on Philosophy of Ignorance

 

N&R July 9, 2016

on Philosophy of Ignorance

We may need to adjust our science curriculum, as Judy Palmer writes (“Teaching should include creationism”  Greensboro News &Record, July 9, 2016), but not in the way she recommends. It’s pretty clear that her science education is incomplete.

In common usage, “theory” might mean a belief or an opinion. But in science, theories explain Laws and facts.

If you hold out your pencil and let go, it falls to the floor. An unsupported object will fall. That’s a fact based on observation.

Until Galileo, many thought heavier objects would fall faster than lighter objects. Galileo’s experiments at the Leaning Tower of Pisa showed that all objects fall at a rate independent of weight. We can test this and confirm that Galileo’s “Law of Fall” is right.

Galileo influenced others like Einstein to conduct more experiments. Einstein hypothesized about the relationship of the moon, planets, and Sun. In 1905 he published his “General Theory of Relativity” explaining why gravity works the way it does.

This theory of gravity helps us understand how the planets orbit the Sun by bringing the facts together with the hypotheses and Laws. Scientific theories are not beliefs or opinions. Scientific theories are carefully crafted explanations about how the universe works.

In science, we have to be able to make observations that might prove a fact wrong. If there’s no way to prove something wrong then it’s not a scientific idea. Creationism cannot be proven wrong, so it’s not science.

Even though some today may think it’s true, let’s not have our schools teach that heavy objects fall faster than lighter objects.

Even more destructive than mistaken opinion, Creationism is based on the assumption that no one is smart enough to discover the answer to a mystery. To answer any mystery with “God did it” is not science.  In his book “Death by Black Hole”  Neil deGrasse Tyson calls it a “philosophy of ignorance.”

Let’s not have our schools mislead children about the theory of evolution. Evolution is testable and has been confirmed in geological and fossil records. Creationism is the belief that God created all life. Since the actions of a divine creator are outside the abilities of science to test, they don’t belong in the science classroom.

Some are passionate about Creationism, but it’s based in religion, not science. And I find it unproductive to teach children that there are some things they can’t and won’t ever figure out. Creationism doesn’t encourage discovery, Creationism encourages ignorance.

We should keep science in our science classes and we should keep religious beliefs out. Neither science nor religion benefit when the two get entangled.

 

 


3 thoughts on “on Philosophy of Ignorance

  1. I teach evolution in my biology class from the first to the last day. I still find that highly educated parents still foist creationism as an alternate”theory” on their children which does little but confuse and cloud their learning of biology as well and single them out among their peers. These children have been raised in ignorance of science in favor of a 6,000 yr old earth where humans were created from mud and spit by magic. No wonder they are confused and lost in today’s society.

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  2. Mr. Hands,

    Being a previous science educator, I simply need to make a correction to at least one statement you made in your rebuttals to Miss Palmer’s article. I always find it necessary to correct poorly used science examples if I see them.

    You stated: “Even though some today may think it’s true, let’s not have our schools teach that heavy objects fall faster than lighter objects.”

    A “light weight” object can certainly be at a faster speed than a “heavy weight object” at any single point in time while falling. A snow flake that’s reached its terminal velocity is certainly moving faster towards the ground than a baseball that was just released stationary from Mr. Dembrow’s hand. It’s actually snowing right now where I am and I just released a baseball from Mr. Dembrow’s hand at waist height and it certainly wasn’t moving as fast as the snow flakes that easily moved passed it in its first moment after release. (Perhaps if you need to go read that last statement one more time….whose hand did I just released that baseball from (wink, yes you read that right)

    See, I taught my students to think for themselves. Actually, I would be quite confident that my students know the difference between velocity and acceleration & and weight and density. If I was still teaching I would love to put your statement: “Even though some today may think it’s true, let’s not have our schools teach that heavy objects fall faster than lighter objects.” on a test and have my students point out the two major misconceptions that the writer of that phrase holds. Because I would have faith that all of my students would quickly realize that that statement is much more in error than the actual misconception that is held by many.

    To steal your closing line….”No wonder they are confused and lost in today’s society”. (Well…yes….but for a different reason than which you stated….when people tout their own scientific knowledge but then speak inaccuracies and use basic science terms wrong it really does make others confused and lost…)

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    1. Thank-you for the thoughtful comment. I hate when I make mistakes, and I know I often depend on the kindness of strangers. Please give me some time to ponder your words, and I will try to soon let you know what I learn.

      All the best,
      Dennis

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