is after all about life; it seeks to explain life, to explain behaviour, to fit everything into boxes of principles, laws and theories. It is “the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.” Science is full of the laws of thermo-dynamics, gravitation and relativity though it was Einstein himself who explained relativity in this way: “When you are courting a nice girl, an hour seems like a second. When you sit on a red-hot cinder, a second seems like an hour. That’s relativity.” Maybe that is science made simple!
It is a strange and alarming fact, therefore, that if science is so important, the most important science is not taught in the curriculum, either new or old. The most important, the most fundamental science is not taught at all.
The very science that explains and governs life and behaviour through the operation of general laws in our world, that we can observe and study each day, is not taught in our schools or homes.
That science is con-science. In a previous article we reflected that the lack of confidence that leaders have is a serious problem in our world but there is an even greater “con” than confidence and that is the lack of conscience in our society. Conscience is not the science of conning people (that, after all, as we have seen, is an art, not a science); it is the very opposite. It is a person’s moral and inner sense of right and wrong, which acts as a guide to his behaviour; it is what controls his actions and motives. Science comes from a Latin word meaning “knowing”; conscience is knowing there is a right and a wrong. Many may see right and wrong as no more than “there are two ways to look at something; my way and the wrong way” but there has to be an agreed right and wrong.
In other sciences, after all, there are not different rights and wrongs. Gravity does not only apply for some people. Gravity does not only apply if someone feels like it. Neither does conscience. Science has laws (for example, gravity, thermo-dynamics, relativity), and so does conscience. It is not a matter of something being wrong if we get caught doing it. It is wrong — period! “The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.” So says the character Atticus Finch in the classic novel about racial prejudice, To Kill a Mockingbird. Leo Tolstoy, the great Russian author, would have agreed as he wrote: “Wrong does not cease to be wrong because the majority share in it.” Right is right and wrong is wrong. That is not too difficult to learn, is it?
Yet many people struggle with conscience. Most significantly, Atticus Finch went on to say, “Before I can live with other folks, I’ve got to live with myself.” That is the message for our young people. They must also learn to live with others, for sure; however they must first learn to live with themselves. That is done through their conscience. They must live by what they know is right. Martin Luther King Junior echoed that when he said, “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.” That time is now for our children. Now is the time when we must teach them the most important science — conscience. And this science will certainly not cover the errors of the rich.
Tim Middleton is the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools and author of the book on “failure” called Failing to Win.