Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Why religion should be out of the science classroom

 As many of us already know, religion has been trying to wiggle its way into the science classroom for quite some time. Despite it being mainly a US problem, it seems to be spreading in Europe. It does so in the form of creationism, or intelligent design. Though these forms of religious dogma might be the latest attempts to put God (or gods) into Biology classes, they are definitely not special or different from any other form of religious theory. Proponents of ID claim that science classrooms are impregnated with intolerance, and critical thinking is not something practiced every day. Whether this is true or false, mostly false, is of course not relevant to the discussion of why ID and ANY religiously based theory can't be taught in the science classroom.

 For starters (we'll get to the main course later) ID is exactly the same as creationism, with a little make up, and is trying to win the same battle. A battle creationism already lost back in the day. Back in Darwin's day, if you ask me. Here, I should explain. This post will not discuss how evolution through the process of natural selection, absolutely and completely negates the need for any outside supernatural force to bring about life, or how it clearly shows our apeish origins. Mind you, we are indeed still apes. Ironically, supporters of ID have a brain structure more similar to chimpanzees than the rest of us, something the chimpanzee community resents. Ad hominem attacks, something I think people usually use when they have lost an argument, are appropriate in this case. They highlight the incredible stupidity, ignorance and bigotry of some members of our species, which should be expelled. Before I start too many fires, let me say that I believe there is a small percentage of people, mostly children and uninformed individuals, that truly believe in these theories, without agenda or hope for profit. A small subgroup of Homo sapiens exempt from my attacks. 

 ID is a theory that is based on belief, corroborated by belief. When it's proven wrong, it is resurrected, you guessed it, with more belief. Enough belief to patch any hole there might be in it.
Newton's law of gravitation is based, strictly speaking, on belief, corroborated by evidence. When it's proven wrong, the useful parts are saved, and the rest goes into the trash can, where they belong.

 The fundamental problem in science classrooms is not ID. ID is the extreme manifestation it takes when it goes unfixed. I present to you the main course. A fundamental misunderstanding of science, or more exactly, the scientific method. Children too often go through their entire academic careers, without knowing the difference between a proper scientific experiment and a CNN poll. What's worse, when they do study the scientific method, the topic is usually relegated to one of those useless chapters in textbooks, an introduction or one of the last chapters, which never get the attention they deserve. Many of these children sever all ties with science and math once they finish high school, choosing to become lawyers, or experts.

 Not only should these topics have the most relevance in the classroom. They should also be expanded and treated less superficially. ID supporters say they want more critical thinking in classrooms. Claiming "alternative theories" should be taught alongside evolution. Well, without taking into account the monumental waste of time, I say, go ahead. However, don't forget to teach the kids about the scientific method, falsification, the difference between evidence that supports or rejects a hypothesis, difference between mathematical proof and legal proof, difference between witness accounts and experiments, difference between experiments that can be repeated and ones which can only be done once. I think you see where I'm going. Then we will be able to discern if students are willing to put up with your act.

 If religion is to stay in schools, it should not be taught in history, geography, music, chemistry or any subject, other than religious studies. If it is to stay in public schools, which in my opinion it should, then it has to be under a tolerant and diverse environment. Meaning that all forms of religion should be taught, as well as their corresponding cultural relevance. Not in the form of a philosophy or ethics class, and certainly not in a way that only provides a public platform for specifically chosen faiths. In the name of science, skepticism, and the flying spaghetti monster.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The answer to the first question

 You might be wondering, is it dry?
 When one is young and reckless, they might be inclined to answer the question immediately and say "Of course its a dry fruit thats what fell into the water", but this answer is both ignorant and naive. Yes, what fell, or was thrown into the bathtub, is indeed a dry fruit. However you assume the bathtub is full of water. For the sake of interest and argument we will assume the non-trivial situation, i.e. full of water, to be the one we are dealing with.

 I once asked this question to a wise man, his response was both humbling and unexpected. "It becomes a juicy peanut" he said. The reply wormed its way through my neurons until it hit my prefrontal cortex. Boom! The question to the answer was formulated.

 That answer though witty and thought provoking did not satisfy me. So the question was now, "Is dryness an intrinsic property of dry fruits?". The immediate response is yes. That is, after all what defines a dry fruit. So the peanut is there in the bathtub, unsure of itself, wondering if it might float or let itself glide to the bottom.

 Now we can surely say, the peanut is indeed still a dry fruit, can't we? Well, the peanut is wet now, is it not?
It is submerged in water after all, so its definitely not dry. What is commonly known as a smart-ass, will be telling him or herself that the peanut is still a dry peanut. They will protest, loudly. "It is a wet dry fruit!" not knowing how ridiculous a statement that is.

 Okey doki, I know what your thinking. "Wait. She has a point, if you take the peanut out of the water it still looks like a dried peanut. It doesn't revert to its original state". Good point. However this is probably due to entropy, something to explore in later posts. Also the peanut is still not dry. Unless YOU dried it, you cheater.

 So, for those still doubting. The peanut is no longer a dry fruit. Why? It's wet, and for those skeptics out there, a longer answer might be: dryness is not an intrinsic property of a peanut. Its a defining property of a dry fruit. Which means that the at most you could say, "The peanut used to be a dry fruit, though it no longer is".

And remember, the glass is never empty... Its full of air.