The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Archive for April 26th, 2010

U.S. Public Only Seems to Like “Practical” Science

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 26, 2010

I just caught this post over at the Woo-Fighters blog, and thought it worth sharing.  The results of these polls give me some reason to hope, but it also shows that those of us in the pro-science community certainly do have our work cut out for us.  Read on…

Science? Only when it’s practical, please.

April 25th, 2010 | Author: Matthew Newton

When the idea of “science” is brought up, most people agree that this so-called science is a good thing. In fact, in a somewhat recent poll by the Pew Research Center, 84% of Americans surveyed believed the science in their lives to have a positive influence on society, with only 6% indicating the opposite. 70% said they believed scientists to have a positive influence on society, which is even more than doctors!

While the magical idea of “what science is to me and not to you thank you very much” sounds preferable to your average consumer of science, the reality behind belief in American scientific progress is a bit more bleak. From the same poll, only 17% of those surveyed believed America to among the “best in the world” when it comes to scientific research, with 49% believing America to have the best scientists in the world. It’s a lot easier to deny an intangible idea, isn’t it?

Three separate Gallup Polls taken between 1990 and 2001 measured public beliefs in various paranormal phenomena. Notably, and in spite of the 84% of Americans putting their faith in science, a large portion in all three time periods (50%) said they believed in Extrasensory Perception (ESP) , with only 21% definitively certain about its nonexistence.

How do Americans, who are so sure of science’s contributions to society, have such a poor misunderstanding of such basic concepts? Principal researcher Heather Ridolfo’s recently published paper entitled “Social Influences on Paranormal Belief: Popular Versus Scientific Support” examined differences in perception of ESP based on both public and scientific opinion. What was found is that while people tend to evaluate the validity of claims based on how many other people support said claims (a cognitive bias known as the Bandwagon Effect), the support of the scientific community (or lack thereof) has no impact on evaluating the validity of claims made about ESP.

From this, the researchers concluded that their finding “may reflect decreasing trust in the institution of science”. Whatever the reason, the romantic idea of science and the reality behind science have a long way to go before they meet.

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Evolution/Creation Thoughts from a Thoughtful Christian

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 26, 2010

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a very vocal advocate for good science education (including evolution).  They also know that I am an unapologetic skeptic in all things, including religion – I am, in fact, an ardent atheist and non-believer in all things supernatural (god being one of those things).  However, despite my philosophical position, I count among my friends & acquaintances many religious people: Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and Mormons.  I do not like the idea of defining skepticism to equate with atheism, because I’ve known too many religious people who are good skeptics in most areas, and I’ve known too many atheists who have absolutely gone into the deep end of the woo pool.  It just smacks too much of a false dichotomy to make such an argument.

That said, what I’d like to do is introduce you to a colleague of mine… let’s call him Fred (not his real name).  Fred and I know each other because we’re both science educators and we’ve worked together in various capacities before.  Fred is also a very devout evangelical Christian, and he is on a journey of investigation regarding skepticism, creationism & evolutionary science.  When I recently posted to an email list we both frequent, Darwin’s Bulldogs, about an anti-evolution letter in the local paper, he spoke up about the letter & writer.  His story is very poignant and quite reminiscent of what I like to call a “thoughtful believer” who is attempting to balance what he was once told (“brainwashing” he calls it) in church versus the truth he now knows.  I think his story is best told in his own words, so with Fred’s permission, I now share those words with you here…

Having grown up in very conservative  churches with a “strong faith,” yet having a scientifically inquisitive mind, I was immersed in YEC [Young Earth Creationism] for many years, even trying to convince others using some of the so-called arguments based on the Bible and Christianized science that I had at my disposal.  As I have gone through my own evolution toward embracing evolution as revealed by the evidence, these Christianized arguments make me a bit ill in their display of uneducated bias, blind “faith,” and inability to see past assumptions that “we” are convinced simply MUST be true in order to have a valid belief in God. This comes out strongly in the last part where the evolutionary “archeaologist” will have to either embrace the bones as evidence for his “hoped for” link in the descent of man, or as a creationist who will see them as the APE THAT THEY ARE.  No evidence given… no attempt to consider that maybe there is room to really CONSIDER the evidence one way or the other… just the confident (arrogant?) proclamation that they are from an ape.  This is followed by the Christianized theology that only mankind is made in the image of God, not apes.  What does THAT mean?  We Christians tend to throw that “image of God” thing around as though it’s a trump card, and I’m more and more convinced that not a one of us has a CLUE what it really means (notwithstanding the legitimacy of the Biblical statement itself of course!).  Yet there is a tendency of smug assurance that the “image of God” is really understood, and that WE KNOW WHAT IT MEANS AND WHAT IT DOES NOT MEAN, so case closed.  No evidence needed.  The Bible is clear, and we know exactly what the Bible means, so why work hard to figure out what in fact is real as revealed by nature and open for ALL to see?

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