Questionable Motives

July 22, 2010

Isn’t the science classroom the birthplace of atheism?

Filed under: Critical Reasoning,God,Science — tildeb @ 8:28 pm

Umm, no. I came across this interesting article that I think addresses the question very well. A physics teacher tells us about his job and how he handles questions about god in his science classroom and think it has a very important message, with some added boldface by me:

Despite appearances to the contrary, science in schools is not just about teaching facts and figures, it is about teaching the way in which humans have arrived at answers to questions ranging from how life reproduces itself to how the stars shine. Science lessons should equip students with critical thinking skills, the most important of which is to ask for evidence for claims about “truth“. If we’ve succeeded in teaching these skills, it’s inevitable that some of our religious students will ask “what is the proof for the existence of a god?” and it’s inevitable that some of these students will not be happy with the stock religious answers to this question.

If my colleagues and I do our jobs properly, our students should go away with a story about the history of life and the universe that is far richer, far grander and far more detailed than that presented in any religious text. More importantly, they should go away with an understanding of how and why this story has been written. (A) proper science education should equip young people to arrive at their own decisions about what to believe, and ensure that if they do conclude there is a god, it is a god who doesn’t stop them from fully appreciating the truth and beauty of scientific knowledge.

I heartily endorse this approach.

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27 Comments »

  1. Is science incompatible with the idea of creator?

    Comment by Titfortat — July 28, 2010 @ 10:29 pm | Reply

  2. Not directly. The incompatibility primarily lies in methodology for inquiry. Religious belief in a supernatural creator is assertion with no means, no method, to validate or falsify it. For all intents and purposes, this kind of creator is unknowable.

    Comment by tildeb — July 28, 2010 @ 11:01 pm | Reply

  3. I agree in regards to religion but for myself I find it perfectly logical to suppose an intelligent creative force at the roots of the Universe that I see. The problem is when people say they “know” what it is. Im still waiting on Science for that one. ;)

    Comment by Titfortat — July 29, 2010 @ 8:40 am | Reply

  4. Well, the alternative is that it just happened and that doesnt seem so logical.

    Comment by Titfortat — July 29, 2010 @ 11:26 am | Reply

    • But that a cause that was not caused first created everything except itself and then organized it all just so seems more logical?

      Comment by tildeb — July 29, 2010 @ 12:51 pm | Reply

  5. Who created the creator?

    Comment by misunderstoodranter — July 29, 2010 @ 3:15 pm | Reply

    • Exactly. That’s the kind of logic that would paralyze even a Vulcan!

      Comment by tildeb — July 29, 2010 @ 4:11 pm | Reply

  6. Hey, I think I just want to start in one place. What caused this. The rest we can work on at a later date. If you like thinking its just random, be my guest. My brain doesnt work that way.

    Comment by Titfortat — July 29, 2010 @ 4:56 pm | Reply

    • Well, follow the thinking: why do you presume an agent makes more sense than what you call random? Claiming it’s simply the way your brain works is a cop-out. “Judge, I raped her ’cause that’s the way my brain works!” is not an explanation but an excuse.

      Comment by tildeb — July 29, 2010 @ 6:47 pm | Reply

  7. Ok, I see a car, do I think it just happened to be there without any agent? Maybe, but from my perspective or logic it would seem that something(someone/whatever) made it. So, when I look at myself or any other human I see a car. A very intricate and complicated vehicle. Did we randomly appear without any agent? Sure, thats possible, but my way of thinking doesnt compute that randomness. As far as your analogy goes, talk about hyperbole.

    Comment by Titfortat — July 29, 2010 @ 7:04 pm | Reply

    • Of course I exaggerated to make the point.

      I think we come equipped by evolution to assign agency to everything. If the car doesn’t start or the computer isn’t doing something it usually does, our first impulse may be to assume a malevolent agency is at work thwarting our desires. But we know better, don’t we?

      Cause and agency are not the same things. Effect and goal are not the same thing. Mechanism and intention are not the same thing. Cause and effect by some natural mechanism is a really good way to come to know about the world; agency and goal by some supernatural intention is a really poor way to come to know about the world. The first leads to knowledge, the second to superstition. When we apply the second way to cosmology – just like assigning evil spirits to be the root cause of our car and computer mysteries – I suspect we will solve nothing, which just by coincidence is exactly the same efficacy we enjoy when we exorcise problematic small appliances and vehicles.

      Just because your brain may be more comfortable assuming agency in spite of the absence of supporting evidence doesn’t mean it’s more logical; if anything, I would assume the opposite and – if all our technologies are any indication – probably be significantly farther ahead in our approach tro the mystery.

      Comment by tildeb — July 29, 2010 @ 7:51 pm | Reply

  8. Isnt the evidence the Universe? What is illogical about supposing something started that? I am not saying it is some old white guy in the sky with a beard. I am just supposing that some sort of intelligence is at its root. Comfortable or not I think the idea is plausible. I am all for wonder and scientific discovery, in no way am I trying to deny evolution or any other aspect to what we now know. But youre right, my brain is not comfortable with the assumption it “just happened”.

    Comment by Titfortat — July 30, 2010 @ 1:52 am | Reply

    • The universe may have a beginning but my question is why assume an intelligence? For what reasons is that plausible compared to the evolution of what is from what was?

      Comment by tildeb — July 30, 2010 @ 9:10 am | Reply

  9. My supposition is that part of the plan is evolution. Just like things we build that change with time. If part of evolution has purposeful change(adaptation) it seems so does the rest of the Universe. The more we learn, the more everything is interwined for life on some level. It seems that there is an “intelligence” to it all. Again, I am not in any way, shape or form suggesting a Theistic concept. Sure that may be just ego(comfort) on my part, but those suppositions dont hurt anyone, nor do they prevent myself or others from the continuing process of learning more about life. Who knows, one day science may prove me right. :lol:

    Comment by Titfortat — July 30, 2010 @ 10:18 am | Reply

  10. “9.My supposition is that part of the plan is evolution.”

    You have assumed there is a plan, if you have not assumed there is a plan, then you must provide evidence of the plans existence.

    “If part of evolution has purposeful change (adaptation) it seems so does the rest of the Universe.”

    The universe is everywhere – you are made out of the universe and so are stones and water. Water dripping onto stone will cause the stone to change in shape – it does not mean that the change in the stones shape is purposeful, or designed.

    “The more we learn, the more everything is intertwined for life on some level.”

    Actually the more we learn, the more we realise that life can and does exist in many different environments – and in some instances can even change the environment to make it more habitable for itself. This does not in anyway suggest that the environment is designed for life to exist in the first place.

    “It seems that there is an “intelligence” to it all. Again, I am not in any way, shape or form suggesting a Theistic concept.”

    That is exactly what you are doing – by saying that the universe has a purpose you are suggesting that it has a sentient an thinking creator that knows what the outcome will be – which is nothing more than a belief.

    “Sure that may be just ego(comfort) on my part, but those suppositions dont hurt anyone, nor do they prevent myself or others from the continuing process of learning more about life.”

    They do prevent learning, because you find a satisfactory result at reaching an assumption, and therefore discount the need to find evidence. It is the belief in creators and other such things that motivate Muslims to bomb buildings, and Christian’s to spread lies about the prevention of AIDs – so yeah such beliefs do cause great harm to others on the world stage – and supporting them in anyway without being sceptical of their assumptions promotes those who believe in assumptions into positions of power – not ideal is it?

    “Who knows, one day science may prove me right.”

    Since science has given us so much to date, you would think that in their searches to advance the human race the scientists would have found some evidence of a creator – but so far *nothing*. If there was a god, you would think that someone would have irrefutable and demonstrable evidence of its existence somewhere wouldn’t you? After all there is enough people looking and praying for it.

    Comment by misunderstoodranter — July 31, 2010 @ 5:23 pm | Reply

  11. misunderstoodranter

    Nice rant. Next time check the words that are used. I didnt assume, I supposed. I believe there is a difference between the two.

    Comment by Titfortat — July 31, 2010 @ 8:44 pm | Reply

  12. sup·po·si·tion   /ˌsʌpəˈzɪʃən/ Show Spelled[suhp-uh-zish-uhn] Show IPA
    –noun
    1. the act of supposing.
    2. something that is supposed; assumption; hypothesis

    Im not sure where evidence is needed for a Supposition. Could you tell me?

    Comment by Titfortat — July 31, 2010 @ 8:50 pm | Reply

  13. And here is the fundamental difference – you suppose (which is an assumption – as you kindly proved with you sighting above). In science before an assumption becomes a theory it has evidence. The theory of gravity has evidence to support it. The theory of evolution has evidence to support it. The hypothesis of there being a creator does not have evidence to support it; so your supposition has no more value than my supposition that there may be fairies at the bottom of my garden.

    So remind me again – what is the value of such a supposition?

    Comment by misunderstoodranter — August 1, 2010 @ 2:14 am | Reply

  14. you suppose (which is an assumption – as you kindly proved with you sighting above).(Rant)

    Lmao, yes I did. I never said I was smart. ;)

    So remind me again – what is the value of such a supposition?(Rant)

    Did I say it had to have value for you? In fact, am I even suggesting that you should believe me. Truth is, I am supposing because it makes sense to me. Obviously for you it doesnt.
    But for arguments sake, I will say that the evidence I see is our Universe and it makes logical sense to my brain that something with intelligence made it. Arent there more than one Universe out there? In fact, isnt it possible that there are other time dimensions too? If that is the case maybe the creator of ours is in one of those. Just supposing though. :)

    Comment by Titfortat — August 1, 2010 @ 6:12 am | Reply

  15. I am sorry but I am not following your reasoning – perhaps because there isn’t any – but if your argument is to say ‘I can believe in what I want’ – then fine I agree with you.

    Some people might believe that the universe is made out of jelly babies – but that does not make it true does it? And if people did believe that the universe was made out of jelly babies and started to teach it as fact then I think you would be concerned about that – yes?

    The issue, for me is that there are people on this earth of this time, who think that their personal beliefs, that make sense only to them, are more valuable than anyone Else’s; and yet they have no evidence to support their beliefs; and they have enormous power over society and its social structure.

    The fact that you assume the universe has been made by a creator does not make it true. The fact that we can use scientific enquiry to manipulate matter and biology remains certifiable truth; no superstition or wishful thinking or assumptions or lies required.

    Comment by misunderstoodranter — August 1, 2010 @ 2:29 pm | Reply

  16. The fact that you assume the universe has been made by a creator does not make it true.(Rant)

    Ok, here’s the deal. The fact is you dont know if the universe has a creator. The fact is it could be true. The fact is I believe that there is a possibility that it could be true. I am in no way quantifying what it could be. In other words I am not making a Theistic claim as to having verifiable knowledge about said creator. What I am saying is that I believe it is logical to suppose that possibility. You on the other hand sound very much like the religionists you supposedly want to call nuts. The truth is you have NO certifiable truth about anything. For the truth is, our knowledge is always shifting and what we know today will one day be replaced by more accurate knowledge. But Im sure you already knew that, right?

    Comment by Titfortat — August 1, 2010 @ 3:58 pm | Reply

  17. It’s a possibility – and so it is a possibility that it is made of jelly beans. The argument is circular and irrelevant. The difference here is that I am not going to base my life decisions – on wishful thinking. So far there is no evidence for a sentient creator at all – yet the churches of the world think that there is – all I am saying is fine, prove it to me – where is this creator, what is this evidence for your surety that such a creator exists?

    I think that is important considering that the churches claim to speak to the creator and have moral guidance from it – don’t you?

    All you are saying is that the universe exists therefore it must have a creator (which is what the religious fall back on) – but this is not evidence that the creator is sentient, or that the process of creation is designed consciously as we would design something.

    The difference here is that one type of person makes an assumption and bases their life decisions upon that assumption – the other type of person says they do not know, and will enquire to find out, without assuming that their assumption must be right.

    Looking at chaos theory, and how material in nature organises itself – bear in mind that the use of the word ‘theory’ here is the scientific meaning of the word – i.e. not a hunch, but something that is demonstrable, observable fact.

    Comment by misunderstoodranter — August 2, 2010 @ 1:25 am | Reply

  18. Rant

    Do me one favour. Try your best to not assume Im religious. The difference between what I suppose and what someone else believes is huge. Your analogy about jelly beans is also insulting because we can prove that to be false. All religions are claiming they “know”, I am not. All I am doing is supposing that it is possible. Did you know that there is a blind spot in the eye? A point where it doesnt see and that the brain has to “fill” in the information. It Seems even scientific people assume things. ;)

    Comment by Titfortat — August 2, 2010 @ 6:48 am | Reply

  19. “Your analogy about jelly beans is also insulting because we can prove that to be false.”

    How can you prove this to be false? – You can’t! – I use this example because I can’t prove it to be true either; which is the same with your creator assumption.

    For all we know reality could be a simulation in an alien computer, or a dream that an elf had on a distant world in another galaxy? Who knows? But so far all of these explanations are just as implausible as the jelly beans idea – without evidence they are nothing more than inventions of the evolved human mind.

    The point I am trying to make is this: Who cares about the unprovable, I don’t! I care only for what can be observed, what can be tested, what can be plausibly true and demonstrable – the rest is fantasy until proved otherwise. This is not a hard concept to grasp, the measure of what is true in our reality is what everyone else agrees to be true – that’s the best we can do, and so far it provides results in the real world.

    Comment by misunderstoodranter — August 2, 2010 @ 1:02 pm | Reply

  20. Hmmm, I didnt realize jelly beans had the right chemical composition to start life, my bad.

    Comment by Titfortat — August 2, 2010 @ 1:41 pm | Reply

  21. Good one titfortat!

    Comment by 4amzgkids — August 20, 2010 @ 6:44 pm | Reply


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