If someone saves another person’s life then that person should be considered a hero. If someone saves thousands, millions, or billions of lives then that person should be considered a saint.
Recently, I was reading Steven Pinker’s book Enlightenment Now and he mentioned several scientists whose work resulted in saving millions (and even billions) of lives.
For example, Pinker writes:
In 1909 Carl Bosch perfected a process invented by Fritz Haber which used methane and steam to pull nitrogen out of the air and turn it into fertilizer on an industrial scale, replacing the massive quantities of bird poop that had previously been needed to return nitrogen to depleted soil. Those two chemists top the list of the 20th-century scientists who saved the greatest number of lives in history, with 2.7 billion [emphasis added].
The saving of this number of lives boggles the mind. Imagine that these scientist saved the life of your best friend, and then try to multiple that by 10, and then by a thousand, and then by a billion. I can only experience an overwhelming feeling of gratitude for reason and science.
Pinker footnotes this claim with a link to a website at ScienceHeroes.com. At this website, they keep a running tally of the number of lives saved by the scientists listed at the website– currently, more than 5 billion human lives saved.
They also maintain multiple lists of science heroes including a list of living scientists who have each saved million of lives. Top on this list is Bill Foege who made a discovery that led to the worldwide elimination of smallpox. Smallpox killed more than 300 million people in the 20th century. 300 million people. The last known case was diagnosed in Somalia in 1977. Thank you Bill Foege!
Many of these heroes are religious so why call them scientific or atheist heroes? Because it was not their supernatural beliefs that resulted in lives being saved, it was their belief in reason, evidence, and science. Smallpox was eradicated by science and not prayer (Bill Foege once wrote: “I believe in a cause and effect world rather than a world of magic”).
So the next time that you hear a political or religious leader ask you to pray for the suffering, please politely refuse, email them a link to ScienceHeroes.com, and remind them that science works.