October 26, 2010
Goodbye Gabi Avital
It seems that the State of Israel also has its thought police.
In early October, Dr. Gabi Avital, the Chief Scientist of the Ministry of Education, was fired from his job after giving an interview in which he said, among other things, that computers were sometimes a crutch for children, preventing them from learning math skills, and that Darwinism was an unsatisfactory explanation for how the world came to be.
Avital’s views were apparently well known in the scientific community but Maa’ariv, the country’s second largest Hebrew newspaper, decided to give them a sensational spin. He got the front page treatment and was subject , over the next several days, to a unending stream of abuse through letters and follow up editorials.
Compounding Mr. Avital’s sins was his insistence that there is no established scientific nexus between global warming and carbon emissions. In the same interview he stated:
One cannot imagine running afoul of three more sacrosanct scientific certitudes. Under unrelenting pressure Avital’s boss, Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar, felt compelled to relieve him of his responsibilities but not before explaining that Mr. Avital’s dismissal had nothing to do with the expression of his views. This , of course, retains the quaint facade that freedom of expression on these central issues regarding our past and future existence is still widely tolerated.
Avital’s experience parallels that of hundreds of other scientists throughout the West who have dared challenge ‘the consensus’ and state contrarian positions against mainstream views.
But the crackdown on Avital, one of the most senior scientists in a government position anywhere in the world to be summarily dismissed in this manner, is a warning sign of creeping intolerance that will end up not only stifling scientific debate but almost any debate at all.
For the fact is that Darwinist theory and anthropogenic global warming theory are both full of holes and science has not fully supported nor vindicated them. To challenge either does not make you either a supporter of intelligent design nor of creationism. Nor does it make you a brain dead skeptic, as so many supporters of the two theories may wish to paint you. In fact it makes you part of an ongoing tradition of inquiry and free thought.
It is not going beyond the bounds of scientific decency to state that challenge to generally accepted scientific theories is healthy and necessary for any vigorous, progressive democracy.
Answering the questions of the origins of life in particular is one of the most important scientific inquiries that could be conducted in a democracy – for to know where we are going as a species, it is vital to know where we came from. How something arises from nothing; how inorganic matter transforms into organic matter or where the ‘information’ which builds our DNA arises, cannot be questions that scientists or laymen turn away from for fear or crossing a illusory boundary between science and religion. Is God – or some higher intelligence- to be found on the other side of the fence. Who knows? But the journey there cannot be derailed because of the fear of what might be discovered.
Obtaining the truth must be the ultimate goal of any civilized society. In that quest, we defeat ourselves by silencing the voices of those who question, prod and challenge. Many of our scientists, grown fat on grants, public acclaim and government handouts have become too comfortable with supposed accepted science. Shaking them out of their lethargy is certainly a job for a chief scientist of a Ministry of Education. It is too bad that political leaders in Israel do not recognize it.