|A Newsletter of Scientific Literacy.||April 2003|
|the fall of Saddam Hussein||
Science teacher thoughts on recent news.
Science and technology have obviously played a major part in the liberation of Iraq. Never in history has a war been fought with such speed and success and with so little collateral damage. With so few casualties not only of civilians but of military personnel, and not only American and British forces but most probably of Iraqi forces too. (The fact that most of them deserted is itself testimony to the weakness of totalitarian regimes, the common sense of ordinary people and not least, our effective intelligence services.) Our military deserve all the praise we can give them for their valor, their humanity and their skillful use of all that modern science and technology can supply.
|scientific methods and values||
It seems to me that there is also another side to this science and technology dividend, a side that few people seem to notice. This is a side that is even more vital to education and to society. This is a side that resonates particularly strongly with teachers of science. This side is what I call the powerful moral authority of scientific methods and values. Let me explain.
All the tyrannies of the past, including above all the totalitarian tyrannies of the 20th and 21st centuries, have been built on unscientific, often anti- scientific foundations. Many of them, like Hitler's Germany, Lenin and Stalin's Soviet Union and indeed Saddam Hussein's Iraq, have been eager enough to use the technological fruits of the scientific endeaver to advance their brutal ends. But without exception they have relied on an antiscientific philosophy, morality and political structure. They have relied, that is, on dogma and rhetoric instead of reason and experience. dogmatic roots Sometimes that dogma comes from religious roots as it did with the many European, Asian and African monarchies of past centuries that claimed to derive their authority from divine right, whether of the pagan gods, the Christian Bible, the Muslim Koran or the multitude of Hindu, Buddhist, Confucian and animist deities. Today the Islamic extremists are the most obvious example of this kind of religious tyranny.
Sometimes it must be admitted tyrannical dogma has come also from perversions of science, as it did with Hitler's obsession with racial purity, with the Soviet Union's dogmatic form of Marxism or indeed with Saddam Hussein's pan-Arab mystique.
|slow growth of scientific outlook||
I would argue that throughout this dismal history the brightest light for humankind's future has been the only too slow growth of scientific methods and values. Or what is much the same thing, the slow growth of reliance on human reason and human experience for the framing and solving of human problems. In political terms this translates into modern democracy.
Democracy, that is, that goes far beyond the ballot box and includes free speech, freedom of the press, separation of church and state, protection of property, free markets, toleration of dissent and diversity and perhaps above all, free and effective education for all citizens. Multiculturalism is fine in so far as it promotes democratic values likes toleration of dissent and diversity but alas, it must be admitted that the full development of democracy has happened primarily in the leading english-speaking countries, Great Britain, Canada, Australia and the United States of America. The very countries that provided the core of the coalition forces that liberated Iraq. This fact should not be taken as an arrogant claim to superiority, but as a challenge to leadership.
As one of our greatest presidents, Abraham Lincoln, put it in the middle of our greatest national crises, "the dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate for the stormy future."
|dogma (and tyranny) vs science (and democracy)||
Dogmas say do it this way and you will gain heaven (or in the case of Nazis, Communists, and pan-Arabs, heaven on earth). Dogmas say do it the wrong way and you will suffer in hell (or in the case of Nazis, Communists and pan-Arabs, hell on earth).
Science (and democracy) say let's examine the facts and try to figure out a better way for all of us here on earth.
Dogmas say such and such is the truth. Evidence is irrelevant.
Science (and democracy) say let us search for the truth. Evidence is what matters.
Dogmas say truth never changes.
Science says today's truth is tomorrow's error.
Dogmas say there is no room for infidels. We must not listen to their lies or put up with their sins.
Science says we welcome dissidents, but we will put their ideas to the harsh test of reality.
In other words, if you look closely enough you will see that this thread of scientific methods and values is the key to western progress all the way from the first scientists and democrats in ancient Greece to the flowering in American, British and Canadian societies today. These are the same societies that together liberated western Europe and Japan some six decades ago and have now liberated the first of the modern Islamic tyrannies, Afghanistan and Iraq.
|education in scientific (democratic) methods and values||
Sadly, force is sometimes necessary when the dogmatic threat is overwhelming as it was from Hitler, Stalin and Saddam Hussein. Fortunately what is needed much more often is a slow but steady and effective education in scientific and democratic methods and values.
Which fact makes it all the more important for the one group in our society that has direct responsibility for nurturing scientific methods and values, that is the science teachers of the Western world, to take their bows and rededicate themselves to the great task remaining before us. That is, to put it in the broadest possible terms, to help advance science and democracy all over the world.
This is a special edition of the Hawkhill Science Newsletter. I would be very interested in any comments you care to make. Contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org. In the meantime you might want to check out our recently updated Hawkhill web site: http://www.hawkhill.com for the latest in video and DVD programs designed specifically to teach scientific methods and values. And thanks for listening, even if you disagree.
Editor: Bill Stonebarger
Hawkhill Associates, Inc.
125 East Gilman St.
Madison, WI 53703
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