Cultural Values Necessary for Science

Changing values may doom American science

Cultural values influence
how we think,
what we think about,
what we do with our lives, and
which skills we develop.
Science requires supportive values in all these areas.

History provides examples during the epoch of feudal society sometimes call the dark ages.  Their values designed to achieve life after death did not encourage or support such cultural activities as science.  For example, stories were expected to convey moral lessons rather than accurate observations:  (A boy's nose might grow long if he told lies!)  With high value placed on reaching heaven, little effort was diverted to understanding earthly events in terms of physical causes, a primary goal of science.

Cultural values in Europe gradually changed as Crusaders discovered the treasures, achievements, and values of other civilizations.  The old values didn't disappear but were modified as it became more important to understand the workings of the world and use that knowledge to reduce suffering and improve the comfort and physical rewards of life on earth.  The science and technology that were developed radically changed society to become the advanced civilization we know today.


Societies often use games, toys and other past times to teach values and skills.  As our society adopts new games, cultural values continue to change, perhaps more rapidly than ever before:

passive entertainment

Humans have long had passive entertainment such as story telling.  But in many ways the acquisition of televisions in the decades following 1950 and computer games following 1975 and there extensive used as a past time have created dramatic changes in American cultural values:

While justice may not be required for science, passive entertainment, an aversion for tedious activities, and the distractions of violence and injustice do not promote or encourage science.

safety verses freedom

The United States of America was founded on the values of freedom, privacy and equal opportunity for all, values still widely espoused.  But other values of protection, conformity, and massive restrictions for the assurance of safety have been rapidly elevated in importance.  While safety values have always been present, their elevation has resulted in significant reduction in freedom, privacy, and equality.

Consider the value of freedom:  Recently the President of the United States led his country into a war with Iraq to bring that country freedom, a gift the President said comes not from the U.S., but a gift from God to all people.
Originally that war was intended to protect America from further terrorism, but Iraq was not found to have caused the terrorism of 9/11 or be related to any current terrorism outside of Iraq.  It was then proposed that the war would rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, but the United Nations inspectors were unable to find any such weapons, Iraq has not used any such weapons in the war, and none have been found.  So the revised justification was to bring freedom to Iraq, a country widely regarded as already providing more freedom to its citizens than most of the other countries in that region.
Freedom is a concept that everyone is presumed to understand so that no definition is typically offered.  But consider the first definition offered by Webster: Freedom is exemption or liberty from control.  Considering that definition, it seems strange that the nation which currently probably has more regulations and laws restricting the practices of its citizens than any other nation on earth espouses to spread such freedom to other nations.  There seems to be something of a contradiction here!

The United States was originally founded highly valuing freedom for its citizens.  But over time, in an effort to protect and assure safety, a great many laws and regulations have been developed which unavoidably reduced freedom.  So while the United States still claims to value liberty and freedom, in fact its citizens may be among the least free.  As a result, the United States has a higher proportion of its population incarcerated in jails than most other nations.  And while some other countries have far less fair justice systems and have far crueler punishments, the United States is NOT a leader in justice or humane punishments.

Consider as example when a nation such as the United States bans its citizens from the possession of many substances that might be harmful under some conditions.  Such restrictions gravely reduce the potential for those citizens to understand the materials of this world.  When schools as a part of society are banned from having substances which were formerly used to teach chemistry, their students are less likely to understand the properties of those chemicals or to be able to safely use such chemicals either at home on the job as adults.


When a society discourages people whose ideas are different from the majority, or act somehow differently, creative en devours such as art, science and literature are discouraged and eventually may be extinguished.  As happened in Europe 1600 years ago, when a society no longer has cultural values necessary for innovation and creativity, that society can be expected lose the benefit of science and technology.

During the decline of the Roman empire some individuals formed enclaves in order to maintain the cultural values they believed essential to their desired way of life.  Some of those groups found it necessary to emigrate to countries more tolerant of diversity.


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created 12/7/2002
by D Trapp
Mac made