Why I’m Pro-Science, and why I’m offended when you are not . . .

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The title of this essay is bound to confuse you, maybe even offend you. You may be asking, “What do you mean? You’re offended if I’m not Pro-Science? How can I not be Pro-Science? The statement makes little to no sense to me!” But I am not saying that you must be an expert on science, have an interest in science, or be well versed in the scientific literature. I am not saying that you must actively defend science from pseudoscience or educate yourself on quantum mechanics, evolutionary theory, or genetics. If science is not your interest, I have no qualms with you. The wealth of knowledge we have across the countless disciplines is so vast that it is impossible for to learn it all in one’s lifetime, let alone all the science we currently have and the science that our future has in store for us; as a result, I do not expect (nor should one realistically expect) one to be an expert on science. Hell, I’m not an expert on the science. I’m not a scientist or a science expert. I am self-admitted layman with a Bachelor of Arts in English and Rhetoric from San Diego State University. I know what the average person should know (but what the average American unfortunately does not) when it comes to basic evolutionary theory, astronomy, physical geography, and so on. So I do not (nor have I ever claimed) to be an expert on every single in and outs of the multiple scientific disciplines. If I don’t know the answer to a question, I will admit gaps in my knowledge and refer to the experts. And by experts, the people who have spent years, even decades, studying the topic at hand. If you are not an expert on a scientific discipline or have little or no interest in the topic, that’s perfectly fine. That does not make you anti-science. That means it’s not a topic that interests you. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

What is absolutely wrong, however, is when you take an active stance against science, or worse yet, take a stance that there is a conspiracy within the scientific community.

 

 

What do I mean by this? Admittedly this statement is broad and does not convey a lot of useful information.  Most people, whether it be expressing the sentiments through social media such as Facebook or Twitter, the news with talking heads, real life coffee shop conversations, or discourse in the privacy among friends, are not going to flat out admit that they are anti-science. The average joe or jane on the street if you were to interview them would rarely tell you that they are against science or the goals of the scientific community. Most of them say they support science and appreciate what science has done for our society. The smart phone in their hands or the laptops they have in their backpacks is evident that these people reap and appreciate the benefits science has brought to us. So what do I mean when I say, “What is absolutely wrong, however, is when you take an active stance against science, or worse yet, take a stance that there is a conspiracy within the scientific community”? To understand what I mean by this, a brief summary of where I am coming from is necessary.

When I was reconsidering Christianity back in 2008-2009, I was admittedly a poor student when it came to science. In High School back in the early to mid 2000s I hated my science classes, even though I got passing grades in most of them. In second year of college, I had taken a Physical Geography class in the spring. It was one of the hardest undergrad classes I’ve ever taken at the time because of how demanding the instructor was. I slacked off in the first half of the semester arrogantly thinking that this class is going to be a piece of cake. I failed the first test horribly! That big fat juicy “F” on my paper was a humongous wake up call because my grades were on the line and I was worried I would have to take the class again to make for the failure. So I studied hard, studying harder than I ever studied in a science class before. I met with the instructor in his office at almost every chance I got, going over the material, asking questions, and clarifying my understanding of the subject matter that I felt I did not fully grasp in the classroom. The instructor was understanding and sympathetic to my situation and gave me additional opportunities to improve. I eventually learned from conversations with him his dedication to his students, camping field trips he would go on a regular basis to not only improve his own knowledge of his field, but how much he was willing to go out of his way to help students who truly wanted help. He was pretty well liked and admired within the department, and as a result I grew to admire the dedication he brought.

A year later I took a marine biology class and while the experience was not as memorable as my experience with the physical geography class, I still remember the amount of care the instructor had in wanting her students to learn the material. By this time I had become a Christian again, but I was going through such a severe crisis of faith that it made the class a horrible mental exercise. It had nothing to do with the instructor or the material I was required to learn, but my personal struggle to reconcile my recently rediscovered Christianity to that of science I was being exposed felt like it would end in failure. The religious literature I was reading at the time did not help either, since most of it was evangelical literature that argued for the incompatibility between faith and evolution. I was having doubts about the truth value of Christian theology, the reliability of the gospels, if God exists, what happens after I die, and so on. My doubts were philosophical and emotional, and it felt like I was in a black hole that I could not get out of. I remember when I went public with my doubts to groups of friends. I expected to have all my questions answered and everything would be back to normal. Instead I am given a copy of Josh McDowell’s “Evidence that Demands a Verdict” and then given an explanation as to why evolution is false. I was recommended anti-evolution material and told that not all scientists agree with evolution. None of this helped me at all, and it took me a while to get over this kind of unhealthy spiritual gymnastics I unconsciously was engaging in. But I am not going to go into further detail about the crisis of faith as that is a separate topic of its own. The point of me bringing this up is to describe the experience I had in my science education in my undergrad years. I was unknowingly hostile to science at this particular point of time in my life, ignoring evidence that contradicted my understanding of evolution, and I was even scared of the implications of if sciences were true to my philosophical worldview. At this point in time I did not have a nuanced or proper understanding of the role science is supposed to have as I do now.

When I transfered to San Diego State University and took that Astrobiology class, that was when the importance of a proper science education finally clicked with me. Remembering my experience in my physical geography class, I studied the book and studied the lectures. I went to my instructor’s office and went over homework that was needed to pass the class. In the process of all this, I reacquainted with myself with the scientific literature regarding evolutionary theory, cosmology, and physical geography and took the time to analyze and understand the evidence that convinced the majority of scientists around the world why evolution is true and why things such as Creationism or Geocentrism are tripe. Remember when Lee Strobel wrote The Case for a Creator? His treatment of the Miller-Urey experiment was uncharitable and misleading about how scientists in the field actually view the experiment, and his interview with Jonathan Wells made me question his credibility on this topic since learning about how Wells is considered a crackpot within the field of biology. The material I had read about through Answers in Genesis or Christian Answers I’ve found to have refutations provided just by the text books and science instructors I had access to at the time. I found that creationists typically misunderstand the fossil record or scientific terminology just by the material I was studying. In addition, I’ve come to find that a lot of scientific terminology that the creationist literature describes as dehumanizing are not dehumanizing at all. When we call a human being a “primate” or that when we say that we are “animals,” that says nothing for or against the idea of humans created in the image of God. For example, when we say that human beings are “animals,” this is technically accurate because the word “animal” under a scientific definition just means a multicellular organism. Learning this and recognizing the difference between colloquial definitions and scientific terminology made me realized how duped I felt by creationist or pseudoscientific literature I have been provided. This thankfully did not destroy my faith in Christianity but gave me an insensitive to disregard falsehood in favor of what is true, even if I was not comfortable with what I was learning.

Obviously I can go on for hours on this topic alone about how my crisis of faith affected the way I interacted with science in the past, but for now I want to get back on track. The experience I had in my science education in my undergrad made me appreciate the time and hard work scientists put into into this field. The literature I read, the lectures I watched, the YouTube videos I’ve seen, the scientists and science instructors I’ve interacted with and helped me in my science education made me appreciate the work scientists do. I’ve gained a better understanding of the scientific method and realized that the scientific method, while not perfect and that there is always room for improvement, is currently the best method for which scientists can help us come to deeper understandings about the natural world. Scientists create a hypothesis and if that hypothesis does not pass rigorous testing, we rightfully either throw it out or revise it. When something passes rigorous testing and can be tested and retested, it has the potential of becoming a theory. If new evidence comes along and refutes the theory, we throw that out and start over. That’s what so beautiful about science. Its constant need to self-correct itself means we have a reliable method to learn about the natural world that we can trust. Science is not built in a vacuum, and thus when there is human error, another scientist or group of scientists can come along and correct that human error.

But there is a mentality that exists that finds this problematic; science isn’t infallible so it must be wrong. If the God question comes up or a conspiracy theory is rejected by the scientific consensus, there must be a conspiracy among scientists to suppress the truth! The majority of scientists are atheist or agnostic, so therefore that must mean that there is a conspiracy to keep God out of the science classroom! Scientists reject the moon landing hoax theory? Scientists must be trying to cover up the evidence that overwhelmingly demonstrates that we never landed on the moon! Scientists reject Geocentrism? Scientists must reject what the Bible supposedly teaches about where the Earth is or what the Catholic Church supposedly taught during the time of Galileo! The examples I can give are too numerous. It is this mentality I oppose because it spits in the face of all the hardworking men and women in science who spent years, even decades, studying their chosen scientific field. Are you really going to sit there and tell me that these men and women, who had I had the honor and privilege of conversing with and witnessing the dedication they bring to their passion, are lying to me? It reminds me of the years I’ve spent writing, improving my craft, reading the authors like Flannery O’Connor or Ernest Hemingway or Franz Kafka and admiring their work, and constantly reflecting on the art to find ways I can make contributions. I view scientists who bring that kind of dedication to their field in a similar matter. They are artists in their field and are deserving of respect and admiration as a doctor or a teacher. People who bring their passion and their determination to analyze and understand our world and improve our understanding of the known and unknown universe. To say that there is a conspiracy among scientists to hide the truth about something or that scientists can’t be trusted or that scientists don’t know what they are talking about is to be steep in bigoted ignorance.

Does that mean that scientists are perfect and that we should trust every single single they say? Not at all. Scientists are human beings who are just as capable of making mistakes as me and you. Scientists can be wrong, and there can be scientists who do express idiotic claims when they speak about subjects they are not familiar with (I’m looking at you Richard Dawkins). Scientists should not be treated like Gods and the field of science should not be treated as infallible. We must be constantly aware of the limitations of science, understand how science actually works, and have the humility to accept that science is constantly self-correcting because of how it understands human error.

On a final note, when you understand the things I have written in this note, you will understand why I get offended when Creationists, Conspiracy theorists, anti-vaccine people, and so on, attack mainstream science. It is why I have little to no patience with these kind of people, not because they are questioning what scientists are saying, but that most of the time they are talking outside their field. To use an English literature example, it would be like if someone started criticizing T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land and attacking T.S. Eliot’s intentions in writing the grandiose poem by claiming that he was a woman , when anyone who has even a basic understanding of English literature would know that T.S. Eliot was not a woman but a man. Questioning scientific data is one thing (and should undoubtably be encouraged), but you must know how science works first before you have the audacity to make outrageous scientific claims. And if you have the nerve to cut down scientists and make bogus claims to conspiracy when the scientific consensus is not in your favor, then you have forfeited the right to be taken seriously.

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