There’s a new god in town

There’s a new god in town

After decades of the Supreme Court telling us that religion can’t be practiced in public school, a university president and a celebrity scientist have a novel idea on how to smuggle a new form of worship into education. Fake news? Keep reading.

In a post this week, Michael Crow, President of Arizona State University, endorsed a proposal advanced by astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, a pop-science evangelist whose twitter feed – @neiltyson – is littered with memes like, “why Godzilla can’t happen.” Dr. Tyson shared his science education concept in a media interview where, according to Crow, Dr. Tyson –

… talked about the need for a K-12 science class that is not focused on specific fields such as biology, chemistry or physics, but on “what science is as an enterprise–and how and why it works, and how it drives curiosity and inquiry.”

Here is Crow’s take on that:

“I agree. Such a course would also explore the role of science in achieving socially useful outcomes, indeed improving the quality of life on our increasingly crowded planet. This course would help explain how science’s essential value is not solely for the sake of knowledge; good science wedded with good policy really can change the world.”

I have several problems with this. The first is my concern that, having successfully kicked respect for, and understanding of, traditional religious faith out of public classrooms, secularists now want to replace it with Scientism, that vaulted, near-spiritual adoration of science as the creator of “socially useful outcomes,” and the only true candidate (as they see it) for “improving the quality of life on our increasingly crowded planet.” For my money, that is just another example of worshipping transcendence, albeit an anti-religious, and smugly self-aggrandizing type, where the “scientific method” is their Scripture, and scientists and science educators are the high priests.

Understand; I have no doubt that President Crow adopts the Tyson concept with the best of intentions. And I have high regard for Arizona State University. In fact, a number of years ago I was honored to address, along with representatives of the Federal Communications Commission, it’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications. But good intent is not enough, especially when scientists like Tyson and his ilk are openly agnostic about God (relegating faith, at best, to “personal truth” and noting the lack of divine “benevolence” in the universe as evidence against faith) yet all the while acting as celebrants and worshipful believers in science as the only real hope, as Crow calls it, “to change the world.” Any public classroom that preaches this new gospel while condemning or censoring counterarguments for a God-imprinted world populated by humans who have a moral and spiritual dimension, is not just unfair; it is intellectual totalitarianism.

Which brings me to my second point. In my undergraduate years I took a class in “philosophy of science.” I suggest that it be taught along side Tyson’s proposed class, because it explores, and often exposes, the weaknesses in the presuppositions upon which the entire scientific enterprise is based – things like the reliability of experimentation, the constancy of the observed natural order, and the inconsistency of the concept of the scientific method. Scientists often cringe at this level of attack, and fight back by showing the great advances that science has made as proof that science is a special font of knowledge. The point here is not to suggest that science is useless and untrustworthy; clearly that is not true. Rather, science, in the words of one school administrator I knew, “needs to stick to the knitting,” rather than veering off beyond its limits and dialoguing in areas where it is the most ill equipped to comment. There is also the distinction to be made – one that is ignored in the Tyson proposal – between the true value of studying science of biology, or geology, or chemistry in particular – and the false, whole-cloth exaltation of science as some special authority for truth.

Professor Paul Feyerabend, both a scientist and a famed philosopher, made a career out of rigorously refuting this brand of Scientism hubris. As the writer of his obituary noted, Feyerabend held that “since there is no single ‘scientific method,’ scientific success flows not only from rational arguments, but also from a mixture of subterfuge, rhetoric, conjecture, politics and propaganda.”

Of course, scientists bedecked with academic initials after their names deserve respect for their dedication and their professional accomplishments. But educators like President Crow need to also remember that those initials spell-out PhD, not GoD. The formation of any curriculum that even indirectly infers that this new Scientism is the chalice-bearer of absolute truth and the guarantor of human advancement is an absolutely bad idea.




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