Thursday, July 02, 2009
Does Teaching Science Lead to Atheism?
Does science lead to atheism? My short answer is "no" just like the answer given by John Wilkins and Matt Young. Their emphasis is on whether scientists are always atheists and whether those who are atheists became atheists because of science or whether they picked science as a profession because they were nonbelievers. Not all scientists are atheists, therefore science doesn't inevitably lead to atheism. That's their position.
Let's ask a different question. Would good science education in the public schools convert religious students to atheism? No, it is not true that exposing students to good science teaching will inevitably make them abandon their religion.
Is that all there is? No, the question can't be answered in such a simple manner. I think that a good science education will threaten most religious beliefs and in some cases will cause students to abandon those beliefs.
Let's imagine what a good science education would look like. The teachers would explain how science works. They would teach that scientific explanations require evidence and logic and that everyone should learn to be skeptical of all claims. Teachers would use examples like evolution, plate tectonics and cosmology to describe good science and how new ideas are incorporated into our understanding of the way things work. They would use astrology, homeopathy, and the deluge as examples of how some explanations do not conform to the expectations of science. The goal is to stimulate students to think and teach them how to do it in a scientific manner.
Imagine that there are religious students in the class. There seem to be three possible ways they could incorporate their knowledge about science into their religious worldview.
1. It will have no effect on their beliefs.
2. It will cause them to question and possibly abandon some of their beliefs.
3. It will reinforce and strengthen their beliefs.
I strongly suspect that more students will start questioning their beliefs when they are exposed to good science education but I admit I have no data to support that suspicion. Does anyone think that the net effect would be to strengthen beliefs or leave them unaffected?