Buddhism teaching

Science, non-science and nonsense: learning to differentiate the three

Michael Zimmerman Michael Zimmerman is the founder and executive director of The Clergy Letter Project, an organization designed to demonstrate that religious leaders are fully at ease with their faith and science, earned a doctorate. in Biology from Washington University in St. Louis. He has worked as a professor of biology and senior academic administrator at a number of higher education institutions in the United States.

A defining set of Enlightenment characteristics, indeed, perhaps the defining set of Enlightenment characteristics, was the creation and use of the scientific method coupled with logical reasoning to better understand the world around us. This intellectual shift in focus over 400 years ago has led to a transformation in all facets of human life, from amazing medical advances to industrial and computer revolutions.

This worldview allowed people to begin to understand the universe as it worked rather than as they wanted it to work; it has enabled us to move from superstition to knowledge. Modern science is solidly built on the framework built by our ancestors all those generations ago.

It’s important to keep this story and philosophy in mind as another school year begins or we risk turning our backs on everything the Enlightenment has given us. While it is true that we see science under attack all around us today, from crowds demanding that there be no mandatory masks in schools despite what infectious disease experts tell us, to those who demand that the theory of evolution and the fundamentals of climate change be purged from our public schools, what we are seeing is not entirely new. Yes, the volume and vehemence may be at an all time high, but the feelings have been around for too long.

Consider just two examples.

* In February 1987, when Evan Mecham was governor of Arizona, Jim Cooper, Mecham’s senior education assistant, testified before a legislative committee that public school teachers should not impose their belief that the Earth is round to students who have been raised to believe it is flat.

* In May 2011, Don McLeroy, then chairman of the Texas State Board of Education, frustrated with comments from scientists and teachers about why the theory of evolution is a solid science and should be taught in school science classes Texas public, erupted shouting that “Someone has stood up to the experts.

It seems that we have evolved into the situation we find ourselves in now; science itself is under attack by a significant portion of the American population. Rather than trying to understand the science they oppose, whether it is the advice to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or take action to reduce our collective carbon footprint, and rather than having any appreciation of the nature of science itself, too many of our fellow citizens simply say that the scientific explanations put forward by the experts are wrong and that these experts are biased. Instead, they promote alternative worldviews, visions that are completely at odds with scientific laws and real data.

In a society like ours, where important decisions, decisions affecting the health and well-being of the public, are made by our elected officials and are often influenced by the sentiments of the public, it is essential that basic science be part of that decision. manufacturing.

This brings me back to education. As a scientist and educator, I don’t like to say this, but the anti-science sentiment in our culture is due, in part, to the fact that we have been poorly teaching science for far too long. Rather than teaching science as a process, it has, all too often, been presented as a set of facts; facts to remember rather than understand. In these circumstances, when the scientific consensus changes, as is often the case due to exciting new experiments and more data, people denigrate scientists and claim that their opinions should not carry more weight than those of individuals without any scientific training. But scientists know that this is how their fields develop, that they learn more about their subjects. They embrace the fact that all scientific knowledge is provisional, open to refinement and even to modification by additional data.

It’s the process of scientific discovery, the exhilaration that comes with discovering something that no one has ever encountered before, that makes science so fun. Formulating and testing a hypothesis is at the heart of the scientific process. Knowing how to formulate an idea in a way that makes it falsifiable, capable of being proven wrong by the right experience, is what sets science apart from most other human endeavors and is what has provided us with the power to understand and handle productively. The world around us. This is what we should be teaching the students. Yes, of course, they need to learn certain details, but those details need to be presented in a way that helps elucidate the process that led us to them.

This type of teaching will allow students to differentiate scientific ideas from non-scientific ideas. Simply put, these are unscientific because they are not falsifiable; there is no way to prove them wrong. Ideas like this can be interesting, but they are not scientific. And, in the same way, this type of teaching will help students to recognize really absurd ideas, ideas which simply have no basis in reality.

Two related questions are relevant here. First, as powerful as science is, there are areas of great importance to humans that lie outside its borders. Many philosophical, moral and artistic questions, for example, cannot be productively addressed by science.

Second, for too long many have wrongly pitted science against religion, implying that a choice must be made between the two. Many religious and scientific leaders know this is not true. One can be deeply pious while maintaining a scientific view of the world. It is only when religions claim the truth about the empirical aspects of the natural world that conflicts arise. The Dalai Lama explained what he believed must happen in the face of such conflicts: a metaphor. ”

The current assault on science, in fact, appears to come more from political extremes, both far right and far left – for very different reasons – rather than from the religious community. Members of the far right seem to attack science because they see it as conflicting with what they want to believe, while the far left defends the idea that science is just another way of looking at it. the world, socially constructed and therefore biased.

Imagine the progress that could be made if religious leaders, scientists and educators came together to promote a process-oriented view of science. Imagine how our political decision-making would be improved, and imagine how we could defeat a pandemic before it kills millions of our fellow human beings.

It is extremely important to remember that the laws of nature exist and impact our lives, whether we understand and accept them or not. A lot of things are to be discussed but not only.