The cost of uncritical thinking

Contributed by
May 30, 2006

In America, we have this dichotomy in that we lead the world in ground-breaking scientific research, yet we have creationists and other anti-scientists who hold sway over the government.

It's cold comfort, I suppose, that we're not alone. A few months ago, in Assam, a state in India, 5 people were publicly beheaded by a mob for practicing witchcraft. Amir Munda was a traditional healer at a tea plantation. He and his family were "guilty of causing a mysterious disease that claimed two plantation workers and affected many more during the past two weeks." 200 workers assembled, held a trial, and used machetes to decapitate Munda, two of his sons and two of his daughters. If you are not sufficiently outraged yet, I'll note that his wife -- his pregnant wife -- managed to escape with three of their sons.

It's incredible that something like this can still happen, more than a century after germs were discovered to cause disease. It might be easy for some listeners to want to laugh at news like this, I mean, really, beheading people for witchcraft?

But remember, India, like America, has an excellent scientific community, but also, like America, it's brimming with people who have no clue about how science works. In this country, we have homeopathy, "natural" cures, creationism, and people who think AIDS is a government conspiracy. So don't mock those plantation workers so quickly. How far are we from such atrocious acts?

Then I remember race riots, Matthew Shepherd, and so, so many other atrocities based on superstition, credulity, and uncritical notions -- take your pick which ones -- and I realize:

We're already there.

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