Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Need For Science Education

“When I started understanding how science works, it occurred to me that there just is no evidence that there is a God.”
— Ben Bova, Interview on Freethought Radio, July 18, 2009

The lack of knowledge about science in the U.S. is nothing short of a national scandal.  Making sure our citizens have an adequate base of knowledge about the facts of our world is essential in a democracy.  Ignorant people voting are as dangerous drunk drivers on the road.  Right now nearly half our populace is, for all practical purpose, scientifically illiterate.

Even more disturbing than ignorance of the facts is ignorance of the scientific method and logic.  These are the essential tools of rational thought; scientific reasoning is simply rational reasoning.  It is quite frightening to realize that a huge number of our fellow citizens have apparently never even been exposed to those precepts.

Unfortunately, many people feel that science is dull, dry, impersonal, and unwelcoming while religion is warm and fuzzy and welcoming.  Our society makes no real effort to make science interesting and very little effort to teach it.

In fact, in college, I felt like the science teachers were actually hostile to students.  They had an arrogant, hostile attitude and clearly thought their goal was to "weed out", not teach.

Needless to say, in high school, the situation is often worse, since teachers are afraid of losing their jobs over teaching the truth.

Religion, on the other hand, is easy to understand and can really hold a person's attention because it taps into some very primal emotions by recreating one of the most basic human relationships:  that of an infant to its parents:

      "What?  Life too much to handle?  Real daddy
   turned out to be just human?  Well, do we have
   a package deal for you.  Our omniscient, omnipotent
   daddy thing in the sky will adopt you completely,
   love you, guide you, and protect you even from
   death.  All you have to do is let go of that freedom
   of thought thing.  It's worthless anyway.  Critical
   thinking skills will just get you in trouble in the
   real world."

      "What's more, we can promise it will greatly
   increase you chances of getting a date--though
   maybe not of getting laid, if you are a guy--and
   almost ensure that promotion to middle
   management.  You'll have new friends everywhere,
   and the delusion that they are trustworthy.  You
   will be so much happier."

It's easy to understand religion because it builds on basic, common human experiences.  You don't really need to learn anything new and it taps right into your emotional brain.

For science to win this popularity contest, we all, especially science teachers, need to remember that kids are natural scientists.  They want to know how the world works.  We must nurture that natural desire--keep it alive--not discourage it.

If you meet a science professor who thinks it is his job to weed out the freshmen, do me a favor and slap him.  Then explain why his attitude is wrong.

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