Anne wrote a killer post earlier about the new class that may be offered at the publicly-funded school. I spent a good ten minutes ranting to my brother this morning about it and wasn’t done ranting, so here’s another post with my less-measured feelings.
We will also investigate physical reality and the boundaries of science for any hidden wisdom within this reality which may illuminate the central questions of the purpose of our existence and the meaning of life. This course is designed to allow students to take a more in-depth look at the beauty and complexity of the universe and life and to give food for thought about deeper questions which remain central to human existence.
Because “I’m going to either say, or strongly imply, that science points to the conclusion that god exists, even though this is represented nowhere in scientific peer-reviewed literature” would have been rejected out of hand. So in order to worm your evangelism into the classroom you have to be sneaky. And, since Christianity doesn’t make anybody better, you were willing to be sneaky.
Anne already pointed out the fact that science doesn’t tackle the issues of purpose of our existence or the meaning of life. The mere introduction of those questions reveals that this is not a course that will be based on science – which is bullshit because, as of right now, the credits fulfill a science requirement for students. What caught me was the idea that students may be treated to “hidden wisdom”. Is there a more obvious synonym for “shit we have no reason to believe” than “hidden wisdom”? First: college courses at the undergrad level teach what we know. If the wisdom is “hidden” then we don’t know it. You simply cannot teach what isn’t known – it’s an absurd concept. I suspect that “hidden wisdom” in this case is a euphemism for “pretensions to evidence for god’s existence that have long been shot down in peer-review or elsewhere”.
Second, I’m all for encouraging students to take a more in-depth look at the beauty and complexity of the universe. But, as Anne pointed out, the teacher of this course is a Christian who likes to interject religion into his teaching, and this course is clearly an attempt to give him free reign to do just that. Once you accept science as the best method to knowledge available to us, you quickly realize that someone rising from the dead or walking on water is not, and never was, part of the beauty and complexity of the universe. You must choose between biology/physics or stories of someone rising from the dead/walking on water. If one is true, the other must be false. Might I suggest that the way to take a more in-depth look at the complexity of the universe is by learning and relying upon all the scientific principles that make up the universe, and that a teacher who muddles the two perhaps shouldn’t be trusted to teach reliable science in this class?
I’m also all for students learning how science and religion have interacted over the years. They should start by learning that everything we’ve ever explained has been found to be the product of natural forces acting upon inanimate objects. Literally every single time. Many of these discoveries were quite embarrassing to religions, particularly Christianity, which were telling people different stories. Turns out sickness isn’t the result of demonic possession. Who knew? Not god, obviously.
Students should also learn that acquiring knowledge if a very different, and much more arduous road than simply claiming to have (hidden/revealed) knowledge (that, wouldn’t you know, is not subject to scientific inquiry). The former is the path of the scientist, and the latter is the path of the faithful. If human history has shown us anything, it’s that looking at something we don’t understand and claiming god must have done it is as sure a method as the laws of physics allow to reach a swift, but gravely unreliable conclusion. If you want knowledge that actually affects the world, if you want to make airplanes fly and if you want to make telephones that work, the quick and easy path is not for you. Seeking knowledge is a journey of hard work and actual deep thought, where “I don’t know” is the placeholder until we figure it out instead of “god did it”. That’s what students should be taught in science classes. To search for wisdom, beauty, and complexity in the same vein that gave us every conclusion that science later fixed (and validates those conclusions even in the face of scientific evidence to the contrary) is like taking an in-depth look at the complexities of the ocean by looking at a fucking puddle.