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Ten Thousand Years of Speed Bumps

I’ve said many times that the cost of religion is something none of us can estimate. Even those of us willing to come out and say we don’t believe it, and perhaps even actively dislike it, usually don’t see it as very damaging.

But ask yourself, anytime a person gets in the news as opposing some aspect of medical science, who is it likely to be? And what source are they using for their opposition?

Right. Religious people, and the Bible.

So bear that in mind and think about this:

From a New York Times story, An Immune System Trained to Kill Cancer:

Doctors removed a billion of his T-cells — a type of white blood cell that fights viruses and tumors — and gave them new genes that would program the cells to attack his cancer. Then the altered cells were dripped back into Mr. Ludwig’s veins.

At first, nothing happened. But after 10 days, hell broke loose in his hospital room. He began shaking with chills. His temperature shot up. His blood pressure shot down. He became so ill that doctors moved him into intensive care and warned that he might die. His family gathered at the hospital, fearing the worst.

A few weeks later, the fevers were gone. And so was the leukemia.

There was no trace of it anywhere — no leukemic cells in his blood or bone marrow, no more bulging lymph nodes on his CT scan. His doctors calculated that the treatment had killed off two pounds of cancer cells.

The trial was conducted on only three people. TWO of them went into total remission. No trace of cancer. The third is in partial remission.

The researchers would never use these terms in a first-phase medical trial, but as far as Mr. Ludwig is concerned, they cured him. Of leukemia.

Before the study, he was weak, suffered repeated bouts of pneumonia and was wasting away. Now, he is full of energy. He has gained 40 pounds. He and his wife bought an R.V., in which they travel with their grandson and nephew. “I feel normal, like I did 10 years before I was diagnosed,” Mr. Ludwig said. “This clinical trial saved my life.”

Humans 10,000 years ago were equally as bright as humans today. They might have even been smarter, on average.  Start the science clock in 8,000 BC instead of just recently, and roll it forward to the point where leukemia was cured, say 300 years later. AND THEN GIVE IT ANOTHER 9,700 YEARS.

What would be possible today, just in the field of medical science? Stuff you can barely imagine.

Why hasn’t that stuff happened? Why aren’t we 10,000 years more advanced than we are?

Yeah, where ARE the flying cars? The immortality? The cities on the moon? The Mars colony? The bioengineered English-speaking dogs and book-writing chimpanzees? The intelligent robots? The sea-floor resorts? The Earth without war, or famine, or overpopulation or DISEASE?

That glorious future, which COULD have been our glorious present, I think we pissed it all away on religion. Superstition, churches, lies, evangelists, healers — eternal con men for this god and that — not content just to do their own thing, but taking it upon themselves to oppose all the OTHER good things — such as reason, freethought, astronomy, biology, geology … and especially medical research of all kinds.

  • http://crommunist.wordpress.com Crommunist

    I definitely sympathize with the main point of your piece – that our progress has been retarded by religion. However, I think your timeline is a bit hyperbolic. True scientific progress could only happen after a number of other technologies and developments had been made. We needed to have a stable system of government to allow the flourishing and funding of educational institutions. We needed philosophical progress toward methodological naturalism. We needed to have trade and exchange of ideas, which required an entirely different technological development process.

    To be sure, we’d be a LOT better off if we hadn’t wasted so much time with religion, but while we might have been physiologically capable of contemporary developments, it would have still taken thousands of years, not hundreds.

    IF, however, we could somehow send some basic knowledge back from 500 years ago to 1000 years ago, we’d be WAY WAY WAY further ahead than that linear 5-century gap.

    Anyway, new reader. Enjoying the stuff. Keep up the great work.

    • Aspect Sign


      We needed to have a stable system of government to allow the flourishing and funding of educational institutions. We needed philosophical progress toward methodological naturalism. We needed to have trade and exchange of ideas, which required an entirely different technological development process.

      You’ve just described ancient china, greece, egypt, india all of which had fairly advanced technologies especially in the areas of mechanical pneumatic and hydrological devices all of which were quickly locked down by the religious institutions of the day for use in temples to impress the rubes. And that was all before the great monotheistic advances like the dark ages and the crusades.

  • Diana

    And lately it seems that religions are no longer content to slow us down; now they want to drag us back a few hundred years or so.

  • http://crissa.twu.net/ Crissa

    Admittedly, how long did it take to invent science itself? And then spread it to enough people who had enough time to practice it?

    • Hank Fox

      There were people getting little bits of the idea many hundreds of years ago, but I date the emergence of the organized, widespread PRACTICE of science to the founding of the Royal Society in London in 1660. It’s arbitrary, but it gives me a manageable handle on the idea of science’s start. So really, it’s only about 350 years from Iron Age to Computer Age.

  • quincyme1970

    I don’t think it is all hyperbole. The Greeks were just starting to practise investigative science rather than philosophy and their ruling class was fairly stable. Had they been allowed to develop further, another 300 years could have made an enormous difference. I believe it is fair to say that had monotheism not gained such a stranglehold on the world, we would be a good 1000 years further down the line. Certainly, millions of indigenous people would have been spared and left to grow out of destructive rituals.

    As to technology, the catalyst, beyond inquiry, was high quality glass. Without it, you have little chance of accurate observation in many, many fields.

    • AlanMacandCheese

      David Deutsch states in his book “The Beginning of Eternity” that if the Greek enlightenment had continued we could be visiting other star systems and be immortal by now. It looks like the present phase of enlightenment is now under sever attack.

  • http://criticallyskeptic-dckitty.blogspot.com Katherine Lorraine, Chaton de la Mort

    I think this image is quite appropriate to this topic.

    • TxSkeptic

      This topic was certainly a consideration as I traveled from agnostic to atheist, and anti-theist. I saw this “dark ages” graph several years ago and agree with it that we are about a thousand years behind where we should be.

      Having just been to Greece, and Rome a couple years before, and seeing the leaps in technology and philosophy that were happening in their heyday, it is quite disheartening to contemplate the damage done by Constantine and the newly minted christian orthodoxy.

      One big question, would we have realized the problem of limited resources, and the need for sustainability while the earth’s population was still at a reasonably controllable level?

  • Pingback: What I’m Reading Wednesday, September 14, 2011 | Rationally Thinking Out Loud

  • http://www.xfire.com/blog/katricewat/4467504/ Roosevelt Lederhos

    I do believe all of the ideas you have presented on your post. They’re really convincing and will definitely work. Still, the posts are too quick for beginners. Could you please lengthen them a bit from next time? Thanks for the post.


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