Sunday, March 21, 2010


One of the qualities of the uneducated is holding on to beliefs that have no basis in fact. Or, holding on to a belief even after it has been shown to be untrue. I run into this commonly when trying to teach Newton's laws of motion. Nature tends to give us false clues as to what is fundamentally going on.

For example, it seems pretty obvious that it takes a force to keep something moving. If you stop peddling your bike the bike stops moving. If you take your foot of the gas the car stops. And yet, when I take away all frictional forces (on an air table for example) and ask, "What force keeps the puck moving?", consternation ensues. Words and hypothesis are bandied about until it finally dawns (as it did for Galileo and Newton) that once put in motion things keep going UNLESS a force stops them. It's our experience to almost always have some friction around that causes us to 'believe' in a different law.

To believe that all things naturally come to rest is to be slightly uneducated in physics. No big harm there but still it is what it is. To hang on to such a law in the face of examples to the contrary is to be ridiculously stubborn.

People used to think that when it lightninged and thundered that the gods were mad at them - that they were being punished for being sinful. As the work of reasonable investigators (Franklin, et. al.) proceeded, people slowly learned that lightning was a natural phenomena and disconnected from any godly intent. Well, most did.

To ignore the bushels of data and experiments that put lightning in the larger context of electrical phenomena and hang on to a godly explanation would be silly and one would just be showing their ignorance or their stubbornness.

So, how is it different when one chooses to ignore the bushels of data and experiments that confirm the general paradigm of evolution? How is this not considered just being silly and uneducated? Well it is considered just that by about anyone who has read a book about such things WITH AN OPEN MIND. If you have a personal ax to grind from the get go, well then no, you cannot be educated to see a bigger idea. You will remain uneducated.

And forced to live in Texas.

Now the closed minded theist will say that my belief in the experiment is just another religion. I choose to believe in science and he chooses to believe in a higher power. We all believe in something, right? There is a fatal flaw in that kind of thinking. The theist has no way to prove any of his assertions. His are truly pure belief or if you prefer, faith. I can have an idea and test it and people completely disconnected from me could run the same test. A theist could do it with the same results. A computer could analyze the data. When the results keep coming up the same no matter who runs the test then I think we've got something that is real and independent of whether I believe in it or not.

Mixing the two has always produced failure for the theist. Controlled test of prayer. Miracles at Lourdes. Mind readers. I could go on. More importantly, it seems for most theists conducting a rational experiment with, let's say prayer, sort of 'ruins' it. They might have a feeling in the back of their minds that 'this ain't going to work'. They know that prayer is not 'of the laboratory' and yet they desperately want it to somehow work too! This is the slippery slope that all believers in magical things have to walk. On one hand you want your beliefs to be of a higher plane than this old regular, boring world. On the other hand you want your magic to actually intersect this world when it suits you. That seems unthinking to me at the best and disingenuous at the worst.

If you pray because it gets you through the night or helps you get through tough times, well ok. But please try to not take that next step where you start thinking that what works for you should work for everyone or that it should be taught in school!

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