The Large Hadron Collider.
This is the single greatest thing humanity has ever built. The Concord was sexier, the Apollo Moon-landings were more inspirational, the AK-47 is more iconic, the Pyramids more impressive, the Taj Mahal more beautiful, but the LHC is an astounding example of the aspirations of science and the imagination of mankind. It is the most complicated thing ever built. It is the coldest place in all Creation. It is also, oddly, hotter than the surface of the Sun. The beams of energy flying around in it travel at 99.9999991% the speed of light, the universal constant. Its interior is a vacuum containing fewer particles than what exist in the space between the planets, making it the emptiest place in the Solar System. It requires the most powerful supercomputer ever built to run the whole thing. It will accelerate particles to 7TeV (7,000,000,000,000eV), which is an awful lot when you consider that the energy of light is 1.5-3.5eV. (This, in fairness, still makes no real sense to any non-particle physicist. Imagine jamming the power of 9775 Hiroshima atomic bombs into a bullet. That’s roughly the power of 1TeV). Humans did this with reason and science. It defies faith, and might even upset religion. No ancient text written by slaves or desert wanderers will ever tell us more about the fabric of the universe. Faith in God had no hand in this. Human Reason has built the greatest machine in the known universe.
Folk-healers and faith-cures were all we had until someone thought about disease and injury in a reasonable and logical fashion. Until the human device of medicine was invented faith and authority were the cure for everything. This led to appalling epidemics, tragically high infant mortality, short life-expectancy, and vile living conditions. Humans eradicated smallpox, a disease which killed 300-500 million people in the 20th Century alone, with medicine, not faith. Human reason and science will eventually find cures for cancer and AIDS, the latter of which, it can be argued, is spread by adherence to Catholic doctrine in the Third World through the prohibition of prophylactics. Medicine has given us vaccines, prosthetics, skin-grafts, transplants, artificial organs, and other such advances. More people than ever before survive childbirth to live longer and better lives than their ancestors could even imagine because of Human Reason.
Science has given us the world. Faith is a closed system where “the will of God” is the answer to every question. Faith does not add to human knowledge or freedom; more often it oppresses it. Science has given us the Internet, an almost limitless tool for education and communication, selective breeding, creating types of wheat which are more productive and ending frequent famine in India, evolution and astrophysics, which show us our place in the grand scheme of things, among many other things. It is said that religion, the belief in the divine, gives people hope. Science is where hope truly lives, because it inspires, it answers, it provides practical solutions. Faith is a stone wall; Science is a sledge-hammer.
If Science is a sledge-hammer, Reason is the hand that wields it. Both Faith and Reason claim to be arbiters of wisdom, truth and ethics. One refers to authority, tradition, and dogma enforced by terror and punishment. The other revolts against these impediments to the human will and intellect, seeking out innovation, solutions and harmony. Cave-dwellers may have found fire, thanked some ancient proto-god, but reason led them to master fire, to use it effectively to shape their world. Under faith electricity is a destructive force striking from the sky under the command of an angry god; with reason it is a tool of limitless potential. Faith requires no questions, Reason revels in them. Faith enslaves, Reason frees. Faith is by its very nature credulous; it accepts what cannot be proven as fact, what cannot be seen as truth. Reason is more skeptical; it requires proof, honesty, results, and purpose before it will declare anything as factual or true. Reason demands more. Those who believe condemn those who question belief, and are defended in their belief ironically by the fruits of Reason. ‘Freedom of Speech’ is not derived from any religious text but from the ideals of the Enlightenment, yet frequently those who do not believe find their freedoms impinged by those who do. The tide is turning however. Slowly, but surely, Reason will succeed. The products of Reason have been increasingly integrated into the very fabric of our lives. Reason has been, is, and will continue to be the source of truth and practical answers in our world. The Will of God will not end poverty, ignorance, or war. Human Reason might not either, but at least it is trying, at least it has a chance.
“This is our world now… the world of the electron and the switch, the beauty of the baud… We explore… and you call us criminals. We seek after knowledge… and you call us criminals. We exist without skin color, without nationality, without religious bias… and you call us criminals. You build atomic bombs, you wage wars, you murder, cheat, and lie to us and try to make us believe it’s for our own good, yet we’re the criminals.
“Yes, I am a criminal. My crime is that of curiosity. My crime is that of judging people by what they say and think, not what they look like. My crime is that of outsmarting you, something that you will never forgive me for.”
– Loyd Blankenship (‘The Mentor’).
“He who will not reason is a bigot; he who cannot is a fool; and he who dares not is a slave.”
– Sir William Drummond.