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View Diary: Science Versus Christianity – An Ancient Race (52 comments)

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  •  Your points are valid, but (1+ / 0-)
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    1.  Scientific progress is almost always based on individual breakthroughs - if even one individual is discouraged or prohibited from thinking (let alone 7 centuries of suppression), then the probability of a favorable outcome is reduced.  The current human embryonic stem cell controversy is a good example - I would argue that the religious suppression of science over the past 15 yrs almost certainly held back stem cell research in this country and likely caused us to miss a key breakthrough or two.

    2.  I would love to rid the US of superstitious beliefs - I can only be encouraged by long-term trends, and try to stay positive that we will survive the short term insanity.  I work every day to improve STEM understanding in my community.

    3.  I will continue to put my "faith" in science, and try to convince my fellow Americans that it matters.  I see the glass as half full, so shoot me.

    •  On individual breakthroughs (0+ / 0-)

      1. Is there really evidence that science progresses due to individual breakthroughs?  You can assemble Maxwell from LaPlace, Gauss and Ampere.  You an assemble Planck from Wien and Rayleigh.  You can assemble Einstein from Maxwell, Planck, and Lorentz.  And then there's the most notorious pair: Newton-Leibniz.  And while you may argue that stem cell research in the US suffered because of American bioethics, it suffered at a time when you could go anywhere else in the world and pick it up again at the drop of a hat.  I'm not saying that superstition and religion isn't locally inhibiting; I just have serious doubts about its capacity to stall scientific progress in any meaningful fashion.  Both today and even in the days when they burned men and books.

      2. What does "improving STEM understanding" entail, in your opinion?  In mine, it means encouraging and helping friends, neighbors and family become mathematically proficient.

      3. Nah, I won't shoot you.  But I'll say I'm not confident in resting  hope for a considerably more numerate, scientifically proficient public on a spiritual awakening.

      •  I am astonished (0+ / 0-)

        (1) that you trivialize the breakthroughs of Einstein and Maxwell, (and Darwin and Mendel and Mendeleev, for that matter) - if it were that easy, others would have done it and sooner.  Each of those breakthroughs represents a totally new way of looking at the world and appears obvious in retrospect (to the initiated), but was truly revolutionary and controversial in its time.  I still get a chill when I consider the impact of Maxwell's 20 equations as an integrated worldview, even though they were obviously derived from prior work. You should read the Wikipedia description of the history of quaternions for an example of truly out of the box thinking.  And Boole's mathematical formalism had absolutely no impact for over a hundred years.  In my own field, the 1950's paper by Hamming presents a jaw-dropping formal method for efficiently detecting and correcting errors in a stored string of bits - it still astonishes me that it works.  Maybe others would eventually have come up with the same breakthroughs, but would we have had to wait 1700 yrs?

        (2) I try to make the scientific and mathematical basis of the world fun for my students.  I have given many lectures on the probability of intelligent life in the galaxy, based on Drake's equation and the book "Rare Earth" by Ward and Brownlee.  My students love it - it helps them see how life evolved on this planet and let's them make a rational judgment about whether it might have happened somewhere else.  I also discuss and recommend the book "Your Inner Fish" by Neil Shubin with my students - the best book supporting evolution I have ever read, even thought he word "evolution" never appears in the book.  (Maybe I will write a diary about that too.)

        •  It's not that easy (0+ / 0-)

          1. How does it trivialize Einstein's work to point out the contributions of men like Maxwell and Lorentz, or Maxwell by pointing out the contributions of Gauss and Ampere?  My comments were directed at the assertion that breakthroughs are often singular efforts.  I think this is a myth.  They're the product of a lot of hard work by a lot of smart people.  As for quarternions; who do you credit?  Hamilton or Gauss?  Boolean logic is an example of something that was developed and refined continuously to its apex, starting ten years after Boole's initial publication with Jevons picking up the slack.  I don't know what antecedents Hamming may have had, but I doubt he was the first to tackle the problem of error correction.

          2. I don't know what you teach or in what context or what shape your students are in by the time they get to you, but if you're making it more fun and they're becoming proficient in the mechanics of the work, good for you.  As for Your Inner Fish, it's probably light on the rigor for my taste.  As of late, I've been recommending videos and coursework.  We're finally in a day and age where the masses have as much access to actually training material as any undergraduate, and for free as well.

        •  A good book for students on (0+ / 0-)

          the possibility of alien life is Alien Universe by Don Lincoln. Don is a physicist at Fermilab and also works in CERN on the Large Hadron Collider. He has written two other physics books ( I helped edit all three).  Alien Universe is kind of in two parts.  The first is the cultural history of how we view aliens (movies, books, mass media, etc.).  The second half goes into the chemistry issues of how alien life could or could not be formed in various planetary atmospheres, etc.

          I have a big soft spot in my heart for scientists and science teachers who work hard to make the science come alive for students (Don is certainly one).  That was part of my job at Fermilab too (I do not have a science background) and it was one of the most gratifying jobs I ever had.

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