SarahC, you've struck a chord with me. You've put my own secret thoughts into plain words, and Emerson is chastising me for it., (". . . to-morrow a stranger will say with masterly good sense precisely what we have thought and felt all the time, and we shall be forced to take with shame our own opinion from another.")
Amazing how often this blog can do that.
Anyways, on the subject - a little - I've found that Teilhard de Chardin (who worked on the Peking Man dig and talked about the intelligence explosion a year before I.J. Good, but everyone ignores because he was also a priest) was a man uniquely capable of writing hymns to science, such as:
(This should be read aloud, only, while listening to this: http://listen.grooveshark.com/#/s/Everyday/22o18a)
Taken in the full modern sense of the word, science is the twin sister of mankind. Born together, the two ideas (or two dreams) grew up together to attain an almost religious valuation in the course of the last century. Subsequently they fell together into the same disrepute. But that does not prevent them, when mutually supporting one another as they do, from continuing to represent (in fact more than ever) the ideal forces upon which our imagination falls back whenever it seeks to materialise in terrestrial form its reasons for believing and hoping.
The future of science . . . As a first approximation it is outlined on our horizon as the establishment of an overall and completely coherent perspective of the universe. There was a time when the only part ascribed to knowledge lay in lighting up for our speculative pleasure the objects ready made and given around us. Nowadays, thanks to a philosophy which has given a meaning and a consecration to our thirst to think all things, we can glimpse that unconsciousness is a sort of ontological inferiority or evil, since the world can only fulfil itself in so far as it expresses itself in a systematic and reflective perception. Even (above all, maybe) in mathematics, is not 'discovery' the bringing into existence of something new? From this point of view, intellectual discovery and synthesis are no longer merely speculation but creation. Therefore, some physical consummation of things is bound up with the explicit perception we make of them. And therefore, they are (at least partially) nights who situate the crown of evolution in a supreme act of collective vision obtained by a pan-human effort of investigation and construction.4
Knowledge for its own sake. But also, and perhaps still more, knowledge for power.
Since its birth, science has made its greatest advances when stimulated by some particular problem of life needing a solution; and its most sublime theories would always have drifted, rootless, on the flood of human thought if they had not been promptly incorporated into some way of mastering the world. Accordingly the march of humanity, as a prolongation of that of all other animate forms, develops indubitably in the direction of a conquest of matter put to the service of mind, Increased power for increased action. But, finally and above all, increased action for increased being.
Of old, the forerunners of our chemists strove to find the philosophers' stone. Our ambition has grown since then. It is no longer to make gold but life; and in view of all that has happened in the last fifty years, who would dare to say that this is a mere mirage? With our knowledge of hormones we appear to be on the eve of having a hand in the development of our bodies and even our brains. With the discovery of genes it appears that we shall soon be able to control the mechanism of organic heredity. And with the synthesis of albuminoids imminent, we may well one day be capable of producing what the earth, left to itself, seems no longer able to produce: a new wave of organisms, an artificially provoked neo-life,5 Immense and prolonged as the universal groping has been since the beginning, many possible combinations have been able to slip through the fingers of chance and have had to await man's calculated efforts in order to appear. Thought might artificially perfect the thinking instrument itself; life might rebound forward under the collective effect of its reflection. The dream upon which human research obscurely feeds is fundamentally that of mastering, beyond all atomic or molecular affinities, the ultimate energy of which all other energies are merely servants; and thus, by grasping the very mainspring of evolution, seizing the tiller of the world.
I salute those who have the courage to admit that their hopes extend that far; they are the pinnacle of mankind and I would say to them that there is less difference than people think between research and adoration.