Tom Nichols is one of those individuals who straddles the line between elitism and sense. At times, he acts intelligently and contributes valuable insight into current affairs. At other times, he demonstrates a certain elitism, a sort of smugness little different from the Jon Stewart liberals, a sort of technocratic disdain for the layman, or, indeed, anyone that is not within his small circle of approved smart people.
Recently, he had this to say about the public’s view of science: How Does the Public’s View of Science Go So Wrong?
It’s one of those pieces that demands a fisking, a point-by-point rebuttal, because this notion of the stupid layman, the idiot who is unaware he is voting against his own best interests, as determined by the credentialed wise men of government, is central to the dispute about where the West is heading, and why.
You need only recall Brexit, and the groans of the remainers, to understand this. A majority of Britishers, it would seem, were too stupid to understand that the EU was better for them. And so all sorts of legal chicanery was deployed in the service of preventing Brexit, or rolling it back.
Of course, this isn’t the first time I’ve taken issue with Mr. Nichols and his view of the American citizenry as what you might call expertise deniers. A sort of equivalent of the climate change denier writ large, as if most Americans hate experts for no good reason, and are too stupid to realize that they ought to willingly subordinate their wills to greater men.
But enough of that. Let the fisk begin:
Do Americans hate science? They certainly seem to hate it more than they used to, as they rage against experts in every field. This is more than a traditional American distaste for eggheads and intellectuals. Americans, increasingly, are acting (and voting) on myths and misinformation about science, and placing themselves at significant risk.
What traditional distaste for intellectuals? When I was young, I remember how the engineers and scientists who supported NASA were regarded as quasi-gods. Everybody wanted their kid to be a rocket scientist, or an aeronautical engineer. No, America never had a tradition of hating intellectuals. At worst, there was a time when being nerdy was regarded poorly. But nerdy and intellectual are not the same thing.
Furthermore, Tom tells us that they rage against experts in every field. This is observably false. They do not rage against airplane pilots, or automotive engineers. They do not malign physicists and mathematicians. There are very specific fields which have attracted the ire of a sizable fraction of the citizenry. More on this later.
In Texas, for example, “personal-belief exemptions” among parents refusing to vaccinate their children increased from 2,314 in the 2003-2004 school year to 44,716 in 2015-2016. Although these parents were, they say, galvanized by the election of Donald Trump—America’s most prominent vaccine skeptic—this reflexive dismissal of science long predates the 2016 election, even if it has intensified in the last few years.
This anti-vaxxer thing is a frequent political bludgeon deployed by the Left to make the Right look like morons. Except there does not appear to be strong correlation between conservatism and vaccine skepticism. Observe. For one, only 13% of Americans disagreed with the statement that “vaccines are safe.” The French were much more skeptical, at 41%. Meanwhile, the article cites Marin county, California as a bastion of strong vaccine skepticism. This is a county that votes strongly Democratic. So it is not exclusively (or even strongly) a Right-wing issue.
Tom, of course, doesn’t claim that it is Right wing (he probably knows better). But nonetheless, the skepticism bothers him. Another interesting tidbit of information comes to us from the same article’s citations. In it, we find that one out of four French doctors are telling their patients that many vaccines recommended by the public health authorities aren’t even necessary. I wish there was better data in America on this, but nonetheless, the French statistics are useful for illustrating one possibility, namely that citizens aren’t distrustful of qualified doctors and medical practitioners, they distrust public health bureaucrats. That’s very different from distrusting science, or expert opinion, or just smart people in general.
Of course, Americans don’t really hate science: they rely on it every day in ways they don’t even notice. From tens of thousands of safe and effective over-the-counter drugs to the directions on a car’s GPS system, Americans trust the work of experts on a daily basis. Rather, it is more accurate to say that the American public distrusts scientists, rather than science itself. Scientists, however, should be consoled by the fact that they are disdained not for their work, but for being part of an undifferentiated mass of “experts” whom a fair number of Americans now view as, at best, a suspect political class, and, at worst, as an enemy.
There is an interesting intellectual sleight-of-hand here. Note that Tom starts off talking about science, then switches to the word expert. Scientist and expert do not mean the same thing. Neither, it should be noted, do Americans distrust scientists in all fields. It’s not a general hatred of science, it’s much more specific than that.
Tom is right on one thing, however. The ones who are disdained are subjected to this because they are seen as a suspect political class. It is the politics that engenders the hate, not reliance on the scientific method.
In one sense, this attack on the defenders of established knowledge was inevitable. It is not only fueled by an obvious culprit—the internet—but also by the unintended side effects of otherwise positive social changes. Universal education and increased social mobility, among other changes, have thrown America’s experts and citizens into direct contact after nearly two centuries in which they lived segregated lives and rarely interacted with each other. And yet the result has not been a greater respect for knowledge, but the growth of an irrational conviction among Americans that everyone is as smart as everyone else. To understand this, and to think about solutions, requires a deeper look at causes. Both the professional community and the public it serves bear some responsibility for our parlous condition.
Tom spoke before on how he thinks the Internet was actually a bad thing, because in his view, the proliferation of bad information on the Internet has given rise to a politically active class of idiot. He explained that he believes the media was better when it was in the hands of a few expert firms, and such clout was effectively denied to the layman. The rise of blogs like this one horrified him.
Trouble is, the layman may in many ways be uneducated, and not inclined to intellectualism. But that does not mean he is stupid. America doesn’t have a tradition of hating scientists, it has a tradition of hating tyrants. The layman may not know anything about climate statistics, ice sheets, the ozone layer, or a host of other things, but he may have the vague sense that he’s getting screwed, that he’s being taken advantage of. It is similar to when a man goes to the car dealership, and may not understand all of the arcane math spouted by the sales weasel. Indeed, the sales weasel may be far more intelligent. Yet the man still realizes the salesman is trying to screw him, and acts accordingly.
In other words, the average American is on the look out for a tyrant trying to sell him a lemon.
For its part, the American public is in the grip of a sullen, almost paranoid, narcissism about science and experts. This is not a function of education; the anti-vaccine movement, for example, is actually concentrated among parents with more education than their poorer counterparts.
The poor and uneducated do what they’re told. The middle class doesn’t. It’s been a bone of contention for a long time. The elite doesn’t like the middle class. Tom’s second statement here is borne out by the data… it isn’t the uneducated and stupid who are vaccine skeptics, generally. Saudi Arabia has only a 2% skepticism rate, and we’d hardly call it a bastion of high education, or particularly high IQ.
This actually contradicts his earlier implications that this is primarily driven by stupidity. It isn’t.
Instead, the public rejection of science is an extension of our politics, which in turn have become an expression of our constant outrage about everything that offends our deepest beliefs about ourselves. As social scientist David Dunning has put it: “Some of our most stubborn misbeliefs arise not from primitive childlike intuitions or careless category errors, but from the very values and philosophies that define who we are as individuals.” When those misbeliefs are challenged, laypeople take it not as correction but as a direct attack on their identity.
Now we get to it. This reminds me of the common atheist superiority complex, wherein an atheist believes himself to be superior and more intelligent because he isn’t so stupid as to believe in a sky wizard. To the atheist, God is misbelief.
It’s funny to hear this sort of thing from social scientists – the same sort of folks who are going over to this idea of gender as an infinite spectrum rather than anything concrete. Tell a genderqueer androgynous person that this is all made up nonsense, misbelief in other words. Does that not get viewed (by them, as least) as a direct attack on their identity? The experts in social sciences have been spewing a lot of nonsense lately, things that are directly and easily contradicted by observation.
Now they are bothered when, suddenly, folks don’t trust them anymore?
The expert community, however, must shoulder some of the blame for the collapse of the relationship between science and the public. Experts often trespass across from empirical knowledge to normative demands—I am not without sin as an expert myself in this regard—and thus validate the suspicions of laypeople that the real goal of expert advice is to force compliance with expert policy preferences.
Well, at least he admits it.
The debate over climate change is a good example of this problem. Is the earth’s climate changing? Most experts believe it is, and they believe they know why. Whether their models, extrapolated out for decades and centuries, are accurate is a legitimate area for scientific debate. What experts cannot answer, however, is what to do about climate change. It might well be that Boston will be underwater in fifty years, but it might well also be that voters— who have the right to be wrong— will choose to shift that problem to later generations rather than to risk jobs (or comfort) now.
This is so stupid. “Is the Earth’s climate changing?” Of course it is changing. This is axiomatic, it categorically must be. The Earth is not static. When the experts say “the climate is changing” the proper reply is “duh!” This is why I hate the label “climate change.” It would be like calling weather forecasting “weather change” and acting like it’s somehow the mark of an intelligent man to say that the weather tomorrow will be different than the weather today. Duh! It also strikes the layman as a weaselly term. The layman knows that the climate will change, and may view the expert as hedging his bets. In other words, he may think the salesman is trying to screw him.
It doesn’t help that “fighting climate change” almost universally requires the government to take more of his money. It isn’t the science that bothers John Doe, it’s the potential for tyranny.
Now, as to making specific predictions, to say the climate will change in this direction, by this amount, and for these reasons… that’s a much more difficult ball of wax. As I’ve stated before, I essentially have no opinion, except that I don’t trust the government or the academic establishment, because I’ve caught them in many other lies.
And that goes back to why Tom’s appeal is likely to fall upon hearts of stone. The public has been lied to with such frequency that it is hard to trust anyone in a position of power anymore. Politics has always been a business of lies, but the last few decades have become much worse. Tom wants to blame the Internet for this.
I blame our “leaders” and their way of trying to piss down my back while telling me it’s raining.
Letting Boston slide into the harbor is not my preferred outcome. But experts cannot compel civic engagement, and they must accept that their advice, which might seem obvious and right to them, will not always be taken in a democracy that may not value the same things they do. The job of mediating those values and policies lies with elected officials, not with scientists or other experts. The knowers cannot—and in a constitutional republic, should not—be the deciders.
This is the sort of stupid, transparent rhetoric usually peddled by Leftists. Tom should be ashamed of himself. Sure, he admits the technocrats shouldn’t be the ultimate decision makers, but then makes sure to jab the stupid hoi polloi by implying they’d be fine letting Boston slide into the harbor.
Actually, with the way Boston votes these days, he might be right. Maybe they wouldn’t care. It would be like if the California coastline sunk into the Pacific, there’d probably be a party in middle America the next day. But that has nothing to do with climate change, per se.
Tom is making sure to tell us that it sucks that stupid people (i.e. people not like him, the anointed intelligentsia) get to make decisions.
At the same time, experts cannot withdraw from a public arena increasingly controlled by opportunistic demagogues who seek to discredit empiricism and rationality.
Tom is talking about Donald Trump here, of course. He can’t resist a dig at the President, either.
Instead, the expert community must help to lead laypeople, who find the modern world intimidating and even frightening, back along the road to a better day when the citizens of the United States valued scientists and other professionals as essential parts of the American story. Experts must continue, as citizens, to advocate for those things they believe to be in the public interest, but the most important role they can play is defend a stark but empathetic insistence on science and reason as the foundation for public policy.
In the end, Tom tells us that the experts must lead the laypeople, shepherding the flock of idiots who find the world intimidating and frightening. He then admits openly that America once valued these people (you know, back when Academia wasn’t the shining beacon of Marxist-Leninism and Social Justice weirdness). Earlier, you recall, he told us that America traditionally hates these people.
Which is it, Tom?
He tells us that experts shouldn’t make the decisions, but must advocate and lead the laypeople. Which is it, Tom?
I can only guess at what’s going on in his head, because he appears very conflicted and contradictory here. He doesn’t want to espouse open technocracy, to seize control openly. And yet he wants his chosen to lead the people nonetheless.
He fails to mention the real reason we are in this mess. Academia is full of loons and crazies. The education system is a disaster, and full of leftist agitprop. The experts in certain fields have been caught in egregious lies, obviously designed to serve a political narrative. Having been lied to about so many things, many Americans find it hard to trust those people.
And that’s what Tom’s experts (at least in those fields closely tied to Academia and government) need to address. Trust. They need to stop crying wolf, stop lying, stop trying to cloak wealth redistribution and globalization with a thin veneer of environmentalism.
The layman feels strongly that he’s being sold a false bill of goods by a fast-talking salesweasel. And quite often, he’s right on the money about that.
Francis wrote a great post this morning: Scientism, the One True Faith. Consider it required reading. For a long time, I have maintained that science, as popular culture understands the term, is no longer tied the scientific method. It has become a euphemism for all knowledge, and so has lost the specificity that made the term useful. Francis explains for us:
Thus also with science:
It isn’t a bunch of people with doctorates who spend several hours a day wearing white lab coats.
It isn’t a laboratory filled with glassware, chemicals, electronics, and experimental subjects;
And it most certainly isn’t “settled,” no matter what subject or persons declaim on it.
Science is a methodology for the investigation of reproducible phenomena. Science is the scientific method,more or less as Francis Bacon originally prescribed it.
Anyone who tells you otherwise is trying to deceive you for purposes of his own. He is dangerous to you and others. He means to take something from you, most likely your money and freedom. When confronted by such a person, put one hand on your wallet, the other over your genitals, and back slowly away.
Social Justice Progressivism has this way of co-opting the skin of a thing, the appearance of a thing, without capturing the thing’s essence. I remember some time ago reading a syllabus for a mathematical course, wherein the teacher described the course as eliminating inequalities, promoting diversity, and interpreting the language of math for all races, cultures, and religions.
Just as now you will find gaming journalists who suggest that the first priority of gaming is to be properly diverse, to fight white privilege, and promote social justice.
When it comes to the notion of man-made climate change, there is now a new term which has recently become vogue: Climate Justice. Yes, it isn’t even Climate Science anymore. It’s Climate Justice. As if that has anything to do with whether or not mankind is having observably detrimental impacts on the climate.
Their science looks like science, acts like science, and quacks like science… yet it is not science.
As Francis explains, they will show you pictures of people with white lab coats, beakers filled with strange substances, and a myriad of various degrees and diplomas hung on the wall. And then they will claim that a consensus of experts have agreed on a conclusion, and you would be foolish to question them.
All of this ignores that climate “science” is not science at all. Where is the reproducible experimentation and observation? Do you possess a control Earth without humans that you may benchmark against? Do you know what the Earth would be like without humans, with a lesser number of less advanced humans, and with the number of humans we have now?
Then how can you be doing this scientifically?
Allow me to provide an interesting example. Warmists have frequently warned us that global warming will lead to more powerful hurricanes. It’s part of the usual doom-and-gloom fear mongering. They point to some of the unusually active hurricane seasons, such as in the mid-2000s.
But hurricanes are caused by a confluence of things. For one, the interaction of the Sahara desert, the jungles of Africa, and the Atlantic ocean produce tropical waves. Many hurricanes form out of these tropical waves. The reason for the desertification of the Sahara is an open question. Theories range from overgrazing to a slight perturbation in the Earth’s orbit.
The warmists would have you believe that warmer temperatures equal more hurricanes, but they’ve no way to prove this scientifically, because they cannot isolate this one effect from all the other effects. What if, for example, warming reduced the number of tropical waves that often generate hurricanes? What if it had other effects in the atmosphere that reduced the efficiency of a hurricane’s heat engine?
What they have is a hypothesis (and possibly a reasonable one) that they cannot test. It’s not science. Then they sell this hypothesis as proven fact, and call anyone who remains skeptical a denier, the modern euphemism for a heretic.
None of this is to say that they are right, or that they are wrong. I don’t know, and I don’t have access to the sort of time and data to comment on it in great detail. Rather, what I’m saying is that they are observably lying as to the kind of research they are doing. And I don’t trust a liar.
Many people say “trust the experts” without questioning either the competency or the trustworthiness of the expert. I trust an airline pilot to fly the plane, because I can see for myself that the airline record is pretty good, and that these people are good at their jobs. But what if a healthy 50% of airline pilots flew you to the wrong place? What if, furthermore, some pilots flew you to the wrong places deliberately? You bought a ticket to Vegas, but you ended up in Alaska. And the whole time, the pilot kept telling you how great the weather was in Vegas over the loud speaker. How much would you trust the pilot the next time you got in a plane, and he said “we’re heading for San Diego?”
Maybe we are, maybe we aren’t? How the Hell should I know?
The sleight of hand is not always obvious to the casual observer, however. Certainly not as obvious as mistaking Vegas for Alaska. Francis explains again:
Believer: Climate scientists are correct because the scientific method is reliable over time, thanks to peer review. The experts are overwhelmingly on the same side.
Skeptic: The prediction models are not credible because prediction models with that much complexity are rarely correct.
Believer: You troglodyte! You know nothing of science! The scientific method is credible!
See what happened? The believer was discussing science and the skeptic was NOT discussing science. These are different conversations. The prediction models are designed by scientists, but they are not “science” per se, any more than a microscope is “science.” Both are just tools that scientists use.
Prediction models may or may not work. Living in Florida, I’ve developed a healthy amount of respect for the NHC folks. Yeah, the accuracy of their predictions leaves much to be desired, but they nonetheless do an impressive job, and if they are often wrong in the specifics, in the generalities they are usually correct. Their prediction models are observably “pretty good” given the circumstances.
But even in such closed systems, they require several prediction models, which they often average together or weight differently depending on the forecaster’s experience. This is a skill more than anything. And then the forecaster adds his own spin on the data, looking at historical storm tracks, and making some subjective decisions about what all of it may mean. This isn’t science. But it is an impressive skill, nonetheless.
Yet all this is barely sufficient to predict where a storm might generally be in a few days, perhaps a week at the most, and have some reasonable expectation of how strong it will be.
Fortunately, we can check their work with hindsight. We can see how good their track record has been, and judge whether or not to trust them based on that record. With the warmists, we’ve no ability to track their assertions, because anything that goes counter to their hypothesis will be judged “noise” in the data, and anything that follows their hypothesis will be judged positive evidence.
Add to that the nature of government funding and peer pressure (skeptics are often greatly derided by their peers), and you have a recipe for manufactured consensus, with no way for the casual observer to check the results. Then, on top of that, we catch some of them in blatant lies, after which they demand that we trust them! Then they have the temerity to lecture those of faith on their “stupid sky wizard” god.
These people have a religion of their own. I see it often enough on Fecalbook, where the “I fucking love science” crowd posts all sorts of things that are not science, and acts like they are extra nerdy and super smart because of it.
I don’t know when popular culture switched on us, when everything that was once nerdy was made popular, but I suspect we are all the poorer for it. For it made loads of really dumb people think that they were smart because they shared a post about “science” and believed in global warming.
As far as cargo cult religions go, it may be one of the dumbest masquerading as one of the smartest.
This morning a friend of mine posted this meme:
This is the enduring fallacy of our age. Christianity has a myriad of problems (not the ones the media commonly tars it with, however), and the hostility between certain branches of it and modern anti-theist scientists is well documented today. But historically it was very different.
When the Roman Empire began to fall apart with the Germanic invasions of the 5th century, the Roman economy took a hit. Cities were damaged, farms were looted or destroyed, and economic collapse happened in the West. In the 7th century, the arrival of the Arabs did even greater damage to the economy of both the Eastern and Western halves of the old Roman world. Trade stopped, because the Mediterranean Sea, long a secure trade route for Rome, became rife with pirates, first the Vandals, and then the Arabs.
Literacy dropped like a rock. Look at old Roman cities. Graffiti was everywhere, a sign that even the lower classes had some level of education. Whereas after the Germanic and Arabic invasions, even Charlemagne could barely read and write well enough to sign his own name. Even Kings were often illiterate (they had more important things to do — like killing people to preserve what was left of their countries). The lower classes were lucky if they could grow enough food to survive.
The Dark Ages were so called because of the economic collapse, not because of religious doctrine. In fact, the Church was one of the sole surviving remnants of literate Western culture in those days. Classical works were preserved and copied faithfully by Christian Byzantine scholars (it’s worth noting that the Muslim Arabs looted their copies of the classics from the Byzantines, so much for the supposed Islamic golden age). Natural sciences were held in high esteem in Western monasteries, where such luminaries as Thomas Aquinas practiced their philosophical and scientific inquiries.
There was little economic capital to spare, and so science advanced far more slowly in those days, but it DID advance, specifically in areas such as metallurgy and farming implements. Rome’s more primitive metallurigal knowledge is probably one of the reasons the industrial revolution did not happen in that period, despite overall Roman engineering prowess.
Now, the Renaissance came, with old Byzantine knowledge flooding Western Europe. The combination of the rediscovery of those works, and the nascent university and library system evolving out of the monasteries, caused scientific advancement to pick up the pace again. The Church funded much of this activity directly — it didn’t burn scientists at the stake or anything, it paid them!
This proceeded all the way into Galileo’s time where he received most of his funding from the Pope’s office. Indeed, Galileo fell afoul of the Church because he deliberately insulted his patron in one of his publications, not because he believed Copernicus and heliocentric theory (remember, it was a theory at the time — the prevailing scientific view was not heliocentric, and only later would Galileo effectively prove it to his fellow scientists). Even with all that, Galileo was not burned at the stake or anything, but he was put under house arrest and deprived of his former patron’s money. I often ask anti-theists to give me the name of one scientist burned at the stake by the church. I’ve yet be provided with even one example. Yet the myth endures, nonetheless.
However, this is when you start seeing the first glimmerings of the Church and the Scientific Community parting ways. Contrary to common belief today, it was not so much a matter of religious doctrine as it was of politics. Christianity was splintering into various factions, and it wouldn’t do to be a paid agent of the Catholics in, say, a country full of Protestants. And so the primacy of doctrine over more practical matters became established. It was a way to differentiate the Catholics from the Anglicans and the Lutherans, and so on and so forth. The notion of a centralized Catholic Church funding everything died in the Reformation and Counter-Reformation.
Even still, most scientists were Christians even after all that, but funding from the Church began to dry up, and was replaced by private secular concerns and universities, which often still had some theological connections, even then.
The split has grown wider in recent years, and now there is hostility between many scientists and many Christians, but it wasn’t like this until recently, and wiping Christianity from history wouldn’t mean we’d be any further along today than we already are. Indeed, it may have the opposite effect, for during the so-called Dark Ages, if the Church hadn’t preserved what it could of the past… who would have done it? We might have had to start over from much less.
In perusing my usual pundits and bloggers today, it has occurred to me just how terrifying the presumption of guilt really is, and how effectively SJWs utilize it to their advantage.
Vox posted on the subject, as it relates to sexual assault charges against a scientist. The money quote:
The SJWs in science are setting up their favorite damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t scenario for male scientists. If you don’t bring young women along with you on your trips, you’re a damnable sexist. And if you do, you’re a sexual predator.
That’s the nature of the beast. The only way to win is not to play. SJWs count on this, because their goal is to drive white men out of positions of power whenever they get the opportunity to do so. Indeed, that is their stated mission, to dismantle what they call “white male privilege.” So your choices are to risk being tarred as a sexist, and losing your job, being accused of sexual assault, losing your job, and being thrown in prison, or leaving your field voluntarily (thus losing your job).
Danilo Libre, of course, provides the ultimate in SJW power fantasies. He just wants to fire them all:
The point is to put you in between Scylla and Charybdis, where there are no options left for you to retain your livelihood. Once, you were innocent unless proven guilty. More common of late, since the Duke lacrosse case, you are guilty until proven innocent (and perhaps not even then). Now you are guilty without even being accused. Your skin color and genitals are all the proof required to convict you.
Since the government continues to maintain the illusion of justice, they can only bend the rules in the courtroom, they cannot break them openly. But in the private sphere, they are free to apply whatever punishment they desire, with no restraint. College campuses around the country have already embraced this.
But now SJWs will come for you via other means. They will contact clients, email employers, harass family members and friends in order to apply a social punishment. Again, your skin color and genitals are all the proof required for tarring you as a racist-sexist-homophobe. Anything you say can be twisted so as to serve as “proof.” And in the event nothing can be found, it doesn’t matter anyway. Nobody needs anything as silly as proof.
Unlike in the Christian world, your Original Sin cannot be expunged or forgiven by a benevolent deity. You are guilty forever, and damned for eternity, for daring to have the temerity to be born.
So now in a scientific community, everybody is talking about the sexual assault charges, and not science. And whether or not the scientist is guilty will never truly be known, because the word “guilty” has just come to mean “defendant.” Because, didn’t you know, people only get defensive when they have something to hide.
Logical fallacies abound.
I posted this as a reply over at Liberty’s Torch, but it bears reposting here as well.
“If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.”
Human beings cannot detach themselves from the universe and know it objectively. They view from within, attempting to extrapolate what it looks like from without.
We once believed all things to be due to the agency of the supernatural. There was a God for rivers, a God for war, a God for farming and a God for sex. Whatever the activity, there was an agency behind it. Ancient philosophers gradually came to explain the existence of these things in non-supernatural ways and so, over time, less and less was ascribed to the divine.
Christianity merged Greek philosophy with Jewish monotheism and outsourced this, as it were, to one distant and all-powerful creative agency. St. Thomas called this agency the “First Mover.” Now, St. Thomas failed in his proof of God, for such proof would require one, again, to be detached from the universe. This is impossible for a human. Nonetheless, St. Thomas may have been more correct than he knew. His notions are entirely consistent with physics as we understand it today.
Science, today, has just become another buzzword. To most people the workings of the natural world are just as mystical and difficult to understand as they were for the wogs who prayed to river Gods. Your average man cannot explain Newtonian Mechanics much less Quantum Mechanics. He could not follow the intricacies of Climate Change data. But he trusts the priests, which we call “scientists” today, to interpret the signs and tell him these things. For the proles, you might as well be a sorcerer throwing runes in the air. As in history, the priests are tempted by corruption. They might, for instance, interpret the signs in their own financial and political interests.
Pop Culture tells us that Atheism is good and rational. All the scientists are doing it now, they say. And so people follow them into folly.
Disbelief in God is actually highly irrational. One could defend Agnosticism through rational argument. “I don’t know” is a valid answer to metaphysical questions. You could also defend personal knowledge of God rationally, i.e. you believe that God spoke to you or did a thing for you. You can’t prove this to another, of course, but for you the argument is still rational. Many come to faith feeling as if God touched them in some way.
To say God most definitely does not exist is claiming knowledge that is impossible for any human to possess. You cannot exit the universe and see it objectively. It is the height of folly, the celebration of ignorance.
But this is par for the course for the modern scientific priesthood. Science, remember, is not coextensive with rationality or logic. It is merely a method of experimentation and observation (one among many). It can explain a great many things within our universe, but it cannot comment on existence itself.
For that only philosophy, metaphysics, and religion will do. Even then, the answer will not be known for certainty until such time as you meet your maker.
In simpler terms, there will never be a time in human history in which an outside agency will not be necessary to explain existence. As Voltaire tells us, even assuming God did not exist, it would be intellectually necessary for us to invent him in order to comprehend our own existence.