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Posted by Benjamin Nelson on February 27, 2001 02:07:18 UTC


True enough, much of the language of science is mathematical. Nevertheless, important elements of science can be expressed without the mathematical complexities that effectively move science beyond the understanding of all except specialists. And to that end, the goals of scientific literacy are no different from those in the Humanities: to provide everyone with the basic framework of knowledge into which public debate can be placed.

Still, you may feel that this argument combats scientific literacy in an inappropriate way -- so perhaps an analogy is in order: One would think it absurd to withhold Homer or Goethe from students who haven't spent years learning Greek or German by declining to offer those authors in English. So why should we deny anyone scientific knowledge just because is has been translated from mathematics into English? Something may be lost in the translation, perhaps, but not enough to make the translation worthless.

Moreover, the purely instrumental utility of scientific knowledge may be less important than the wider value to be gained from being acquainted with science as one of the great expressions of the human spirit. Indeed, science has been and continues to be one of the noblest achievements of mankind; from a Humanities point of view, its attainments are on a par with the great achievements in art and literature. And yet, without the multicultural intelligence that make us more fully human, our lives would be just as improvised as if we knew nothing of mathematics at all.

B. L. Nelson

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