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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Why educated people should know something about science

An acquaintance of mine, a frequent blogger, is Dean of a Seminary, for a Christian university. He posts on lots of different topics. But he rather surprised me, a couple of days ago, by defending the teaching of science and math in a university curriculum. This was a preemptive strike at those who say (sometimes loudly and frequently) "Why should we have to learn this? We'll never use it."

It shouldn't have surprised me, because Professor Schenck, I happen to know, began his college career as a chemistry major at the school where I taught until my retirement. He was called to the ministry while in college, and changed majors.

So why should science and math be included in a college curriculum, even for music, art, and English majors? Here's what he said, with some brief commentary by me:

1. Knowledge in science and math is based on evidence. Scientists and mathematicians are not supposed to claim to have discovered something without giving good evidence for what they are claiming. Unfortunately, some people seem to think that "Because I said so," or "Because that is what I want to believe," is good enough. It shouldn't be a way of establishing "truth."

2. "This may sound mean, but one of the most important functions of math and science in a curriculum is to confront us with how stupid we are. In America, everyone thinks their opinion is as valuable as anyone else's." - To me, this is a re-statement of point 1.

3. Studying science and math help us understand how the world works.

Schenck went on to say that he understood that Christian colleges need to be very careful in dealing with certain matters, by which he meant origins, and Young-Earth Creationism. Some of their constituents, including donors, Board members, students, and some faculty, may believe that YEC is the only valid Christian belief, and stop giving, enrolling, or teaching, if a faculty member of a Christian college is bold enough to claim that there may be alternatives.

Here are two additional reasons for studying science and math in college. They are mostly expansions of point 3:
4. Educated people should have some idea of how dependent on the natural world we are, and also that we need to take care of it. In fact, we have a God-given duty to do so. We are absolutely dependent on photosynthesis, radiation from the sun, the properties of water, Hydrogen, Carbon and Oxygen, and a lot of other things.

5. Educated people should have some idea of how large the universe is, how old it appears to be, and how small cells, molecules and atoms are. They should also have some idea of the diversity of life, and the variety of materials that the universe is made of, and the many types of objects found in the universe.

Thanks for reading!

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