Jerry Coyne responds to Adam Frank’s op-ed piece in NYT last week about science illiteracy. Coyne doesn’t dispute Frank’s points, so much as his recommendations.
But after reading it, I was disappointed, for although Frank’s piece is pro-science, it’s merely another op-ed calling our attention to the pervasiveness of creationism and climate-change denialism, decrying the decline of science in the U.S. in an unconvincing way, and failing to propose another solution beyond “get more kids interested in science.”
He’s not so sure as Frank is that science denialism is that much different today that in past decades.
So I’m not sure I agree with Frank’s assessment that our culture is now “less engaged with science and technology as intellectual pursuits than at any point I can remember.” There are tons of popular science books on the shelves these days, and although Carl Sagan and Steve Gould are no longer with us, we have Richard Dawkins, Brian Greene, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Dan Dennett, Steve Pinker, Lee Smolin, E. O. Wilson, Jared Diamond, and many others, as well as tons of nature shows on television. We are literally awash in popular science, as a visit to any bookstore can confirm.
So Coyne’s solution begins,
1. Weaken America’s hold on religion, which is largely responsible for climate-change denialism and completely responsible for creationism. These movements are brushfires that will re-ignite so long as faith is there to fuel them. We’re in a war not for science, but against superstition, which enables nonscientific views.
Research has shown that religion declines not just with rising national wealth but also with all plausible measures of the quality of life, including length of life, decline of infectious diseases, education, the rise of the welfare state, and more equal distribution of income.
The delusion of religion is not whether or not God exists, but in the absolute certainty of knowing the unknowable.
Like that last line especially.
Richard Dawkins created a twitterstorm last week over a comment about how few Muslims have ever won Nobel Prizes. He got a lot of flack for the implied racism of that comment, but to his credit, he responded in detail, taking some blame while expanding on his remarks and trying to put his tweet in context. It’s about what modern Muslims claim, as opposed to what they have done.
If you are so numerous, and if your science is so great, shouldn’t you be able to point to some pretty spectacular achievements emanating from among those vast numbers? If you can’t today but once could, what has gone wrong for the past 500 years? Whatever it is, is there something to be done about it?
His point meshes with the Donald Prothero comment that Arabic culture was, 1000 years ago, a pinnacle of civilization; what happened that caused it to fade? (Answer: religious extremism)
Dawkin’s response is a model of responsible, patient consideration for the points of his critics. The kind of thing you never see from the reckless predictions and accusations of the those on religious right, who are always wrong.