Why is there such an anti-science backlash going on, especially in the U.S.?
I’ve been thinking that science has come to the point where normal people — people without any science education, people who dropped out of high school, people who work at the corner gas station, people who think “math is hard” — just can’t understand it, so they reject it out of hand or they think of it as some kind of mystical force, no different in substance than any superstition.
Imagining the earth revolving around the sun is no harder than imagining the sun revolving around the earth. Thinking of a moon made out of rock takes less imagination than thinking of a satellite made of green cheese. But going through Einstein’s thought experiments about time and relativity, trying to get a grip on string theory with its 11 (or 10 or 26) dimensions, and attempting to comprehend quantum mechanics can be mind boggling. Even Richard Feynman said, “If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don’t understand quantum mechanics.” If a brilliant scientist like Feynman says something like this, what hope is there for the rest of us?
In a recent discussion between the Four Horsemen* of atheism, Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, and Hitchens talk about how it’s impossible to intuitively imagine some of the concepts of modern science, how you have to trust the math and the experimental evidence. But what good is that if you can’t understand the math or the experiments? And what does one do when one theory, like string theory, is not accepted by all scientists and mathematicians, while another, like evolution, is considered fact by all serious and credible biologists?
How does one know what — or whom — to believe? More importantly, how does one jump the gap between belief and understanding? Can normal people ever hope to understand science? Sometimes it seems impossible.
Here’s my problem with my own idea: I dropped out of high school and I have no formal science education. I graduated from Bible school instead of college and studied the five books of Moses instead of the books of Darwin. (To my credit, I never thought “math is hard” and I did eventually get a high school diploma, attend some college, and read voraciously about science on my own.) So if I can understand these scientific concepts with a bit of mental exercise, and accept that the scientific method is really the best way to understand the universe, what’s stopping others from doing the same?
* The Four Horsemen? Gag, puh-lease, I love these guys and I have enjoyed all of their books, but get a grip whiteys-with-penises — there are other kinds of unbelievers out here, too. And these guys don’t understand why so many people think they are arrogant? They aren’t if you hear them speak live, but some of the stuff that comes out of their pens and typewriters does sound about as arrogant as you can get. I thought this when reading Dawkins and Dennett in the early 1990s, and although I think they’ve improved over the years, they still let stuff slip through the cracks, apparently completely unconscious of how it sounds. OK, I’ll admit that I’m a little jealous of these guys with their best selling books and all the media attention they get. But still. I hope this little aside doesn’t derail the conversation but I really had to get it out of my system.