Science v. Edgar Allan Poe
Inspired by a rainy, melancholy day over the weekend, I pulled out my Collected Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe. After an obligatory reading of "The Raven" (it was a rainy, melancholy day, after all), I found a poem I hadn't read before: "Sonnet - To Science." Written in 1829, Poe is making some pretty hefty accusations against Science.
Sonnet - To Science
Science! true daughter of Old Time thou art!
Who alterest all things with thy peering eyes.
Why preyest thou thus upon the poet's heart,
Vulture, whose wings are dull realities?
How should he love thee? or how deem thee wise,
Who wouldst not leave him in his wandering
To seek for treasure in the jewelled skies,
Albeit he soared with an undaunted wing?
Hast thou not dragged Diana from her car?
And driven the Hamadryad from the wood
To seek a shelter in some happier star?
Hast thou not torn the Naiad from her flood,
The Elfin from the green grass, and from me
The summer dream beneath the tamarind tree?
These are no light accusations. Poe accuses science of being a vulture which preys upon poets, taking a world full of beauty, imagination, and fantasies and replacing it with one of "dull realities." It is true that science has "dragged Diana from her car." The Greek goddess Diana doesn't pull the moon around the earth. Gravity does that. But to say that gravity has ruined the mysteries of the world is a superficial claim.
We no longer personify the things we don't understand as deities, but that does not mean we understand them. Gravity is an excellent example. Gravity remains one of the greatest mysteries of physics. We can describe what gravity does; any two objects with mass - such as the Earth and the Moon - are attracted to each other. But we don't know why. Furthermore, Newton's laws do not describe what happens when things get very, very big or very, very small. This, of course, does not stop gravity from continuing to work.
The more knowledge we acquire, the more mystery we find.
Not to mention, the world is a beautiful place full of fantastic things we have learned about through the collective endeavor called "Science." For example, caterpillars go through an incredible process of transformation to become a butterfly. There are no faeries involved, but we do know that after becoming the crysallis, the caterpillars' internal organs basically dissolve into what appears to be uniform goo. Yet as a butterfly they still possess memories from being a caterpillar. Their memories survive the goo stage.
Going back to gravity and the planets, scientists over the years have tracked the movements of the heavenly spheres. Diana may have been beautiful, but I think this clip from an animation by DjSadhu is a fair competitor. It shows not only the planets revolving around the sun, but also the sun hurtling through nearby space at a rate of 43,000 miles/hr. And though it is a more complete, beautiful image than what I remember from elementary school, it still is not the whole picture. It doesn't show how the entire section of space I referred to as "nearby space" rotates around the center of the Milky Way galaxy at 483,000 miles/hr. Or that the entire galaxy is itself moving... Diana and Apollo would have had their work cut out for them.
Therefore, Edgar Allan Poe, I may be a few years late, but I offer here my counter-argument on behalf of science:
P1: Science is a systematic search for knowledge.
P2: Knowledge generates ignorance.
P3: Ignorance is just mystery by another name.
Conclusion: Instead of destroying the mysteries of the world, Science begets them.