Scientific philistines: The Unenlightened

My copy of the Concise Oxford English Dictionary defines a philistine (small p) as 'a person who is hostile or indifferent to culture and the arts'. It's a useful word, encompassing both those who actively dislike culture and the arts, and those who are poorly educated in the subject or just not interested in it. It is also a judgemental word: being a philistine is not a good thing to be in a civilised society. Even in a civilised society that passes off elephant turds as high art.

I find it interesting that the English language does not seem to have an equivalent word to philistine for people who are hostile or indifferent to science. In fact, I think it speaks volumes. While it is simply unacceptable to say that you don't like music, or find Shakespeare so intolerably dull that it nauseates you, people go blissfully unchallenged when they chirpily announce (as they frequently do) that they never understood maths at school, or can't see the point of physics.

Prince Charles
An Unenlightened individual yesterday.

It seems to me that we need a word to describe scientific philistines. The word needs to encompass people who actively dislike science (creationists, Daily Mail journalists, etc.), those who are poorly educated in the subject (believers in homeopathy, would-be patenters of perpetual motion machines, etc.), and those just not interested in it (most of the rest of humanity, it sometimes seems). And we need the word to be judgemental: a label which it is not a good thing to be in a scientifically literate society. But, while the word needs to be judgemental, it mustn't be too derogatory. There is still hope for the vast majority of scientific philistines (excluding Daily Mail journalists, obviously).

What seems clear is that these individuals, be they the pitiable variety or the reprehensible variety, missed the train when the Enlightenment Express was pulling out of the station.

So I propose to refer to them in future as The Unenlightened.

Richard Carter, FCD

Writer and photographer Richard Carter, FCD is the founder of the Friends of Charles Darwin. He lives in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire.WebsiteNewsletterMastodonetc…


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