Almost as soon as they were airborne, Thatcher launched his first volley.
“So here we sit in a military plane speeding toward a newly discovered pocket of untouched life, like antibodies rushing to destroy an infection. It’s obvious, wouldn’t you say, Doctor, that humans are the real threat to this planet, not some precarious ecosystem on some island in the middle of nowhere. We may have stumbled across the last place on Earth that was actually safe from our meddling…”
“Surely we can preserve as well as destroy, Thatcher,” Geoffrey said.
Thatcher shook his head. “The curse of intelligent life is that it must destroy, eventually, Doctor.”
“Oh yes, you believe free will is equivalent to determinism. Isn’t that right, Thatcher? And don’t call me
“Oh dear, you’re not so religious as to believe in free will, I hope! Or to confuse such a belief with science!”
“Depending on the definition, free will need not be a religious notion.”
“Free will is madness, nothing more. Reason and religion make it dangerous.”
“Not necessarily. Reason can make free will sane, though sanity is not automatic, I will agree.”
“You seem to put a lot of stock in human nobility, Doctor. Considering what we have done to this planet, I find that to be a rather surprising attitude for a man of science.”
Geoffrey knew that no matter what position he took, Thatcher was going to take a more fashionably radical position just to stay out in front. He sensed that Thatcher was now trying to place him in some undesirable political camp, so Geoffrey stopped responding altogether.
Geoffrey knew this species of scientist well: Thatcher’s battleground was the court of public opinion; Geoffrey’s was the laboratory. Either could be fatal to the other, and the scientific arena did not always favor the fittest. When battle lines were drawn between the establishment and the truth, even in the halls of science, the truth did not always win, at least in the short term. And that short term could last generations. Raymond Dart’s revolutionary discovery of the missing link in human evolution had languished in a box in South Africa for forty years while the entire scientific establishment dismissed him and worshipped at the altar of Piltdown Man, a phony fossil made of spare ape parts and an Englishwoman’s skull stained with furniture polish. At that time, it had been politically correct to believe that the missing link would be found in Europe, and that bias had been sufficient to override other evidence to the contrary for four decades. It was scientists just like Thatcher who caused this sort of mischief, Geoffrey knew-and he was smart enough to give them a wide berth.
Geoffrey leaned back and continued to look out the window, which did not stop Thatcher from continuing to restate his case for a good hour more. Geoffrey could not decide whether he was amused or alarmed by the man’s mind-numbing persistence.
Geoffrey had concluded months ago that the MIT star’s “Redmond Principle” was quackery of the first order. After the most cursory perusal of Thatcher’s best-selling book, it was apparent to Geoffrey that it was the kind of parlor trick that scientists employed to exploit popular opinion and gain attention: make a wild claim that capitalized on current fears, ascribe it a “conservatively low probability” in order to make it appear plausible, and then
Thatcher, for his part, certainly recalled Geoffrey from the conference in Stuttgart the previous year. He had marked the young man immediately as one of those self-styled “maverick” scientists Thatcher despised-those who traded on good looks and an affected iconoclasm to dazzle their pretty female students into the sack. Youth had a certain automatic fashionability that Thatcher deeply resented, and the fact that Geoffrey was African-American made the younger man strategically difficult to attack-which Thatcher also resented. Above all, he despised the air of integrity that charming rogues like Geoffrey exuded. They were so proud of their uncompromised vision when, in all probability, their vision had never been exposed to any challenge in the first place. Things had not been so easy for Thatcher.
While he supposed there were some scientists from the younger generation who were passionate and sincere crusaders, Redmond had bought a ticket on the gravy train strictly to pig out. Idealism was a business to him. Science was nothing more than a means to an end. He had never been a political animal, cleaving neither left nor right on the political spectrum. But he was capable of going in either direction if it gave him an advantage. Ironically, he had gone left in order to become a capitalist; he had become an environmentalist for his own personal enrichment. He planned on strip-mining the environmental cause purely for his own profit. And he was honest about it, at least to himself-which was more than he could say for most of his colleagues.
Geoffrey’s silence was making him uncomfortable. “So what do you say, Dr. Binswanger? You haven’t stated your position.”
“Um, sorry, Thatcher.” Geoffrey excused himself with a dip of his head as he unlatched his shoulder harness and went forward to talk to the crew.