Monday, February 16, 2009

Science as Religion: My loss of Faith

Let me tell you about how I lost my faith.

I was raised in a non-religious household. My parents were raised Methodist, but kinda gave up on religion after having some bad experiences growing up. From what I've gathered over the years, my folks got sick of the (human) hypocrisy within the Church. I think that overall this is unfortunate, and not really God's fault--but it's what happened.

I grew up with Science instead of religion. My parents didn't do this to me, but somehow instead of Christianity, I had Science as my religion. Religion, for the most part, is just a way of explaining why the world is the way it is. My Bible was National Geographic. I loved all things Science.

In fact, for a while (until about my second year of High School) I thought I'd grow up to be a scientist.

So what happened? Well two things happened:

1. I started having my math lessons in a fucking broom closet (not kidding, it was an actual broom closet)

2. I started to learn about the actual scientific process.

One of the fundamental flaws in our current education system is the notion of divide and conquer. Rather than "slow down" the super-smart kids, the dumb asses (i.e. kids like me) are separated from the general lot and taught at a "slower pace." Well this is complete stupidity. If someone is having trouble keeping up they shouldn't be taught SLOWER! They should be taught more, not less.

So thanks to government learning, my math skills got worse instead of better. I started having to leave during "math time" and relocate to one of the janitor's closets where me and four other idiots stayed dumb. Which was okay until Junior High when math and science converged into one giant mass of squirming tentacles. Junior High was also when Science class became more than memorizing.

Up until seventh grade, Science class was all about reading and memorizing "facts." This, it turns out, is pretty easy for me. I love reading and memorizing astounding facts comes naturally to me. But in Junior High Science class became more than just reading and regurgitating the facts back onto a test...we had to start cutting things up.

Let me take a moment to digress for a second.

If I could go back in time there are two things I would do differently in regards to being a student in public education. For starters, I'd refuse to cut up/dissect all those fetal pigs, star fish, tape worms, skates, rats, and owl pellets. I wish I'd had the guts to say "it is wrong for us to cut things up just to learn." Because unless you are in medical school, it is wrong. We are fully capable of creating synthetic models that can teach adolescent children the systems of the body. There is no reason I can fathom, that we should grow/corral innocent creatures just to cut them up.


Does that make me a fucking hippy? Then guess what? All you need is love/smoke more dope man...cos I'm a fucking hippy.

The only thing I cut up that I DON'T feel bad about is that nasty owl pellet (which was really just a big knot of mouse hair). The other thing I'd change is the pledge of allegiance--if I could go back in time, I'd refuse to do this. Is it because I hate my country? No. Is it, it has nothing to do with anything other than the actual history of the Pledge.

The Pledge of Allegiance originated as something ex-Confederates had to say in order to avoid being shot/killed as traitors to the United States. Then some time when by and Benjamin Harrison made a proclamation that had school children all over the nation doing it to celebrate (of all things) Columbus Day in 1892. Did you know that originally the Pledge DID NOT use the hand over the heart deal, but instead you used a sort-or Nazi salute? True. FDR did away with that during WWII.

Anyway, the Pledge has always rubbed me the wrong way. As an adult, I see it as a kind of sick brainwashing. Think about it--government run begin your day by swearing undying Allegiance (under God no less!) to said country. It smacks of wrong-ness people. I would have been that weird kid who got sent out of the classroom for not conforming, if I could do things over. Instead I did it, at the time, though the whole time I wondered why it was necessary. But I didn't "rock the boat" back then.

Now, back to my loss of faith in Science.

Where was I? Oh yes, cutting things up...

Yeah, cutting things up is wrong. Junior High Science class was full of experiments that had an end result. Didn't do something right? Your volcano didn't erupt? Just copy off your neighbor until it does...or you can fake it. Yes, most of the experiments didn't work--at least, none of the ones I did worked. Half the time, I couldn't get the stupid microscope to work. So instead of accurate observations I just lied and wrote down what I thought I was supposed to be seeing. This, children, is what Science really is: making what you think will happen...happen--to prove yourself right (or, in the "adult world": make what you think will happen happen, or NOT happen, depending on what will keep your job safe/assure your funding).

Science and actual religion have a lot in common. So much so that I often laugh at how hateful they are to each other. Both are so strict and dogmatic. Both grapple with the fundamental questions of life--most times incorrectly. Like Religion, Science is full of liars and hypocrites...people looking to make a name for themselves, or a quick buck. Science has it's share of fanatics, people who are so desperate to preserve the status quo that they'd just as well not do the experiments in the first place.

But, like Religion, Science is also full of good people--who because of their general doctrine (or in spite of it) do a lot of good work. I like the electric light bulb science has given me, and I'm glad there are soup kitchens run by priests so not all the poor people will starve.

However, just like the kid how grows up religious and becomes a "holy terror," I've grow up and rejected what I grew up with: Science.

I really hate pop-science. Those stories on the nightly news about some study that revealed such-and-such cures/causes some disease. Or that some guy can make a monkey pick it's nose with electric shocks. These people are snake-oil salesman. Just like a lot of climate change people, who either say it's happening or say it's not happening (and there are those) just to make a quick buck, or keep the funding rolling in.

I guess it's the Capitalistic/economic factor that makes me distrust both Science and Religion. The Church wants a donation (even though the Priest has a mansion and a sports car) and the Scientist will CURE that damn disease...but only if he can keep his job for a few more years...will you donate to continue the research?

No. I will do neither, you are clearly trying to fleece the scared and the weak-minded.

This post came about because Terri wondered what was up with all the Science books lately (I'm reading a book about Joesph Priestley (which is ironic considering he was a Theologian as well as a Scientist--and his "discovery" of oxygen). I guess like a lapsed Catholic, I still want to believe...and from time to time I'll go to mass...just to see if I can recapture some of that magic. That innocent belief that Science can be pure, unmotivated exploration of the world and it's wonders.


Terri said...

One of the BEST courses I was FORCED to take as an undergraduate was a history of science course. I began to see how science, which I had always thought was a hard, objective thing, was just as vulnerable to the whims of the times as any other discipline. In the end I was glad that I was forced to take this course...

Read Thomas Kuhn's the Structure of Scientific Revolutions. That book is the origin of the phrase, "paradigm shift."

Jason said...

Yeah, exactly.

We tend to think of science as this very open, very liberal entity that welcomes change--when in fact, most people that come up with new ideas are always ridiculed.

Science is just as rigid as religion.

I'll have to check out that book, too.

Jimu said...

I have that one if you want to read it (it was a philosophy class :) )

(assuming you have actually finished with my other book... were you actually reading that?)

Jimu said...

but, snarkyness aside it is an interesting view on science. a bunch of "AHA!!!" moments followed by mindless bumbling in the dark.

Jason said...

I'm shocked my wife hasn't said/written anything about this. Her being the big science advocate in our house...

Maybe she's too busy with her test-tubes and what-have-you...

Jason said...

Oh, by the way Terri, the author this book I'm reading is constantly quoting and referencing Kuhn. I guess I have to read this book now (for sure).

Another interesting book this guy has cited is A HISTORY OF THE WORLD IN 6 GLASSES by Tom Standage. Essentially the book is about how 6 drinks (Beer, Wine, Spirits, Tea, Coffee, and Coke) changed the world. Sounds like a good read.

According to this book (as cited by Johnson in THE INVENTION OF AIR) we have coffee to thank for the Age of Enlightenment.

So go coffee.

Terri said...

And where did the Europeans find their coffee...?

We tried to discuss an interesting chapter out of Henry Adams' The Education of Henry Adams last night in American Literature. It deals with this topic. The chapter is entitled "The Virgin and the Dynamo." He saw religion as the "power" of the middle ages, and the dynamo as the "power" of the modern age.

Brenda said...

There was a book I was forced to read that I found helpful on this matter. It was an Evolutionary Biology course, a very controversial course at the University of Georgia at the time. The instructor began the class by announcing to the class that our parents and clergy have had decades to teach us one way of seeing the world and he had 16 weeks to show us the truth. About a dozen students stood up and walked out of the class in protest. Anyway the book is called The Blind Watchmaker.