On Being Impractical

21

The London Science Museum has produced its own travelling act for children called “The Energy Show,” and over my morning toast last week I watched it reported enthusiastically on BBC Breakfast. Cue clips of zany, steampunk characters, shrieking and leaping about the stage with arms flailing, conjuring up the mandatory balls of flame and obligatory explosions that, we’re endlessly told, will attract our children into science. The madcap performers and their virtual lab assistant i-nstein (get it?) take an excited young audience through a range of whacky demonstrations, many of which are the same ones rolled out by science departments across the country on Year 6 Open Evening.


The hope, I suppose, is that the young theatre-goers will be excited enough to take their study of chemical reactions further, even after they’ve returned to the classroom and been reminded that they still don’t know or even care what a mole is. Now one voice (I’ll confess to having several) in my head tells me that I should be happy about this sort of stuff; that anything aimed at “Getting Kids Into Science” has unquestionably got to be “A Good Thing,” right? But as I watched the pyrotechnics, I had a familiar sinking feeling. Surely I can’t be the only person to be bored by all this nonsense?

When I was fifteen, the film “Dead Poets Society”[i] was released, in which an inspirational professor exposes a group of smart and cynical boys to the rapture of poetry. As the protagonist says of the eponymous club, “Spirits soared, women swooned and gods were created – not a bad way to spend an evening.” The film unashamedly presents poetry and the arts as the pinnacle of human endeavour, and science comes out as one of several poor and undesirable relations. Here’s a section from a speech made by the character John Keating, the inspiring teacher in question:

“Medicine, law, business, engineering … these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love … these are what we stay alive for! To quote from Whitman, "O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?" Answer? That you are here. That life exists, and identity. That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. … What will your verse be?”

The painful irony for me now when I read those lines is that the questions trembling behind them are inescapably scientific. But to my young mind it was utterly convincing that science was nothing more than a tedious necessity. The very phrase “practical experiment” made me crave fresh air and illumination.

Happily, Dawkins understands. In Unweaving the Rainbow he raises concerns about the dominance of practical science in schools, and muses on how impoverished the world would be if only those who had practised and mastered the skill of playing an instrument were interested in classical music.[ii] As a musician myself, the analogy speaks to me; the endless tedium of scales and arpeggios is enough to put anyone off, and their repetitive practice, whilst entirely necessary for success in mastering an instrument, is not for everyone: yet no-one would dream of suggesting that this should preclude a knowledge of, an interest in and even a passion for music itself. As it happens, OfQual have decided only recently to scrap the compulsory examination of practicals at A level, a decision which is currently being hailed as a “death knell” for science in our schools; yet according to OfQual, assessed practicals have become so formulaic as to render them pointless in their current form.[iii]

Back in the 1980s I did many practicals, and I suppose that my teachers tried their best to pique my scientific interest. There were ping-pong balls and life-sized models; there were even bottles of acid kicking around on the laboratory bench right next to the gas taps, which some students never tired of lighting behind the teacher’s back. But I’m afraid I simply wasn’t thrilled when a powder changed colour at the bottom of a test tube, or when my lit splint made a squeaky pop, indicating the presence of hydrogen. My teachers saw this as a bit of a failing on my part, but when they unanimously agreed that I was “not a scientist” I was overjoyed – triumphant, even. And why? Because none of those practical lessons had convinced me that science was anything other than the pursuit of the mundane.

Most children are natural philosophers. In addition, and contrary to popular belief, not all of them are better engaged by hands-on activities over abstract ideas. In my case, somewhat romantic and thrilled by artistic ideals as I was, the seemingly humdrum and practical realities of the science lab were a positive turn off. My head was bursting with the biggest questions imaginable, and much of the time I was going through the all-consuming existential crisis common to young people, an experience that should be celebrated and nurtured. By the age of 9 or 10,  I was already epistemologically-minded enough to have surmised that there was no more evidence for the existence of God than there was for Father Christmas (and the family had already ‘fessed up on that one), but my views were mocked at my traditional faith school; more importantly, not one single science teacher took the opportunity to point out to me that the reasoning I had used to form my standpoint was logical and evidence-based – one might almost say scientific.

As my interest in philosophy grew, it was nurtured and guided exclusively by teachers of the arts: numerous English teachers, a couple of historians and most of all my Classics teacher, who would eventually inspire my subject of choice at university. It’s ironic that the closest I came to doubting my convictions as to the unworthiness of science came to me through literature; in being exposed to the metaphysical poets, I couldn’t escape the knowledge that these exciting, romantic and raunchy philosophers were fascinated by science. But the “real” scientists had long since abandoned me as a dreamer, and left me to discover – too late, as it happens – that my disregard for mathematics and the sciences would eventually limit my academic career. Suffice to say, my first postgraduate seminar in the philosophy of logic was one hell of a shock.

I now work in a large comprehensive, and most of the students I teach have already decided whether or not they consider themselves to be “a scientist.” Too often, it seems to me, the deep and soulful thinkers are the ones that are turned off by science. Why does this bother me? Well, there are lots of reasons. Firstly, we may be driving some of our best potential thinkers away from science – not a happy situation for the future. Secondly, I believe that an emphasis on the practical over and above the philosophical may well be part of what puts many girls off science. Thirdly, and to my mind by far the most pressing worry, is the increasing chasm that we seem to be creating between scientific thinking and “the big questions.” When science should be at the centre of philosophical reasoning and debate, it tends to get pushed to the side because so few teachers have the knowledge and skills to apply it.

If you walk down the corridor from our science labs to the RE rooms, you’re faced with a plethora of exciting philosophical challenges plastered across the walls: are some people evil? When does life begin? Why are we here? Is there such a thing as the soul? What happens when we die? These questions are terrific, but a brief glance through an RE text book will show you that “What scientists think” is generally presented in a colourful bubble alongside other colourful bubbles of equal size summarising “what Christians/Jews/Muslims/delete-as-applicable think.” The implication, to any child reading this stuff, is that scientific thinking is just one option of many; sure, you can choose to look at the world from a scientific angle, but hey, it’s okay not to, especially if it doesn’t sit comfortably with your family’s beliefs. Glance back again at those inspiring walls and you’ll find a poster of Rudolph Zallinger’s “March of Progress” pinned up next to Michaelangelo’s “Creation of Adam”: it’s all up for debate, it seems, and everyone’s opinion is equally valid – a tendency in schools which I am finding increasingly irksome, not to mention worrying.

A previous Head of Science once confessed to me that he sometimes exploited the popular misunderstanding of the scientific term “theory” in order to avoid causing offence to religious students when talking about evolution. I don’t mind admitting that I blew something of a gasket at him, and he seemed puzzled by my reaction – perhaps he thought he was on safe ground, talking to one of those arty types. I think that my rage was legitimate: “righteous anger” to quote Aristotle, the forefather of the scientific method and the only ancient Greek thinker to make a philosophical case for the rectitude of anger in the right context. But in truth, perhaps some of my antagonism stemmed from my own sense of betrayal. I was let down by my science teachers; they failed systematically to provoke a desire in my young mind to understand the world around me, and I regret those lost years bitterly. The young people that we teach deserve a whole lot better.  

 

Emma C Williams is a Classicist, a secondary school teacher and freelance writer

 


[i] Dead Poets Society, directed by Peter Weir, 1989.

[ii] Dawkins, R: Unweaving the Rainbow: science, delusion and the appetite for wonder, Revised edition, London, Penguin books, 2006, pg. 36.

[iii] Glenys Stacey, Chief Regulator of OfQual, has written an open letter dated April 10th 2014 in reply to Professor Robert Winston, who criticised OfQual’s decision on Radio 4 last week. The letter can be viewed on OfQual’s website.

Written By: Emma C Williams

21 COMMENTS

  1. . The film unashamedly presents poetry and the arts as the pinnacle of human endeavour, and science comes out as one of several poor and undesirable relations.

    One really can’t blame a teacher for elevating their own chosen subject above all the rest, but it’s a shame that something so endlessly fascinating as science, is perceived as being boring! I don’t understand this at all. As a kid I was transfixed by stories of dinosaurs tramping across the Earth and the enormity of space gave me that sense of wonder that is usually reserved for religion.

    • In reply to #1 by Nitya:

      . The film unashamedly presents poetry and the arts as the pinnacle of human endeavour, and science comes out as one of several poor and undesirable relations.

      One really can’t blame a teacher for elevating their own chosen subject above all the rest, but it’s a shame that something so endlessly f…

      In addition to #1:

      My father was a better teacher than my teachers as he was able to draw us in with his enthusiasm for the subject. My brother and I would hang around whenever he had free time waiting for the pearls of wisdom he would share with us. Let that be a lesson for any parents of young children out there. You have a far greater influence than most teachers your children will encounter during their lives.

    • In reply to #1 by Nitya:

      One really can’t blame a teacher for elevating their own chosen subject above all the rest, but it’s a shame that something so endlessly fascinating as science, is perceived as being boring! I don’t understand this at all. As a kid I was transfixed by stories of dinosaurs tramping across the Earth and the enormity of space gave me that sense of wonder that is usually reserved for religion.

      “Science” usually is boring – when perceptions of it are discussed by those ignorant of the subject, and unable to cope with a joined up view its basic concepts, because their time has been taken up with trivial amusements, or preoccupied with superficial social posturing, in the company of like-minded people!

      When it is discussed by people who understand “there are wonders of the universe”, and who want to build on their knowledge by exchanging ideas, it is fascinating!

      • In reply to #8 by Alan4discussion:

        .When it is discussed by people who understand “there are wonders of the universe”, and who want to build on their knowledge by exchanging ideas, it is fascinating!

        Perhaps the fascination with science depends to a certain amount of skill in storytelling. When I look back on the science teachers I had, not one of them was able to tell the story the way my father could. Luckily I was able to cope with the mundane aspects and rote learning without being completely turned off.

        • In reply to #9 by Nitya:

          In reply to #8 by Alan4discussion:

          Perhaps the fascination with science depends to a certain amount of skill in storytelling. When I look back on the science teachers I had, not one of them was able to tell the story the way my father could. Luckily I was able to cope with the mundane aspects and rote learning without being completely turned off.

          Because of the low regard for teaching and penny-pinching politicians, there are shortages of science teachers, and many teaching science are lacking equipment/skills. Many are also working in areas outside their specialist subjects.

          It is difficult to present material clearly and enthusiastically when you are following a scripted syllabus and do not have a good view of the big picture, or the levels of complexity of the different parts of it.

  2. I only stumbled upon science and it’s wonders well into my life and essentially after my children had grown to not need my attention so much. I’m trying to make up for lost time but not as a science doer but as a follower. My understanding of what life is and the progression and development of all disciplines of science has been more than rewarding and makes up for those “lost years’,
    As for my own personal well being, it has been immeasurable..
    I feel excited to be around where we are able to have free (as in not censured) access to all the work of people who have dedicated themselves to science, RD for one.
    My particular interest lately has been with neuroscience and related fields..

  3. Now one voice (I’ll confess to having several) in my head tells me that I should be happy about this sort of stuff; that anything aimed at “Getting Kids Into Science” has unquestionably got to be “A Good Thing,” right? But as I watched the pyrotechnics, I had a familiar sinking feeling. Surely I can’t be the only person to be bored by all this nonsense?

    With you on that one. It might just be because of the aesthetics, but each time I see something like the TV show Brainiac take an excuse to blow stuff up, I wonder if people’s appreciation of science as a deep, challenging, and even personally relevant subject diminishes a little. Small wonder people might even look at religion as a stronger alternative when science looks like a lot of whizzbangers and “cool” faddish gadgetry.

    The painful irony for me now when I read those lines is that the questions trembling behind them are inescapably scientific. But to my young mind it was utterly convincing that science was nothing more than a tedious necessity. The very phrase “practical experiment” made me crave fresh air and illumination.

    I remember watching Dead Poets Society with some mates while I was at University, and though I’m generally suspicious of Robin Williams’ “inspirational” movies these days (just see the travesty that is Patch Adams), I remember at the time being quite impressed by it. I do remember at some indeterminate point thinking along the lines of that speech, that there were necessities to keep you alive and pleasures that justified keeping you alive. That said, I think I was still interested in science and so on, and so did not find them “dull”, but I did not find them fascinating to the degree that I do now.

    Also, these days, I’d say just being sentient (and not being condemned to unrelenting and intense suffering for the rest of one’s life) would be enough to justify a sustained existence, but that an intellectual inquiry is indispensable to establishing what kind of world we live in (and how we ourselves work in it, of course).

    Happily, Dawkins understands. In Unweaving the Rainbow he raises concerns about the dominance of practical science in schools, and muses on how impoverished the world would be if only those who had practised and mastered the skill of playing an instrument were interested in classical music.

    Ah yeah, I’ve read that book. However, I was already on to his point at the time, so it was effectively preaching to the choir in my case, but I was interested in what counterpoints had supposedly resulted in him writing it, and the science in it (and how Dawkins explained the ideas) made it a worthwhile read even for me. And I did latch on to that analogy, too – especially since I love classical music and can’t play an instrument for toffee.

    Most children are natural philosophers. In addition, and contrary to popular belief, not all of them are better engaged by hands-on activities over abstract ideas. In my case, somewhat romantic and thrilled by artistic ideals as I was, the seemingly humdrum and practical realities of the science lab were a positive turn off.

    I feel a bit caught-out by that line; I find I’ve assumed for so long that kids prefer practicals to abstract ideas that it never occurred to me until now to think otherwise. If most child development studies indicate that kids get their abstract categories of the world relatively early, then this would mean they were more flexible in thought than I might have given them credit for. After this, I must keep a lookout for possible evidence for or against the idea that children might respond better to abstract thought than to concrete practicalities…

    I now work in a large comprehensive, and most of the students I teach have already decided whether or not they consider themselves to be “a scientist.” Too often, it seems to me, the deep and soulful thinkers are the ones that are turned off by science. Why does this bother me? Well, there are lots of reasons. Firstly, we may be driving some of our best potential thinkers away from science – not a happy situation for the future. Secondly, I believe that an emphasis on the practical over and above the philosophical may well be part of what puts many girls off science.

    Girls specifically? But up to now, I thought you were talking about students in general? I think I missed something.

    Thirdly, and to my mind by far the most pressing worry, is the increasing chasm that we seem to be creating between scientific thinking and “the big questions.” When science should be at the centre of philosophical reasoning and debate, it tends to get pushed to the side because so few teachers have the knowledge and skills to apply it.

    If you walk down the corridor from our science labs to the RE rooms, you’re faced with a plethora of exciting philosophical challenges plastered across the walls: are some people evil? When does life begin? Why are we here? Is there such a thing as the soul? What happens when we die?

    I think science actually is a sub-branch of philosophy, and I’m not just saying that because it had its origins in such things as natural philosophy. Science is based on a lot of principles and instructions that were born through philosophical and mathematical discussion and reasoning, most obviously Popper’s falsificationism, Bacon’s treatises on science, de Moivre’s earliest use of statistics, and the earliest investigations by Greek and Arabic scholars. But in any case, it’s hard to think of a philosophical issue that science doesn’t impinge on, especially such sciences as those that concern humans and their societies.

    I don’t know how long I’ve thought this (since my first few months at University, at least), but to me it’s obvious science has a lot to bear on such issues.

    Glance back again at those inspiring walls and you’ll find a poster of Rudolph Zallinger’s “March of Progress” pinned up next to Michaelangelo’s “Creation of Adam”: it’s all up for debate, it seems, and everyone’s opinion is equally valid – a tendency in schools which I am finding increasingly irksome, not to mention worrying.

    I think – though only think, not know – that it’s a well-intentioned but misguided application of the free-speech, all-inclusive attitude. I think the flaw comes from getting the intention behind the attitude backwards: it’s not to treat every dissenting idea as validated, but to prevent us from throwing away thinkers and ideas that might prove themselves in the fullness of time. It’s a measure to prevent people who can contribute from being left out, say, because of their social or economic or ethnic background. Unfortunately, too many people confuse “Your ideas are wrong for reasons X, Y, and Z reasons” with “Your ideas are bad, and you should feel bad, you idiot” and think their role is to play diplomat and get everyone to agree to play nicely, under the misunderstanding that disagreement and being wrong are both forms of nastiness.

    But in truth, perhaps some of my antagonism stemmed from my own sense of betrayal. I was let down by my science teachers; they failed systematically to provoke a desire in my young mind to understand the world around me, and I regret those lost years bitterly. The young people that we teach deserve a whole lot better.

    I’m sorry to say I think most people here would agree with you. Even when I was doing science at school, I remember nothing more than that we had to pick up the seemingly arbitrary info for exams, and most of the influences that woke me up to science’s fascination, relevance, and so on, were either books by Dawkins, Feynman, Pratchett (yes, Pratchett) et al. or David Attenborough documentaries. There was probably some other stuff that pre-prepared me for it, and a lot of stuff I don’t remember, but those are examples I can think of. Of course, it helped I wasn’t one of those people who looked down on science or marginalized it to begin with – I was also a fan of things like dinosaurs, planets, and new technology – but I think even my past self would admit I didn’t fully grasp, say, science’s relevance to morality and social matters.

    I don’t even remember being so fascinated by Darwin’s theory of natural selection until I read Dawkins’ books, and in the original school curriculum, he’d been another (admittedly interesting) factoid in my school textbook. That quote by Dobzhansky comes to mind: “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.”

    I’d actually be interested in knowing how extensive the demographic is that likes to, say, read science in their spare time. Maybe it’s bigger than I think it is, but some indication of where we are at present would help me better evaluate the weight of the claims in the OP. Intriguing points in the OP, though, I must say.

    • In reply to #3 by Zeuglodon:

      With you on that one. It might just be because of the aesthetics, but each time I see something like the TV show Brainiac take an excuse to blow stuff up…

      with you 100%

      I find the media’s attempts to ‘make science cool’ is some of the worst aspects of modern dumbing-down. If you want kids to eat their greens, get them to appreciate them, grow them pick them and cook them then enjoy them. don’t just smother them in ketchup

      I watched things like brainic and even bang goes the theory and find them insulting, at first putting it down to my being a bit more scientififcally literate than some but afdter a while realised I’d get angry regardless.

      As a child, watching any science shows (usually open university stuff my dad put on), which were usually far too advanced for my understanding, I was drawn in by the monotone voice delivering cold hard facts that I almost but didn’t quite understand. nothing is more alluring to an inquisitive mind than the frustration of not quite getting it. a bunch of grown men/women talking like excited schoolgirls before blowing something up then telling me how cool the blown up thing was doesn’t interest me now, and I very much doubt it ever would have

    • In reply to #3 by Zeuglodon:

      Girls specifically?

      Thrown in for good measure, so to speak.

      Very pleased she mentioned this. I’ve the impression the u.s. is still finding ways to entice more women into the science field; e.g., young female students enjoy science, but lose interest as they get older. (why is this?)

      • In reply to #7 by bluebird:

        In reply to #3 by Zeuglodon:

        Girls specifically?

        Thrown in for good measure, so to speak.

        Very pleased she mentioned this. I’ve the impression the u.s. is still finding ways to entice more women into the science field; e.g., young female students enjoy science, but lose interest as they get older…

        I was really into science as a kid. I collected rocks, owned a microscope, was interested in astronomy and anatomy. As a child I wondered if I would be better at chemistry, physics, biology…I couldn’t wait until I could take these courses in high school. I enjoyed ninth grade teetered between an A and B. He graded on spelling which knocked me down to a B. The teacher’s blunt attitude was that I could have had a solid A and and then there would be no question. Yes, I get it but my consistent spelling errors on all my test and quizes added up. Even my beautifully illustrated project was marked from an A to a B because of spelling. I could have all ten correct answers but dropped down a grade because of two spelling errors. I figured I couldn’t win. It made me rethink how all my science teachers for the last few years were male. I concluded that females just don’t do science. At the time, you just needed one science course to graduate. I gave up and now regret this decision. I partially blame it on the district for not requiring 2, 3 or 4 years of science and parents who could care less. There needed to be some sort of standard which prevented me from making a bad decision that would take years to fix.

        Secondly, I believe that an emphasis on the practical over and above the philosophical may well be part of what puts many girls off science.
        Maybe. I realize that I tend to like working with concepts and aesthetics.

  4. For me the problem with the steampunk exploding science geeks is that they are just not the geniune article.

    Trying to window dress up a character to give him (usually him) or her an exuse to blow stuff up will wear out its welcome very quickly, because the kids will realise their are being conned very quickly. The other aspect that is missed is the kids intellegence is usually underestimated. I remember as a Kid watching David Attenbourgh, Carl Sagan and (here’s one fot the Aussies) Harry Butler and being transfixed. I even watched Jacob Brownoski with my father and was likelwise transfixed. It didn’t matter that I did not understand everything, why? Because to a kid almost the whole world is something that you don’t understand (still is-more so now actually, well I know, now how much I don’t know better), so you are used to that. So I gleaned much more than I am sure people thought, I remember arguing with a friend in grade 3 or 4 after we had seen star wars that the space ships should not be making sound in space and they should changing colour from blue to red as they swooshed past us at faster than light speed. They don’t need to get everything, but these guys fail to engage because they constantly fail to communicate the broader picture, aim at the lowest common demoninator. My son has always like Brain Cox even when he is talking about entropy, he is six, and if we have been watching Cosmos or one of the Wonders series or David Attenbourogh he is full of questions at bed time. We need to stop insisting that becuase they are not fully literate that they are dumb, they are learning machines just like us fail to expose them to real learning and they will simply fail to learn.

  5. My schooling in Scotland ended at 15 in 1965, plus a year in a tech college pre-apprentice course, where I got a range of classes in blue collar trades, which was challenging & enlightening, followed by a 5 yr apprenticeship in a big factory making sub periscopes, range finders, infra-red binoculars & fiber optics. I also did 1 day & 2 evenings a week at college doing O-levels & Mech. Eng. Tech. courses.

    My grounding in basic science came from work experiences including machining of exotic metals, instrument & optical fitting, plus going with engineers to work on submarines, also servicing the Camera Obscura next to Edinburgh Castle. Other influences were all the Clydeside industries, including the large Singer Sewing Machine factory & the huge shipyards, so my extended family were all in manufacturing & metalworking. The upside was that I was car-mad & mechanically inclined, but I had to work through bikes to motorbikes, getting my first little old car at 19. The downside was that I always had extra part-time jobs to support the family, so I had no free time to ‘do life’ as a teenager.

    The car crazy stuff is still big in my life, plus in Canada I became a Technical Sales Engineer, selling tooling & measuring instruments, which expanded my science interests, helped by much factory training on the high end products I sold to exotic industries, plus I spent a few years in the R&D labs of the nuclear energy industry. I’ve had little exposure to ‘impractical’ subjects, but had many awesome ‘practical’ experiences.

    The last 40 years saw me expanding my knowledge mostly by reading in areas of science, but also about religion & history to understand better as a secular humanist atheist, so the biggest aid I’ve had in improving my life has been reading – which started with car magazines, then Bertrand Russell’s books & The Limits To Growth book, then 1000’s more, then the internet changed everything for the better…. 😎 Mac.

  6. If I think back to when I was growing up what got me interested in Science was David Attenborough and Patrick Moore (Wildlife on One and The Sky at Night respectively). I did watch a few of the early series of the Really Wild Show but that quickly became too kiddieish for my tastes. Indeed there’s still a good shelf of Attenborough and Moore books across from me now.

  7. I think too often we separate the philosophical and scientific. Centuries ago the two were inseparable; one can hardly study philosophers of the past without noticing the immense number of scientists among them, and vice versa. In our current age we tend to forge a nonexistent gap by saying “You cannot have both religion and science. If you want to have a scientific worldview, you must throw away any faith-related notions” when scientists (and all people, for that matter) know very well that no man is exempt from a worldview. Most conclusions reached by scientists in this age have been marked by patterns of faulty reasoning for the sake of fufillling a worldview. Take, for example Richard Lewontin’s statement: “Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. The eminent Kant scholar Lewis Beck used to say that anyone who could believe in God could believe in anything. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen.” The angle at which one looks at science greatly affects the conclusions one will draw. The Catholic church at one time could not accept that the Earth was not the center of the universe, and yet now there are many creationists who believe in old-earth creationism, as well as some who believe young-earth creationism. If it is truly sound, no theology or doctrine should have to be compromised to fit with modern scientific revelations. The most important point is that we must allow logic to guide our scientific thought processes, and not let ourselves lose the most fundamental principles of reasoning in doing so. Beginnings cannot and should not be explained away through faulty materialistic reasoning. In the same way, we should not let our assumptions about the way we think things should be permeate our scientific reasoning the way the Catholic church once did.

    • In reply to #16 by Cs B:

      Most conclusions reached by scientists in this age have been marked by patterns of faulty reasoning for the sake of fufillling a worldview.

      Aren’t scientists and rationalists generally supposed to be led by the data and change their theories accordingly? This is not the case with religion, where the facts must be made to fit the theology. Notably, religious cosmology is, ultimately, the junk science of the ages of ignorance.

    • In reply to #16 by Cs B:

      I think too often we separate the philosophical and scientific. Centuries ago the two were inseparable; one can hardly study philosophers of the past without noticing the immense number of scientists among them, and vice versa.

      But since “Natural philosophy has matured into physics, much of what is now taught or passed off as “philosophy” is theology and fudged “theosophy”, devoid of the scientific content. Science has identified answered numerous philosophical questions, and has identified many as “Not yet known”. “Not yet known by anyone”, which includes those who make up theological stories!

      Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. The eminent Kant scholar Lewis Beck used to say that anyone who could believe in God could believe in anything. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen.”

      That is basically correct. Any belief in supernatural magic, is denial of the laws of physics.

      The angle at which one looks at science greatly affects the conclusions one will draw.

      That is commonly understood as pre-conceptual bias or fallacious circular reasoning. – Thinking processes for which scientists would attract a strong rebuttal from their peers.

      The Catholic church at one time could not accept that the Earth was not the center of the universe, and yet now there are many creationists who believe in old-earth creationism, as well as some who believe young-earth creationism. If it is truly sound, no theology or doctrine should have to be compromised to fit with modern scientific revelations.

      That is correct, but ALL of them have to fudge the science, in order to pretend their dogmas are valid. “Faith-thinking” is a denial of evidence based logic and scientific methodology.

      The most important point is that we must allow logic to guide our scientific thought processes, and not let ourselves lose the most fundamental principles of reasoning in doing so.

      Neither should we substitute whimsical notions or mythology for material evidence.

      Beginnings cannot and should not be explained away through faulty materialistic reasoning.

      Perhaps you could explain what “faulty materialistic reasoning” is – apart from a self-contradiction, or theological double-talk? Proper reasoning is logical and independent from “material”. It is the evidence from which it starts which is “material”. It is possible to start competent reasoning from “immaterial whimsicality” but this is not science. It is self-consistent fantasy!

      In the same way, we should not let our assumptions

      Scientific evidence-based reasoning NEVER starts with unstated assumptions. Theology almost always does – and often claims to trump scientific material evidence! (Vatican Council I – 9 and 10)

      about the way we think things should be permeate our scientific reasoning the way the Catholic church once did.

      As still does in its unscientific thinking and rejection of evidence based methodology, about the scientific conclusions, it CLAIMS to accept.

      Catholic teaching – Faith and science: “… methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God. The humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself, for it is God, the conserver of all things, who made them what they are.” (Vatican II GS 36:1)

    • In reply to #16 by Cs B:

      I think too often we separate the philosophical and scientific. Centuries ago the two were inseparable; one can hardly study philosophers of the past without noticing the immense number of scientists among them, and vice versa

      I agree but if anything you aren’t stating your case strongly enough. In the past there was no difference between what we now consider philosophy and science. And the memories we have of various important people in Western Thought are interpreted through our current breakdown of the disciplines not by what those people actually thought. We think of Newton as a scientist and Descartes as a Philosopher but neither of them would have recognized such a distinction.

      Take, for example Richard Lewontin’s statement

      No, don’t. Lewontin and even more so his side kick Stephen J. Gould were the authors of the “Overlapping Magisteria” idea adopted from the Catholic church. The thing is not everyone agrees with that idea and in fact more and more people in the academic world are starting to see beyond it. John Tooby and Leda Cosmides wrote an excellent paper called The Psychological Foundations of Culture They tear down the artificial wall that Gould created and demonstrate that the scientific method is relevant to all topics of study, not just the natural sciences but to ethics, psychology, sociology, and all the other areas people try to wall off in the humanities and religion. If you want to find something that really qualifies as knowledge, something that has true explanatory value, that can demonstrate benefits and repeatable results in the real world science is the only way to do it. All the rest religion, postmodernism, etc. are just a lot of fancy words, sometimes poetic words and interesting stories but nothing that can actually be considered knowledge.

  8. ” “Medicine, law, business, engineering … these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love “

    Interesting. I can’t stand most poetry and understanding it makes it less acceptable to me. Whitman puts me to sleep. This is poetry in motion!

    6CO2 + 6H2O —> C6H12O6 + 6O2

    Time was, the romantic age, when scientist were poets, philosophers and musicians. I don’t think it was the scientist that walked away from that so much as the arts walked away from science. The quote above would make more sense to me if the words were transposed into what I would consider their proper place.

  9. In first year of high school our science teacher took us to a quarry in Ayrshire and we dug up fossils…That was the most amazing thing for me and had an instant appeal…I used to watch Tomorrows World on TV about future gadgets….and was a David Attenborough addict…..I really drove myself to learn whatever interested me outside of school….I would go to Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum on my own from age 11 and I came from a long line of working class activists…. I didn’t need any encouragement to be interested in the world around me and was marching in protests by 13 – Many kids keep the seeds of learning with them to pursue at a later date… And some never stop

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