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Scientists and Truth

REZA DAVARI ARDAKANI

President, Academy of Sciences of Iran


Distinguished guests and scholars, welcome to Iran and to this workshop to discuss issues that are of critical importance to all societies. The world relies on its scientists to communicate truthful information and to offer efficient solutions, and I hope that your discussions will have fruitful results. A brief tutorial on the historic relationship between knowledge and understanding is in order as we begin this dialogue.

At the dawn of mankind’s interest in logic and reason, Plato professed the possibility of creating a scientific, intellectual republic. This Platonic ideal was not forgotten and was later renewed in the world of Islam by Abū Nasr Muhammad ibn al-Farakh al-Fārābi. But it was not expanded very much until Sir Francis Bacon wrote his New Atlantis. In this work, he described a city governed by scientists and devoid of happiness and joy; those who looked upon it called it a mechanical city. Still, it was a peaceful and tranquil city.

Although history is not one of tranquility, peace, and understanding, the New Atlantis remained steadfast as a city of hope and expectation during a turbulent time, but with enduring concerns about its destiny. For instance, Kant, who idealized the Republic as a state of reason and peace, knew that such a republic would lead nowhere unless wisdom ruled it, and he expressed his



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2 Scientists and Truth REZA DAVARI ARDAKANI President, Academy of Sciences of Iran D istinguished guests and scholars, welcome to Iran and to this workshop to discuss issues that are of critical impor- tance to all societies. The world relies on its scientists to communicate truthful information and to offer efficient solutions, and I hope that your discussions will have fruitful results. A brief tutorial on the historic relationship between knowledge and under- standing is in order as we begin this dialogue. At the dawn of mankind’s interest in logic and reason, Plato professed the possibility of creating a scientific, intellectual republic. This Platonic ideal was not forgotten and was later re- newed in the world of Islam by Abū Nasr Muhammad ibn al- Farakh al-Fārābi. But it was not expanded very much until Sir Francis Bacon wrote his New Atlantis. In this work, he described a city governed by scientists and devoid of happiness and joy; those who looked upon it called it a mechanical city. Still, it was a peaceful and tranquil city. Although history is not one of tranquility, peace, and un- derstanding, the New Atlantis remained steadfast as a city of hope and expectation during a turbulent time, but with enduring con- cerns about its destiny. For instance, Kant, who idealized the Re- public as a state of reason and peace, knew that such a republic would lead nowhere unless wisdom ruled it, and he expressed his 11

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12 SCIENCE AS A GATEWAY TO UNDERSTANDING concerns that it would face great dangers in the absence of such wisdom. Until the mid-twentieth century, science remained the ha- ven and stable pillar of hope in modern society, but the agitations that the world of modernity experienced were not so powerful as to shake its huge structure. Even though events in Europe during the first four decades of the twentieth century dashed much of that hope and hopefulness, and though certain doubts and a sense of hopelessness grew among some scholars, the principle of placing hope in science remained firmly entrenched in society. Modern science provided an objective point of view and numerous benefits to the overall quality of life, which parlayed into an optimistic trust in the future. However, the question of sci- ence as a tool for peace and understand was rarely posed in the his- tory of science. The advents of Stalinism in the USSR, National Socialism in Germany, and global engagement in World War II were not ex- periences that could be ignored. These events were signs of the emergence of another age. After the war, the perception that sci- ence fostered agreement among non-scientists, that scientists were in agreement with each other on scientific issues, and that their dif- ferences could be resolved easily had changed, and people began to realize that scientific agreement did not extend to other domains, including that of culture, beliefs, and politics. Today, almost every society depends to some extent on technology, but societies cannot follow the scientific model to es- tablish universal consensus. Up until now, along with hope about the contributions of science, there has also been hope that a new culture of understanding would disseminate worldwide and replace friction between cultures. We have seen that European and Ameri- can philosophers and scholars have forgotten about embracing a unique culture. No longer do they believe that science will show the way to the future of the world. Even those who have taken the fall of the USSR as the sign of the victory of liberal democracy have not hidden their despair about the establishment of peace, consensus, and understanding in the world.

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SCIENTISTS AND TRUTH 13 Now science is more advanced than ever, and its dissemi- nation in the form of consumption technology has resulted in uni- formity all over the world. But the differences, wars, and misun- derstandings have increased. The constitution of modernity, namely the Bill of Human Rights, has been ignored worldwide. Under such circumstances, how is it possible to remain hopeful about science? In my view, science exists in the domain of truth, and sci- entists should be its children and followers. They should be com- mitted to the spirit of loyalty to truth, goodness, and beauty, and to advocate science before the ruling powers as much as possible. In this way, science may become the gateway to understanding again. If we lose this hope and ignore the valuable role that truth plays in life, we become hopeless; and if we accept that science should serve at the mercy of politics and be used as a means for imposing enmity and power, then we should know that man is doomed to danger. It is still possible to rely on truth and to be hopeful, and this hope should be preserved. This workshop signifies that hope exists. I hope that this meeting and its discussions will be a small step toward understand- ing.

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