Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: For Good Friday

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  • Rich Lock,

    Just to be contrary about science education, aren't there two parts to it?

    In maths, we mostly want kids to learn arithmetic and useful techniques - we don't in fact teach them much if anything about induction and proof. And in science, don't we really also want to impart a lot of handy basic facts? I'd say that evolution just squeaks in on that count, if only to make sure they understand why they have to finish all their antibiotics, but I reckon a curriculum that was really focussed on applying empirical techniques to establish a body of provisionally provable "knowledge" wouldn't bear much resemblance to school science as we know it at all. Plus all those skeptical experimenting kids would drive every adult in the vicinity insane.

    Yes, but the scales are at present a little too tipped towards the rote-learning of a whole bunch of (what can appear to be meaningless) facts.

    A mate of mine was fond of observing that he was interested and motivated enough to get his physics Phd in spite of 13 years of science teaching from the state.

    Another mate gave up on his physics degree after being taught by rote that the correction factor of 10 he was required to apply to his calulations was there 'just because, alright?'. When he started asking difficult questions about dark matter and various other possible explanations, he was told to STFU and stick to the syllabus.

    Teaching by rote is far, far easier than teaching people to observe facts, apply an analysis, and arrive at an independently verifiable conclusion, unfortunately.

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2728 posts Report Reply

  • James Littlewood*,

    Q: The "big" religions are over-represented in murderous rampage stats?

    A: 9/11 wasn't an act of war.

    That, as my boss would say, is just bouncy castle floating away.

    Agree religion's been unfairly represented in the #1 cause of all warfare leaderboard. But it's also been grotesquely masqueraded as the cause of war, by the aggressors themselves.

    "Islamo-faschist," anyone? Or perhaps PIL's Johny Lydon ...

    "Destroooyyy the iiiinnnnfideeeelllah!"

    Auckland • Since Mar 2008 • 410 posts Report Reply

  • philipmatthews,

    I had a look at that survey as well. Despite the way it was mostly reported -- "More NZers believe in faith healers than God" etc -- I was surprised at how much belief there is for a country that is often said to lead the world in secularism.

    Only 27% have no doubts about God's existence, but once you add up that 27%, the 18% who believe in God and also have doubts, the 8% who believe in God sometimes and not other times and the 19% who believe in "a higher power", you get up to 72% of NZers who can't be called agnostics or atheists. Who believe, most of the time, in something external/supernatural/bigger. I'm surprised at how high that is.

    And only 8% think the Bible is the literal word of God, but another 33% think it is "the inspired word of God" but shouldn't all be taken literally. So 41% think that God dictated the Bible in some way? That seems high too.

    And the thing about faith healers is that 39% think they can heal and the same number think that psychics, Tarot Card readers etc really do the business. And a staggering 44% believe in religious miracles. Not quite the Godless society yet.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2007 • 656 posts Report Reply

  • Idiot Savant,

    Wouldn't it be more relevant to ask: should we teach children that things fall because of gravity, or because God intervenes and makes them fall?

    No no no. Is it gravity, or because like elements seek each other, as established by god through Aquinas ripping off Aristotle via Averroes?

    Palmerston North • Since Nov 2006 • 1716 posts Report Reply

  • Geoff Lealand,

    But maybe they believe in Hell, FOR OTHER PEOPLE!

    or, Sartre put it, "Hell is other people"???

    Screen & Media Studies, U… • Since Oct 2007 • 2559 posts Report Reply

  • Isabel Hitchings,

    I don't think the point of education (in science or any other area) should be about rote learning facts so much as that in the teaching of research and analysis methods it's inevitable that facts will be discovered.

    Christchurch • Since Jul 2007 • 719 posts Report Reply

  • B Jones,

    I think the thing that bugs many people about organised religion is more its organisation than its religion. Non-specific credulous flim-flammery is given a free pass to a great extent, but only up to the point it becomes organised enough to start campaigning on state funded homeopathy, for example, or sending hundreds of black-clad men down Lambton Quay chanting "enough is enough fluoride." It's the power the big religions have to mobilise supporters and use the group dynamic to promote their beliefs that makes free-thinker types uncomfortable.

    Which makes me realise why state-enforced atheism (as opposed to a secular state) isn't something I'd feel comfortable with either - using the state's organisational power to whip up mass rallies and suppress other beliefs is bad news whether it's done promoting something that's objectively true or demonstrably false. And I think a lot of atheists are turned off by attempts to build atheist organisations or communities, having become atheists in the first place because of a certain independence of spirit.

    So perhaps the shortage of strong religious communities in NZ is there because people want it that way? That we're a bunch of ornery independents wanting to find our own way in the cosmic scheme of things and don't like being told what to do by anyone?

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 976 posts Report Reply

  • Jan Farr,

    9/11 wasn't an act of war

    It probably was though, Giovanni, given the numbers in the Arab world that have been deprived of their land and everything else by some very nasty bullies.

    Carterton • Since Apr 2008 • 395 posts Report Reply

  • Brickley Paiste,

    Great piece, thanks.

    I struggle with the "let them be irrational" versus "religion is evil and should be abolished" feelings in my head. Sure, spooky feelings about nature and osteopathy might be irrational. We're all a bit irrational. But religion is seriously irrational and on more important things than trees at dusk or your sore back. Virgins don't have babies. What consenting adults do with their genitals is not a moral issue. People don't live beyond death. At least not in my experience...

    And isn't your spooky feeling about nature actually deeply rational in a way? The Romantics had the same feelings because the cosmos really is indifferent. Those spooky trees are only there because of things happening in space.

    Since Mar 2009 • 164 posts Report Reply

  • James,

    So should we be teaching students that light is a particle or a wave?

    Um, yes.

    New Zealand • Since Feb 2007 • 34 posts Report Reply

  • Nick Melchior,

    Another mate gave up on his physics degree after being taught by rote that the correction factor of 10 he was required to apply to his calulations was there 'just because, alright?'. When he started asking difficult questions about dark matter and various other possible explanations, he was told to STFU and stick to the syllabus.

    In my experience people like this are actually told to shut the fuck up because they are disrupting other people's learning by asking questions that don't actually make any sense, that others can see the obvious answer to or other, similar, issues. I've got no idea about this particular case (or about physics in general) but that's what my guess would be, having been a university tutor.

    Melbourne • Since Nov 2006 • 36 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    I collected some data on religion for a study I ran recently (as yet unpublished). In addition to asking about religious affiliation, we had a question on the extent to which religion influences your daily life, on a 7 point scale. Fully half of participants went with the "no influence" endpoint, and 70% were under the midpoint.
    It was interesting, because in overseas research on the same topic, religion/religious influence had been quite a strong predictor. Here, nothing.

    That actually doesn't surprise me at all.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22834 posts Report Reply

  • ScottY,

    The Jews were a convenient scape-goat for Hitler, and if he hadn't had them he would've found something else - like the homosexuals, or the Gypsies.

    It strikes me as a bit disingenuous to suggest religion isn't responsible for what Hitler did to the Jews. Yes, he could have focused his persecution entirely on other groups, but antisemitism was so widespread in Europe that Jews were an easy target.

    Vietnam and Korea, both about Communism, though I guess if you really stretched that out it's kind of religious.

    Kind of? What part of fanatic Maoism during the 50s and 60s wasn't religious in nature? i.e. the cult of personality, the little red book, the irrational hatred of class enemies, etc etc.

    Iran-Iraq War? Land and power, because Saddam sure as hell didn't give a fig about religion.

    And the Ayatollah didn't either? I think you'll find religion had a major role in that war.

    Religion just defined the teams, and if it hadn't been religion then there would still have been ethnicity, or some other way of picking the sides.

    Religion doesn't get off that lightly. You'll find that almost every other way to "pick the sides" has a religious element to it. In some cases the only thing that defines "ethnicity" is religious practice.

    Anyway, I'm done and I feel much better now.

    West • Since Feb 2009 • 794 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler,

    So should we be teaching students that light is a particle or a wave?

    Um, yes.

    Really? Then which?

    Do we teach them it's a particle? Or do we teach them its a wave? I'd be in favour of teaching both. And pointing out the contradictions. Why choose one scientific theory over another?

    This was my point - to dispute the argument that there can't be two sides to science. Competing theories abound in science just as in other disciplines.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 3207 posts Report Reply

  • Brent Jackson,

    In case people missed it in Emma's MIssionary Position, here is a link to an interesting article in New Scientist magazine, which discusses a theory that, because humans are very good at relating causes to effects, they tend to come up with fallacious explanations when they do not what the real cause is. This pre-supposes us to belief in supernatural causes.

    Obviously it is not easily measured (or shown to be falsifiable), but I found it interesting. It has helped to allay my bewilderment at why so many people believe in god.

    Cheers,
    Brent.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 618 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Litterick,

    Competing theories abound in science just as in other disciplines.

    Yes, but they are theories within science - established by scientific method and disputed by scientific arguments. Intelligent Design is not a scientific argument - it says "this is odd; we can't explain it; therefore God did it. QED."

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 1000 posts Report Reply

  • Brent Jackson,

    Oh, and Graeme, you've missed James' point.

    Light is both a wave and a particle, a wave packet if you will.

    You asked:

    Why choose one scientific theory over another?

    There aren't two conflicting scientific theories here, just some quantum weirdness.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 618 posts Report Reply

  • Lyndon Hood,

    Graeme, the thing with that particular example is that people don't seriously contend that light is just-a-particle or that it's just-a-wave. - people contend that it acts as both (or rather, as one or the other - Hence the "Um, yes.").

    While this means that quantum particles are odd, it's not a dispute between two positions.

    I suspect you'll find either serious disputes are at too advanced a level to be taught in schools or it would be wise to go with a simple version anyway.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1115 posts Report Reply

  • Lyndon Hood,

    snap

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1115 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler,

    Paul - absolutely. The problem I had was with the implicit argument:

    Evolution is a scientific theory.
    Intelligent design is not a scientific theory, which we shouldn't teach as science.
    Therefore we should not take a relativistic sense of 'balance' or 'fairness to both sides' and extrapolate it to science, where that kind of thinking doesn't really work.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 3207 posts Report Reply

  • Rich Lock,

    In my experience people like this are actually told to shut the fuck up because they are disrupting other people's learning by asking questions that don't actually make any sense, that others can see the obvious answer to or other, similar, issues. I've got no idea about this particular case (or about physics in general) but that's what my guess would be, having been a university tutor.

    Your guess would be wrong, although I do take your underlying point.

    Rather than telling someone to STFU who is disrupting a class by labouring on an obvious point, or asking dumb* questions, why not tell them you'll talk to them outside the group session?

    There are ways and ways to keep classes running smoothly without beating individuals into a surly submission, and giving them the hump over an entire subject which they were once quite enthusiastic about.

    In this particular case 'dark matter'
    was the answer. The question being something along the lines of 'why does the Universe act as if it's actually far heavier than it should be based on the amount of matter we can see or hypothesise from direct observation?'. It was just tha the University Syllabus hadn't caught up with what was at the time the theoretical cutting edge.

    *Ever the heard the line about there being no such thing as a stupid question?

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2728 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart,

    *Ever the heard the line about there being no such thing as a stupid question?

    Ever worked in customer service?

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4651 posts Report Reply

  • Rich Lock,

    Evolution is a scientific theory.

    To clarify slightly, and to try to go some small way towards closing the knowledge gap which is so ruthlessly exploited by fundies:

    Evolution is a fact.

    The theory part is why it happens.

    We can observe evolution happening in a number of controlled and uncontrolled situations. We just don't know why.

    We have theories which suggest why it happens. We can't prove them right or wrong. Therefore they are still theories. This doesn't stop evolution itself being an observable fact.

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2728 posts Report Reply

  • Rich Lock,

    Ever worked in customer service?

    Yes.

    And thank you for unlocking that long-repressed memory.

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2728 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler,

    Oh, and Graeme, you've missed James' point.

    Light is both a wave and a particle, a wave packet if you will.

    I am aware of the wave-particle duality of light.

    That is why I used the example.

    I do not think that schools should only teach that light is a wave. I do not think that schools should only teach that light is made of particles. I was rather surprised when someone answered my question "should we be teaching students that light is a particle or a wave?" with a "yes", instead of a "no; we should teach them it's both."

    My other example (what caused the extinction of the dinosaurs?) was obviously the better one for getting the general point across that disagreement and differing points of view do have a place in science.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 3207 posts Report Reply

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