COVID-19 has reminded us that nature is not a benevolent force. That is, the forces of nature are combining, in their way, to kill us.
Is that an overly bleak assessment? Before we rush to take Mother Nature’s side in this matter, we might consider what would happen if we found ourselves outside in the full rawness of nature — that is, without food, clothing, shelter, medicine, or any of the other things we humans have made to defend ourselves against the elements. We can consider any climate at any time of year and see that in a single day, most of us would be miserable, in a week, we’d be in extremis — and within a month, we’d almost certainly be dead.
Of course, that’s not our fate today. In keeping with our name, homo sapiens, we have used our brain to create tools for survival — and the greatest of these tools is scientific technology, including medical technology. It’s because of this tech that we have survived, and thrived.
And for this victory over the cruel forces of nature, we owe a debt to a book written four hundred years ago, and that would be Francis Bacon’s “Novum Organum” (meaning new logic, or new knowledge). Published in 1620, it laid out the principles of scientific advance and a systematized approach to achieving such advancement. More on Bacon in a moment.
But first, we should consider the news of nature’s latest assault on humanity: a new variant of COVID-19 running rampant through the United Kingdom. Reuters quotes Martin Hibberd of London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine saying, “The new B.1.1.7 [variant] still appears to have all the human lethality that the original had, but with an increased ability to transmit.” And there are reportedly other variants as well, in Denmark, South Africa and Spain. (RELATED: More Infectious Coronavirus Strain Found In Georgia)
So yes, it’s a great thing that we already have several COVID-19 vaccines — all whomped up in the last year, quite an achievement — and let’s hope that they they will work, too, on these new mutations. We should also keep in mind that we seem to be afflicted with a new flu, or some other kind of terrible bug, every few years, from SARS to MERS to Ebola to Zika.
Thus we are reminded that we can never let down our guard. If we have vaccines for a few threats, we will need vaccines for yet more threats to come. And while we’re at it, we should have vaccines and/or cures for all sorts of maladies, from cancer to Alzheimer’s. We should do to each of these ills what we did to smallpox back in 1980. We eradicated that virus completely.
We should celebrate Operation Warp Speed today, but we should be wondering why we haven’t had a warp-speed medical mobilization all along — and why we aren’t further speeding it for the future.
Francis Bacon (1561-1626) would have wanted it that way. Four centuries ago, Bacon thought of science as an endless frontier; he wanted humanity to blaze a trail, always, in the pursuit of knowledge, betterment and happiness. Indeed, no less a figure than Thomas Jefferson described Bacon, along with Isaac Newton and John Locke, as “my trinity of the three greatest men the world has ever produced.”
Before Bacon, much of the world was still in the grip of un-scientific scholasticism, that is, hashing and rehashing the wisdom of Aristotle and other philosophical — but not scientific — giants. As Bacon put it, the old logic merely fixed in place hoary errors, and thus got in the way of the search for the truth, as well as for actual solutions. As Bacon put it, humanity needed a new breakthrough, “made from the very foundations, if we do not wish to revolve forever in a circle, making only some slight and contemptible progress.”
The unleashed human mind, Bacon said, should give us hope that “a vast mass of inventions yet remains.”
Bacon was no mere contemplator. He had an energetic understanding of how the world works and how it could be made to work better for humans. As he wrote, “nature is only to be commanded by obeying her.” That is, we must learn nature’s laws, all the while applying them to our advantage.
The result of Bacon’s book was an intellectual paradigm shift that we remember as the Scientific Revolution. Indeed, in another work a few years later called “The New Atlantis,” Bacon further detailed his vision of the systematic application of scientific understanding for the sake of human progress.
Not long after Bacon’s death, his acolytes established The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, which flourishes to this day, alongside thousands of other institutions modeled after the Royal Society. Scientific progress now has many sturdy legs carrying it forward. (RELATED: WaPo Editorial Board Calls For Investigation Into Chinese Lab Theory After Dismissing It As ‘Conspiracy Theory’)
Nearly four centuries after his death, Bacon’s spirit still abides. His wisdom is our enduring shield against pessimists, obscurantists, reactionaries, Luddites, Malthusians, anti-vaxxers, and all others who would neglect or even block progress for the sake of some backward-looking dogma.
Bacon knew this retro-defeatist mentality well. As he wrote, “By far the greatest obstacle to the advancement of the sciences, and the undertaking of any new attempt or department, is to be found in men’s despair and the idea of impossibility.”
Yet in the Baconian world, nothing is impossible, including the final defeat of nature’s coronaviruses in all their malevolent forms.
James P. Pinkerton, a former White House domestic policy aide to Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, has been a Fox News contributor since 1996.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.
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