Posted by: Jim | January 28, 2009

Getting “Faith” in Science

As sciences get more advanced, they become less and less apprehensible by Ma and Pa Kettle from Indiana. For example, in order to truly understand quantum mechanics, one needs to undergo 15 years of math, calculus, and physics courses. The rest of us get a simplified version of itAstrophysicists have to do the same. Recent theories that are testable and graspable by astrophysicists who have studied for decades read almost as gibberish to people like me who are merely scientifically inclined. 

 

Virtually every scientific field is advancing beyond the general public’s ability to grasp it. Unless something changes, the true nature of the universe will only be approached by a smaller and smaller group of highly technical people. Knowledge is becoming so vast that any one of us can only hope to specialize in a razor-thin slice of the pie if we expect to know much of anything about anything. So for Pa Kettle, who want to know everything about everything, it becomes just as much a “leap of faith” to believe in the Lost Island of Atlantis as it does to believe in Natural Selection. Unfortunately the Lost Island of Atlantis is much more cool and graspable than how geographic separation led to both red squirrels and grey squirrels in Western Europe.

 

As if obeying Newton’s law to provide an equal and opposite reaction, our public education wants to drive us in exactly the opposite direction. Some creationists (under the new monicker of “intelligent design” proponents) are trying to foist a new book onto the textbook buyers in public schools called “Explore Evolution.”  It uses extremely hackneyed and long-ago-discredited arguments to try and point out “weaknesses” in Darwinian evolution. These arguments work well on scientific neophytes, and continue to widen the gap between them and the scientifically literate.

 

To put it into terms people can understand, the general public needs to have a greater “faith in science.” They need to understand how rock-solid the scientific process is. They need to understand how when a scientist publishes his test results that proves a more refined theory of how a quark spins, another equally qualified scientist will pounce upon the slightest weakness he or she might find in that theory, or in the testing, or in the conclusions themselves. The world of science is—at it’s bleeding edge—frought with controversy. However once a theory makes it into the accepted canon, it has been seriously vetted. It can be proven, tested, and expected results can be achieved over and over again.

 

So even though the theory of evolution can be proven and tested throughout the animal kingdom and the fossil records over and over again, many people prefer to believe in the easily graspable, yet fantastically unproven “god did it.” theory. When they find out that their scientific ignorance has pushed them into “lower class” status, maybe they can pray to their god about it. 

As for me, I talk about science and evolution to my kids all the time to make sure they can even slightly keep up the pace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Responses

  1. Jim. Nice points. This fact that there is no everyday language for the new science to be transposed into does indeed mean that the public can essentially know nothing of this frontier.

    However, this ‘faith in science’ and the vetting process, fine, but what about who controls science, who chooses what science gets done (and not done) and so forth. While it is okay to regard the process itself as rock solid, the actual aims should be excavated. After all, there was Rumsfeld talking about biological weapons that attack via phenotype… Who would work on that? Why do so many scientists seem to be apolitical?

    Again, this plugs into the notion that I feel you have, that you are an optimist with regard to science (correct me if I am wrong), whereas, for me, the fact that the bleeding-edge is in the hands of the state and corporations inclines me to believe that there will be little public benefit compared to what is possible.

  2. kingfelix and Jim, I love your posts. You bring up excellent points.

    There is a responsibility on the part of the scientific community just like there is a responsibility of the church and of government (or anyone in a position of great influence).

    As soon as any of these groups believes that the rest of the world are peons that don’t understand reality, they are separating themselves from the stream of human consciousness. A superior thinking scientist can look down upon a third world buddhist monk, or weather worshiping farmer in Africa, and lose the beauty and wisdom of human spirituality.

    All of these groups, in my opinion, need a watchdog of sorts so that they don’t become absolutely powerful. Having other scientist that choose to work on biological warfare and some working on human development and others working on the possibility of a divine creator is all well and good and should not be stopped.

    The greater the influx of ideas the greater the society in my opinion. Sure, some Christians would love the world to exactly follow Christian doctrine and principals, but if the world were only Christians, it would lose it’s complexity and diversity. If the world were only scientists it would be the same way.

    Let all ideas flow freely with passion for the human condition.

  3. Science has changed over time, and continues to change. Theories that were once thought solid are found fallible in the light of new information.

    With that in mind, it should all still be taken with a grain of salt so to speak.

  4. Kingfelix,

    I agree with everything you said. However, it’s a different point entirely from the one I’m making. Yes, Werner Von Braun worked with the nazis and used his scientific kung fu for evil. He helped design the V2 rocket, which was used to shell England. Science is amoral! But the advancements he made in physics and rocketry are unassailable.

    I would never look to science to be a *moral* leader. I”m only suggesting that people should trust in science to help them shape their view of the universe.

    Scientists are just as scallywaggish as anyone else.

  5. Ted,

    Ask any scientist if he has lost the beauty and wisdom of human spirituality. The answer will be “no.” I encourage you to read Carl Sagan, either “The Varieties of Scientific Experience” or “The Demon Haunted world.” In fact, I bet you’ll get the point from anything he has written.

    I agree with the rest of what you’re sayingl. See my point above about how science should not be a moral leader.

    “Let all ideas flow freely with passion for the human condition.” I love that!

    However, regarding your last post re: science invalidating itself so therefore we should invalidate all of it. I won’t even get into how the same should be true of religion, but I will get into how it doesn’t apply to science.

    Any theory that has been invalidated was done so in the light of new evidence. Ask any scientist whether ANY theory is infallible, and he or she will emphatically say NO! However, even though the theory of gravity might not be exactly as we think–if you jump off a cliff you will plummet every single time. So the existence of these theories is a fact. Our understanding of it is what changes.

  6. Jim, fair riposte. I was just differentiating between ‘faith in science’ and ‘faith in scientists’, a distinction I was not confident you were making.

    Ha, there’s the picture bright as day, at the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, the ‘Masters of Space’ those grand pioneers and nary a non-German name among them. Operation Paperclip, indeed.

  7. “So the existence of these theories is a fact.”

    That should be “law” I suppose. Or do we plummet *because* of our ill-founded faith in Newton…

  8. Jim,

    I do think that a scientist can enjoy the beauty and wisdom of spirituality. The point I was trying to make was that if we think that science is supreme and look down on those that are religious (zulu tribe man, jew, christian…) and see them as somehow not as evolved as the rest of us, then a certain elitism creeps in and the actual beauty of human spirituality is lost.

    If science says the universe (small u) created all of us, then it can look upon the religious and non religious as equals sharing the planet and universe that created them both. Plus, the world is SO complex and intricate WAY beyond what you or I can really comprehend, science included. There isn’t a single person who can know all of the science from all of the different scientific arenas so well as to ultimately truly KNOW the universe. There is just too much.

    So, art, music, spirituality, poetry, religion… which the universe created, have other joys, and beauty and power in them that can defy explanation. Enjoy them.


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