Saturday, November 27, 2010

Skepticism, Atheism, and Relationships

This is a true story.

I am not making this up. Names have been changed to protect the original source from possibly getting his sorry ass divorced.

Last Tuesday was like any other Tuesday. A typical day on the hamster wheel of life. Then my phone rang. I picked up.


"Dude, I've got a story for Purgatory." It was one of my close buddies, who is an atheist.

My ears perked up. Under normal circumstances I troll for interesting stories from folks. One of my favorite questions to people I just met is "What's your craziest story?" A bartender, who also fights (MMA), told me his wacky tale (after knowing me for 15 minutes) of how he was held up at knife point. Another time a towtruck driver related a story of how a guy in a convertable called for help because he had locked his keys in the car (yes - the top was down). If you want to hear crazy stories then just ask because people want to talk about themselves. However, this was different. My buddy's lead-in was a wacky story. This had to be good.

I wasn't disappointed and neither will you be (hopefully).

"Billy brought home his report card today," he continued. Billy is my friend's 9 year old. "He got all A's except for Science. He got a C in Science."

Not really a sign of the apocalypse.

"I talked to my wife about this. I was hoping to come up with a few ideas on how to help him out with the Science class. She turns to me and says, "Why is science important?""


Longer pause.

Now, before you assume my friend's wife is a dolt understand that she is a professional with an advanced degree. I've chatted with her on various occasions and have found her informed and intelligent.

But she asked, "Why is science important?"

It's too easy to come off as arrogant when someone you don't know and/or a Christian rolls up and asks that. It's something totally different when someone you're involved with makes such a query. After all, there is a relationship that needs to be maintained. If your partner says something - I'll use the term at my own hazard - wildly ignorant then you're in a pickle. How do you relay important information without causing the other person to get defensive?

My strategy is to give the most salient information in a quick and straightforward manner. If I can be funny that's great, if not that's OK, too. For example, one time I was hanging out with someone that I didn't know incredibly well. In casual conversation I mentioned the Holocaust (yes, that is my idea of casual conversation). He turned to me and asked, "What's that?" I didn't flinch or show any other outward sign of WOW! In fact I felt pretty good that he was comfortable enough to ask me. Asking a question is a moment of vulnerability. If a person doesn't feel safe then often times they won't ask.

"In World War 2 the Germans killed approximately 6 million Jews, homosexuals, and people who had disabilities."

"Oh," he said.

We went onto another topic.

But I digress.

Why is science important?

It would be easy to attack the question (and the person who asked it) by checking down the "list". Knowing scientific facts makes everyday life easier. I place a teaspoon in my mug of hot tea so it cools off faster. Science allows us to be more moral. Think about it. After watching Milgram's Obedience Study or Zimbardo's Standford Prison Experiment one can not think about human cruelty in a simplistic manner. Science is responsible for everything from why our life expectancy isn't 35 (public health and modern medicine) to why I can sit here with my laptop and blog. Most importantly, science is a method of knowing how the universe works: asking questions - researching - making a hypothesis - testing the hypothesis - analyzing the results of the test - concluding if your original guess was right or wrong. This method is a bulwark between civilization and barbarity. If humans didn't have the Scientific Method then we would still be trying to exorcise demons out of people when they are sick. If a person doesn't understand the basics of science they can easily fall victim to a variety of anti-science arguments that spews forth from the anti-vaccine crowd or the proponents of the misnamed Intelligent Design Theory.

Why is science important?

Because this is not a world of magic candy mountains or the land of happily ever after.

This is Purgatory


  1. SCIENCE? Helping me understand how my body works and how to try to keep it healthy with meds. Science? Helping me realize the universe doesn't revolve around me and how I am but a speck of dust. Science? Helping me realize where I came from,my ancestors and how evolution works. Science? Helping me appreciate nature and explore the unknown. Science? Helping me find out what the real, not magical TRUTH is. Science? Without it I wouldn't have the technology to type this comment out. THANKS FOR THE ARTICLE ANDY!

  2. One of my uncle's once said something similar. "What good is science?" "What does science do for anybody?" (I admit to paraphrasing.) I asked him how an insulin dependent diabetic could say that? There was a long diatribe after that, ending with , "People used to live without insulin, you know." I was speechless, in a huge void.

    1. Oh my, Mary, that is jaw dropping.


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