December 03, 2007

The Lesson for Me

Having spent a couple of days now grading students' term papers for the bio lab I teach, I see more clearly than ever the advantage the Creationists and Intelligent Design believers and those who argue for science based on mythology instead of science-cum-science truly have over those of us who care up empirical, evidence-based research.

It's very easy to take some single book as your be-all and end-all; people find that easy to grasp. Unlike in religion, however, there is and never shall be a single "big book of science." To understand science entails work. It entails discipline. It entails effort. It's hard, at least relative to simply accepting some authority's "inerrant" word on the same subject. Like any system in nature, people are inclined to find their lowest energy state. They'll always naturally gravitate to the easiest thing. In this case, it's that which requires the least amount of independent thought and synthesis. This is why religion-based explanations can be related in a few pages of text, but a sound knowledge of science takes years of dedication and mountains of paper.

It's really quite easy to make up a story, and it's really quite difficult to show how things work in the real world. For this alone, I doubt there will ever come a day when the majority of people, particularly those who have lived all their lives in an environment of near push-button instant gratification, not only accept a scientific worldview but do so because they truly have come to understand it.

Science doesn't promise gratification; answering one question generally results in having to do more work to answer the new ones that have thus been engendered. By simply putting off the ultimate gratification to some posited and unknowable afterlife, religion at least guarantees the believer that even if life sucks right now, if they perform a few simple actions and maintain a few simple beliefs in the face of all evidence to the contrary, they can be certain of achieving total gratification. Thus does all of existence become a simple carrot-or-stick. If the desire for gratification isn't enough, then the fear of punishment is just as good. This may be infantile, but I don't think we ever really lose this infantile part of ourselves.

There will always be Creationists for exactly the same reason that the majority of students will turn in poorly written term papers.

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