How does Science keep going?

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I just finished reading an essay that won Seed Magazine’s contest regarding “What does it mean to be scientifically literate in the 21st Century?”

In it, Thomas Martin wrote, with apparent dismay, of his well prepared, intellectually capable students:

A noticeable portion of those students also believe in the literal truth of certain ancient accounts of earth’s history that, to put it bluntly, directly contradict mountains of well-established data from geology, climatology, and biology.

I share his dismay.

Whenever I encounter a brilliant person who functions in a scientific/engineering world, yet believes in a literal interpretation of the Bible, I am startled. How can someone believe in numbers, yet say something like “oil comes from Noah’s flood” or (without proof) “carbon isotope ratios haven’t always been the same” or “God changed the laws of physics when he put the rainbow in the sky for Noah.” Ask such a believer to explain how all the worlds animals fit on Noah’s ark, and they will postulate incredibly rapid differentiation from “kinds” of animals, and at the same time deny speciation through mutation. (By the way, this is a wonderful discussion of fundamentalists and Noah’s Ark). Fundamentalism is a stupefying display of will power over contradiction and curiosity. How can they not think through the implications of “changing the laws of physics” yet be able to function in the world of engineering?

What’s even more stupefying is that science continues to work despite people with such ideas being in power. Is it possible to look at the Bush administration’s scientific gerrymandering and not wonder how US science can continue to function? Look at the religious currents of our history and then consider all the other versions of prejudice, pettiness and ignorance that also struggle to deny truth and maintain some status quo. How on earth did we make progress?

Dr. Martin argues that progress comes through publicly pitting egos and intellects against one another. That within the world of science we demand evidence, and we encourage the destruction of hypothesis after hypothesis. Survival of the fittest ideas builds a self correcting system functioning despite the foibles of its followers.

Somehow I find that encouraging. There is hope, regardless of who is in charge. And I still believe it’s difficult to argue with the facts of the physical world.

One Response to “How does Science keep going?”

  1. Nameless Heathen » Blog Archive » Pondering Christian progress Says:

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    […] pondering again the Fundamentalist effect on science and education. (In the past I’ve talked here, and here about science and Christian […]

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