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Sigal Tifferet

Senior Lecturer, Ruppin Academic Center

TEDCRED 500+

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Can people who deny science be educated? How?

Some of my undergraduate students deny scientific research with the following claims: (1) my experience shows otherwise, (2) scientific results are always changing, (3) each person has his own truth.
Is there a way to change their way of thinking, or should it be treated as a belief, similar to religion which is unfalsifiable?
If it is subject to change, how would you go about achieving that change?
Please do not answer the question "Should people who deny science be educated?", that is a different issue.

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  • Feb 23 2011: I have been teaching for 20 years. During that time, I have had many students who deny science. For years, I tried to help them see science as a tool, not an end in itself. A carpenter would not deny a hammer. A writer would not deny a pen. This worked for some students. Other students continued to reject science.

    Then I tried to present students with the history of the development of science. I offered them two "paths" in this history: 1) pantheism and creation myths as an early attempt at a kind of science and 2) the development of prehistoric to more modern tools for agriculture and warfare. In juxtaposition, these two "events" demonstrate how ravenous humans are to understand our world. But the development of modern tools from prehistoric ones shows that we base our understanding on trial-and-error and observation of results. Pantheism and creation myths demonstrate our narrative ability to create a "truth" from unreliable observable information: the earth is flat. the sun is all-powerful, the night sky is dotted with tiny holes through which light passes. When the observable information becomes more reliable, we no longer see the sun as a mighty deity or the earth as flat. Science and religion are not mutually exclusive, but in fact come from the same source: human curiosity. This helped some students to become more comfortable with science. Other students just shrugged their shoulders and said, "No way. Can't be."

    Recently, I've started keeping files of hard data that clearly indicate the overwhelming likelihood of evolution and the age of the earth. These 2 scientific theories are among the most "denied" by students I've met. When I ask students to look through the data, some of them begin to question their ideas. Others just shrug and say, "I don't care. The scientists must have made mistakes."

    I'll keep on trying, though. When I don't want to anymore, I'll quit.

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