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The Fight Between Humanities And Science

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Posted by John Morgan Powell on February 23, 2001 05:06:56 UTC

B.L. Nelson,

I see our forum dialogue as an example of the struggle between humanities and science instructors.

Too many instructors of the humanites discount the value of science, sometimes even priding themselves in their own inability to do mathematics. Many of them see scientists as they see car mechanics: necessary parts of an advanced society, but not really educated. They would never dirty their own hands trying to fix their own car.

A comic strip portraying this attitude has an educator commenting on statistics that indicate teachers are incompetent. He concedes that 59% of the teachers do poorly on a teacher quality exam, "but that still means that 61% did well," the educator adds. The commentator replies "You mean 41% don't you?" "Whatever," the educator replies "I got my Ph.D. in education, not calculus."

Although scientists usually consider their own field superior, they often give significant credit to the arts/literature and try to maintain some balance between the two major fields of science and humanities. You see scientists attending ballets and operas, learning to Ballroom Dance, and trying to improve their speaking and writing skills but you don't see very many artists pulling out their HP calculators to determine how much of each kind of paint they will need for a particular canvas or building telescopes or model rockets for their children.

You see astronomers using fictional characters from literature to name the planets, moons, and other bodies of the solar system rather than the more typical scientific approach of giving everything an informative designation such as SN 1987A. You see occasional science papers include an introductory phrase from Shakespeare or other great writer. These can be seen as token reminders by scientists to their colleagues of the value of the humanities.

My mother was an English instructor. My father was a Civil Engineer. My mother was much more educated, I thought, than my father was. While I was growing up I felt like I could speak to my mother about any subject however strange. It seemed like she could always discuss things intelligently. My father did not seem so capable. I must realize now that her strong religious belief and lack of science background has contributed to her believing in UFO aliens, nontraditional medicines, and other unscientific things. Her example suggests to me that our people need more science education, not less.

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