More On Science and Religion

July 10, 2009

Uncertain Chad makes a very interesting claim on his blog today concerning the reason why Americans are totally fucking clueless when it comes to understanding the nature of objective reality:

On the depressing end of things, roughly half of Americans still think that lasers work by focusing sound waves, and that electrons are at least as big as atoms. If you want evidence that there’s something wrong with the way we teach science, there it is. The numbers for evolution and global warming stink, too, but at least there you can point to large and well-funded operations promoting disinformation about those topics for political/ religious reasons. I haven’t noticed a large-electron lobby, though, and I’m pretty sure there are no sonic lasers in the Bible. This is just bad education.

The argument is that because, unlike in the case of evolution and the specific misinformation campaigns of the religious, there is no systematic disinformation campaign to characterize electrons as being as large as atoms, it must be the case that fucktons of people get this wrong because science education is bad. I call bullshit.

The issue isn’t that religion has some specific alternative theory for this particular electron-size reality shit. The issue is that religion indoctrinates people into a mode of magical fantasy-based thinking that deludes people into thinking that reality shit in general simply isn’t important. Thus, the religiously indoctrinated pay no attention to any of it.

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17 Responses to “More On Science and Religion”

  1. Patchi Says:

    So the problem is not who’s teaching but who’s learning? Is that argument just shifting blame or are you getting to a the chicken or the egg scenario?

  2. bikemonkey Says:

    I might buy it a leeeeetle more if there was a constant barrage of popular media covering the “controversy” about lasers and the size of electrons. The fact that most people don’t give a flying fuck about physics is the root cause of his observation. In contrast more people bother to think about / take classes in biology where they are exposed to evolutionary theory and evidence. The popular media covers such issues a fucktillion times more than esoteric physics shit.

  3. Isabel Says:

    Well, your idea may have validity, or not, but it doesn’t change the fact that science education in
    this country IS abysmal.

  4. Aurora Says:

    Oh I could write volumes on the uniquely American brand of fundamental Christianity. I say unique because the extremely religious Christians in other parts of the world just don’t think this way.

    Somehow it convinces people that everything is relative and reality is in the head and their way is the right way and the rest of us are going straight to hell.

    On the other hand I like some of their family values and clean living. Very wierd.

  5. Paul S. Says:

    I suggest a third alternative: most Americans aren’t very good at remembering stuff that is not of direct and immediate concern to their everyday life. At some point, most people learned that electrons are much smaller than atoms, etc., but because this bit of knowledge doesn’t help most people pay the bills or raise the kids or do other everyday things, they forget about it rather quickly.

    Of course lasers aren’t made by focusing sound waves – they’re made by focusing psychic energy!


  6. maybe it is because most americans would rather be entertained that actually learn about anything

  7. Greg Esres Says:

    ==This is just bad education.==

    I don’t agree. Rather, it’s just that most Americans aren’t interested in understanding.

  8. MonkeyPox Says:

    Bullshit. Bullshitbullshitbullshit. Any nation infected with fantasy-peddling sky-fairy wackos is societally able to ignore all science in favor of fantasy.

    Yes, there’s an education problem—a failure to educated our population that religion is a fantasy that is useless for understanding how the real world works.

  9. momus Says:

    “No Child Left Behind” assures that the nation’s children have good test taking skills but little else. Obviously, the mass of an electron has never been a test question, so its irrelevant.

  10. Paul S. Says:

    If that was true, than every nation on earth would ignore science, because even the most secular countries have a lot of people who are fairly religious.

    Also, if this were true, then the USA would be relatively backward in science compared to more secular countries, which is clearly not the case, regardless of how much or how little the “person on the street” in the USA knows about science.

  11. Paul S. Says:

    Sorry, I meant to put the message with the main list of comments.

  12. TomJoe Says:

    I’m going to look at the glass as half full. I imagine there are entire swaths of the world where the poll would be pointless because people are too damn worried about not starving to death than to learn how to read. They’ve never even heard of lasers or electrons, let alone know how they work or how big they are.

    My point? We have a literate society which is educable. Now we just need to do it. I seriously doubt that people don’t give a shit about the size of an electron because they are religous.

  13. Dave W. Says:

    I’m surprised at how much of this gets dumped specifically on religion. Sure, a lot of the bad education regarding evolution is the fault of the creationists, but everything else?

    Starting in the early 1900s, there was a nationwide embrace of all sorts of things sciency (really, it was technology, but let’s not split hairs). When the horrors of what technology could create (nukes) became widely known, there was a backlash that led to New Age Ludditism. I think we (as a society) are still trying to claw our way out of that mess.

    Sure, nearly everyone’s got a cell phone, but they don’t know how it works and many are still afraid of getting brain tumors. They’ve got cell phones because they’re become convenient to the point that not having one is a massive inconvenience, not because they think the technology is cool or even interesting.

    And it didn’t help that charlatans tried to sex-up the New Age nonsense with sciency stuff (like the word “quantum”), thus confusing almost an entire generation. That kind of crap is due to religion only if you define the word “religion” as nothing more than “belief without evidence.”

    And while I’m no friend of religion (I see it as the one human endeavor which makes a virtue of irrationality), at least some of it must be blamed on simple gullibility and the con-men who prey upon it.

  14. DSKS Says:

    What Paul S said.
    It’s neither surprising nor indicative of a debilitating level of thickdom that people who neither have an armchair interest in certain things, nor a career that necessitates knowledge about them, should be ignorant about them.

    There’s a fine line between fighting crackpots who glorify their ignorance and embarking on some snide intellectual elitism as to what should and should not be known by the unwashed masses. I just can’t work up a sturdy sense of indignation at a plumber or custodian who doesn’t know his or her subatomic particles.


  15. […] (I’m getting involved here… a post about a post about a post, ad infinitum…) by PhysioProf which basically says that religious people are out of touch with reality, etcetera, that they do […]

  16. jojo Says:

    I agree, this article is dumb. For one thing, his examples of “why Americans don’t know about Science” are two random “science facts.” I don’t remember the specific definition of an untransitive verb or every state capital. And yet I don’t think that the education system has failed me in the fundamentals of writing or geography.

    The problem is that what science education really teaches is harder to ask about in polls. That is to say, the scientific process (experimentation at its core) and the wonder of objectively understanding the material world.


  17. […] in there, some people said some things about education and how to teach kids and/or people in general to think scientifically (as […]


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