Science vs. Superstition
by Chris Volkay (e-mail: [September 8th, 2002]

Testers recently determined that “only one in five high school seniors has a solid grasp of science.” This was after they took the 2000 National Assessment of Educational Progress. Education Secretary Rod Paige called the decline “morally significant, if our graduates know less about science than their predecessors four years ago(3 points lower than those taking the test in 1996) then our hopes for a strong 21st century work force are dimming just when we need them most.”

“When science comes along it shatters people’s illusions and self-created fantasy worlds.”

Of course this situation is utterly appalling, but its implications go much further than the usual comments as to how this will impact our work force.

Albert Einstein was rightly chosen the “man of the century” by Time Magazine. But his importance went far beyond his immediate field of physics, his greatness was that he ushered in and in a sense legitimized all types of science for humanity. A sort of coat tails effect. Now only 18% of seniors have a solid grasp of science.

My question is this, what is the one force in the world that works to defeat the superstition, mythology and prejudice that we see all around us? Science. What is at the root of so many of the world’s problems and much of what we saw just recently on 9-11? Superstition. Hatred, fear and the prejudice fostered by superstition and mythology. It’s really just another round in the age old battle of science vs. superstition. With these numbers just released one really doesn’t have to wonder why we live in the world we do.

In my humble opinion, this age old battle of science vs. superstition is no less than the most important battle in the world today. Am I crazy? Bigger than the various wars the world continually finds itself engaged in? Yes. Bigger than global disease and epidemic issues? Yes. Bigger even than Brad and Jennifer’s relationship? Well ... oh goodness, now you’ve gone to far, such blasphemy!

Science has always been a sort of dirty word for many people anyway. When science comes along it shatters people’s illusions and self-created fantasy worlds. Leaving the warmth of their dreams is one of the most difficult things for people to do. And so, of course, many of them don’t. As Francis Bacon said, “People prefer to believe what they prefer to be true.” And thus is the history of civilization.

The practical effect of this? The vast majority of people on this planet are lost in endless netherworlds of superstition, tribalism and mythology. Fear, hatred, prejudice, and the indescribable amounts of misery that accrue from such beliefs. And how many people waste their time and money with things like UFO’s, Bermuda triangles, ghosts, witchy women, and, of course, my all time favorite, the hollow Earth “theorists.” The list here is endless. Throw in some power of positive thinking gurus, so-called psychodynamic therapy (Freudian based) and I say.. the list never really ends. People have invented endless amounts of nonsense for themselves to keep them firmly ensconced from the wicked verities of existence.

And in this darkness, in this endless murky, twisting jungle of illusion, brash and snotty-nosed science steps forward. What’s that faint whisper in the wind? There, can you hear it? It’s Aristotle calling from the Athenian hillsides. It’s the pain of Galileo as he languishes while being confined by the “Holy” Church. It’s the shrieks of Newton as things start falling from trees. And it’s Einstein and Pasteur and Copernicus and Darwin and Watson and Crick too, and many many more. My, my what a lovely chorus. They all collectively call to us. Each in there own way has removed just a little bit of illusion from the world. Each has shed just a wee tiny bit of light into the murky, cavernous recesses of our minds.

So it is really up to us as a society to push and stress science as much as possible. Of course, it’s a two way street. The students also must be receptive and amenable to learning as well. They must have the courage to actually learn and then have the intestinal fortitude to withstand the foul epithets that will be hurled at them from members of much of the school’s “in crowd” who utterly disdain anything that even remotely has to do with learning.

The stakes, in my opinion, are at the highest level. For what we are really talking about here is the “hearts and minds” of the public and the coming generations. Will those heads be filled with the preternatural, and the trivial fluff and nonsense that dominates so much of our society, or will the be filled with science, and for that matter, reason and logic. No less than the future of civilization is at stake here. Will it be a future with more generations and centuries of prejudice, fear and mythology, or one in which we begin to comes to terms with science and hopefully ourselves.

According to the article I read, even some school officials give science short shrift. This is tragic. Because the importance of science, as I have argued, is far more than getting a job. It is the one sane voice in the endless sea illusion. For science also shapes our society and our culture and our thinking and our future. So what will it be folks, what will it be school officials, what will it be students? What will it be society? The courage for science or the easy refuge of superstition?

Resources and Avenues for Further Study

  • Google Directory: Science: Science in Society: Skeptical Inquiry and Science: Science in Society: Skeptical Inquiry: Critical Thinking

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