Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Purpose of Science Education

My teenage nephew has said that he's not certain about the existence of God, but has"lots of faith in modern science.” What do many modern scientists claim is the main purpose of science education? According to this article, the purpose is less than scientific:

It seems atheists have developed a comprehensive strategy to win the minds of
the next generation. The strategy can be described simply: let the religious
people breed them, and we will educate them to despise their parents’
beliefs. Many people think that the secularization of the minds of our
young people is the inevitable consequence of learning and maturing. In fact, it
is to a large degree orchestrated by teachers and professors to promote
anti-religious agendas.

Why the hostility to religion? “Faith is one of the world’s great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate,” writes Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion. “Religion is capable of driving people to such dangerous folly that faith seems to me to qualify as a kind of mental illness.”

Christopher Hitchens, author of God Is Not Great, writes, “How can we ever know how many children had their psychological and physical lives irreparably maimed by the compulsory inculcation of faith?”

If religion is so bad, what should be done about it? It should be eradicated. . . . But how should religion be eliminated? Our atheist educators have a short answer: through the power of science. “I personally feel that the teaching of modern science is corrosive of religious belief, and I’m all for that,” says physicist Steven Weinberg. If scientists can destroy the influence of religion on young people, “then I think it may be the most
important contribution that we can make.”

One way in which science can undermine the plausibility of religion, according to biologist E.O. Wilson, is by showing that the mind itself is the product of evolution and that free moral choice is an illusion. “If religion…can be systematically analyzed and explained
as a product of the brain’s evolution, its power as an external source of morality will be gone forever.”

By abolishing all transcendent or supernatural truths, science can establish itself as the only source of truth, our only access to reality. The objective of science education, according to biologist Richard Lewontin, “is not to provide the public with knowledge of how far it is to the nearest star and what genes are made of.” Rather, “the problem
is to get them to reject irrational and supernatural explanations of the world,
the demons that exist only in their imaginations, and to accept a social and
intellectual apparatus, science, as the only begetter of truth.”

Psychologist Nicholas Humphrey argued in a recent lecture that just as
Amnesty International works to liberate political prisoners around the world,
secular teachers and professors should work to free children from the damaging
influence of their parents’ religious instruction. . .
. . . parents who send their children to college should recognize that as professors “we are going to go right on trying to discredit you in the eyes of your children, trying to
strip your fundamentalist religious community of dignity, trying to make your views seem silly rather than discussable.”

This is how many secular teachers treat the traditional beliefs of students. The strategy is not to argue with religious views or to prove them wrong. Rather, it is to subject them to such scorn that they are pushed outside the bounds of acceptable debate. This
strategy is effective because young people who go to good colleges are extremely
eager to learn what it means to be an educated Harvard man or Stanford woman.

A couple of questions, however. . .

  • If religion is so bad, why are the atheistic countries of the world (especially
    Cuba, North Korea, China, and the Soviet Union before its collapse) such shining
    examples of human rights and freedom? ;~)

  • If religion is so bad, how do they explain the fact that universities and hospitals were both originally developed by Christians as an extension of their religious beliefs, a desire to serve the community, to educate the young and heal the sick?

  • Why were the early
    scientists, who were mostly religious people, interested in doing science in the
    first place? According to their own writings, they believed that "The heavens
    declare the glory of God" (Psalm 19:1). They believed that creation was God's
    handiwork, an extension of His own character and creativity. They
    wanted to know more about God, so studied His creations. "As two historians of
    science put it: 'The order of the reasoning here is important. The early
    scientists did not argue that the world was lawfully ordered, and therefore
    there must be a rational God. Instead, they argued that there was a rational
    God, and therefore the world must be lawfully ordered.' In other words, it was
    their profound faith in a good and rational God that made the early Christian
    scientists seek out a rational order before they even knew what it was.
    Christian theology taught the early scientists the principle of heuristics: that
    there is a "known unknown" that can be searched for, described and ultimately
    discovered." Quoted from here.

  • Why was it the religious folks (especially but not exclusively) who worked for the
    abolition of slavery - including William Wilberforce in England and the Quakers
    in the US?

As I told my nephew, Dawkins, Hitchens, Lewontin, and the others can't be ignored
simply because they are currently the loudest voices in the "science vs.
religion" and "evolution vs. creation" debates. And unfortunately, many other
scientists will listen to them just because of their reputations.

Like my nephew, I, too "have faith in what modern science has proven" but not as much in and where we are going. Where he & I might disagree would be on what's actually proven vs. what's still a theory - specifically evolution. As for the future, I see science at a fork in the road, ethically speaking. A few scientists are urging caution, saying "just because we can do something doesn't mean we should do it."

But their voices are being drowned out by others who are charging down the road doing anything
and everything they can. Genetic intervention, managed care, abortion, end-of-life care, assisted procreation, stem cell research, cloning, and "transhumanism" are all areas of concern - not because all of them are inherently evil, but because of the ethics involved - and not everyone agrees on what is ethical in certain situations.

Let the conversation continue.

1 comment:

Jacob said...

I've studied philosophy of science here and there and the emperor has no clothes. It is actually very difficult to say what exactly science is. Is a scientific theory something that can be verified, or something that can be falsified? Where and how do we draw the line between what counts as "scientific knowledge" and what does not? This are big problems that most people are not aware of, and thus, antagonistic fellows like Dawkins and Dennet get a free pass on answering the really hard questions.
Thomas Kuhn's groundbreaking "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" should be required reading.