What are are we doing wrong? Why are we losing so much ground, so quickly, at least in America? Even as great science is being done, the American populus is increasingly ignorant of how science works and distrustful of what scientists say. Religious explanations of how things work and how they came to be are increasingly viewed by many as equivilant to scientific theories. More and more people are accepting the “ghost in the machine” as logical.
I feel that we who are in the scientific community or are at least its supporters must bear the blame for this sorry state of affairs. This is our failure to communicate effectively.
This is my opinion, and I know that it is unpopular here, so I’ll be brief. It seems to me that younger (read: newer) scientists lack a firm grounding in the philosophy of science, and view science as a sort of uber-epistemology, a panacea for explaining all things, physical and metaphysical. I’ve even had to argue here with people who think science is an appropriate tool for proving that 1 + 1 = 2. I’ve had to argue that science proves nothing true, but only certain things false — i.e., falsifiable observations. I’ve had to argue that science cannot prove one way or the other whether God made man or man made God. A person should not have to argue these things. They should be common knowledge. The vast majority of people have metaphysical realities that they believe science does not address, and they’re right. The old schoolers made a much better presentation of it, and science was once quite revered in this country. Einstein was a genuine institution and popular hero. But that’s back when scientists admitted that they could produce all the food necessary to feed the world, but that something else was required to change the hearts of men who burn the silos.
Perhaps part of the problem is that maybe the science that we are doing, while cool to us, isn’t as totally sweet to everyone else. There’s not much of a spectacle anymore when it comes to science. Granted, I wasn’t around at the time, but it seems like the moon landings created an entire generation of people interested in space and science and technology. We don’t have that kind of awe-inspiring magnificence anymore in a lot of respects. What we do have is controversy and debate and experiments that I think scare a lot of people. Which doesn’t mean they shouldn’t get done, but while stem cell research and genetic engineering is fascinating and promising, the implications are frightening to some… but the moon landings–what a triumph of the human spirit! It’s just hard to look at that and think anything other than “Holy shit, science is awesome.” Whereas now I think there is a lot more “Holy shit, they’re killing babies to cure a disease I’ve never even heard of.”
I doubt we’re getting less scientifically inclined over time. What I do believe, is that the rest of the world (especially Asia) is catching up to the US and Europe in that respect. We should expect a lot more basic science to be coming out of Asia in the future.
Part of the problem is that the science that’s being done is no longer as accessible to the public as it used to be. When you read about what’s going on at the frontiers of quantum physics, the ghost in the machine starts making more sense.
See, but I think quantum physics is one of those things that is really appealing to the layman. Although an in-depth study of quantum physics is just overwhelming, the general conclusions are just mind-blowing. IANA physicist, but the fact that a particle can exist in all possible states until measured, that you can’t know both the position and velocity of an electron, that matter can tunnel through other matter, that photons and electrons may take every possible path from point A to point B, and that those infinite paths collapse down to a single one… that kind of stuff is classic!
Science is hard. Has no easy answers, sometimes has no answer and sometimes has uncomfortable answers you may not want to hear.
“Ghost in the machine” is rarely beyond anyone’s grasp. It usually has an explanation of some sort, and almost always supplies the warm and fuzzy answer that you wanted to hear in the first place.
No surprises what people will choose if they want an easy life. So the basic fault lies in modern Western societies’ cultural expectation of a choice for everything and an easy life for all. People need to understand that you don’t get a choice with hard facts, they apply whether you want to believe them or not, and sometimes life doesn’t have an easy way out.
You sure that’s not the problem instead of the solution?
While other nations are pushing ahead with cutting-edge science like stem-cell research, we’ve got folks who want to poo-poo it (because it makes the Baby Jesus cry) while pushing for stuff like Intelligent Design in schools instead.
DSeid, you may want to buy (or check out) this book if this is a topic that interests you. I’ve only just started reading it, but so far it’s very interesting and very applicable to this debate.
The author’s theory is that religious fundamentalism is a predictable (she gives many historical examples) response to to scientific revelations that challenge older theistic beliefs: New facts come to light which contradict things assumed to be religious truths, and the reaction of some is to cling harder to the religious beliefs rather then shift world views or adapt their religion.
I’m not sure I buy Liberal’s explanation. The problem with it is that scientists have always counted among their number a huge number of arrogant know-it-alls, and in any case an alleged arrogance on the part of science can’t really explain ignorance. When a large percentage of all the human beings in the world cannot even approximate how long it takes the Earth to revolve around the Sun, it’s ridiculous to claim that science has a problem with consdering itself
Oh, bullshit. Even if that’s true, the problem isn’t that conflict; the problem is that millions of people who don’t even know what the words “epistemology” and “panacea” mean also don’t know that water isn’t an element. Fact is. Liberal, that most people who are ignorant of science haven’t a clue that there’s a problem with science considering itself a “uber-epistemology.” We’re not talking about people who reject an advanced philosophical approach here. We’re talking about people who don’t know the Earth revolves around the Sun.
Nor is it necessarily true that people are choosing knowledge of religion, or some similar thing, over science; a great number of people who call themselves Christians cannot name the four authors of the Gospels.
As the old saying goes, ignorance is not a point of view.
What do scientists have to do with ignorance in the general population? This is an education problem. “Hard” subjects, such as math and science, are emphasized more abroad, and taught more rigorously in places like France and Germany.
I think one problem is that science is not being attacked only by the Religious Right, but often by the Looney Left. They each pick separate battles, but the combined attacks tend to wind up “dumbing down” the populace. There have been a whole slew of people who have claimed that science is “too rigid” and that some odd views are simply “alternative” approaches that are every bit as valid as scientific inquiries.
In addition, whether or not one wants to get caught picking apart the details, Liberal brings up a valid general point regarding the teaching of science. One of the things that always struck me about Stephen J. Gould’s series of articles in Science was the great number of times he had to correct the scientific community myth of the intrepid “facts only” scholar, pointing out over and over again that people whose theories have now been set aside, (Lamarck, Haeckel, even Lysenko) presented ideas that needed to be considered and challenged on their own merits, not ignored because they were later found to have been in error and that people who were outside science (Bishop Ussher) were often producing works of profound thought that should be examined, not ridiculed. (Obviously, we also produce many good scientists, but this discussion is about the failures: the number of white-coated droids and drones should be a concern to all of us who have an interest in the situation.)
This board has not escaped the problems of the outside world. We have supposedly “pro-science” posters who act as though “science” will solve problems that are not in the domain of science to address. We also have posters who hold that science should not be allowed to do what it is supposed to do because the science that they misunderstand is frightening to them. (In the case of one poster, we have an odd crossing of the Religious Right and the Looney Left in the same person–with a commensurate number of anti-scientific harangues that are based in nothing but ignorance and fear.)
So I see three groups who contribute to the problem and a blythe dismissal that any one of them (for example, the Religious Right) is “the one” group “at fault” will not help us correct the problem.
Too often, the textbooks that Gould examined simply set up false scenarios with a standard motif in which the plucky scientist overwhelms the obstinate champions of ignorance, yet an examination of the actual critical battles indicates that there were rarely any “champions of ignorance” (Lysenko being a rare exception). By presenting this myth of what science has accomplished with no basis in how the actual science was performed and without setting a firm understanding of the philosophical underpinnings of science, we are producing a generation of lab rats, many of whom cannot communicate accurately what they do to outsiders.
I think that many people quickly turn away from science because they feel they’ll be asked to give up their faith. I’m a non-practicing Catholic, and even I see a hostility from the atheist crowd toward anyone who might be a “believer”. The truth is there might be a God, there might not. No one can be sure. But we can be sure that it is in society’s best interest to have people embrace science. To understand it. To use it.
I think right now it’s a problem of manners. If you are a person of science, why attack a belief you cannot prove is wrong? I know that’s not the question you’d like to have on the table, but “How can you believe in God when their is no evidence?” loses a big part of the audience immediately. I say, leave God off the table and there’s lots to be learned. Ironically, for those of that hardcore atheist bent, I’m sure you’d agree that the more someone knows about science, the greater the likelihood that he or she will abandon a world of “faith”.