Renewing a Scientific and Critical Civilization

Our society is becoming ever more complex.  The skills necessary to remain competitive in the workforce are increasing, living expenses are rising, the vast onslaught of information is overwhelming, technologies that pose threats are advancing at exponential rates, and political climates and public opinions are becoming more polarized.  To handle this complexity, the ability to deploy critical thinking skills to discern fact from fiction and make important decisions is vital at an individual, national, and global level.  Alarmingly, a large percentage of Americans lack these skills.  American astronomer, astrophysicist, author, and science popularizer, Carl Sagan, said this combination of technology, complexity, and lack of understanding is, “a prescription for disaster.” In attempts to avoid this disaster, my research examines the effectiveness of our teaching methodologies, the portrayal of science in the media, our cultural values, and our lack of civic engagement. Further, it promotes the ability of science to: develop critical thinking and decision making skills, bring nations and people together, find purpose and meaning in our lives, and gain new perspectives of ourselves, humanity, and our planet—in hopes of renewing the importance and awe of science to ensure the survival and prosperity of a modern and civilized species.

  • Paper Presentation
  • Philosophy, Sociology, Psychology
  • A large percentage of the American population lacks critical and skeptical thinking skills, which in our growingly complex society, poses a threat to our survival as a species. Renewing the importance and awe of sciences ensures the survival and prosperity of a modern and civilized species.

5 thoughts on “Renewing a Scientific and Critical Civilization”

  1. Great work, Keith. I especially like your approach to applying scientific thinking to the humanities; you make a strong ( and much needed) case for the renewal of critical and creative thinking in our society’s education. Well done!

    I found this presentation very captivating and defiantly a topic needed to be discussed. The scientific way of thinking needs to be implemented in every school system and even in common discussion. It allows an open-mindedness with reasoning instead of “conclusion jumping” that commonly leads to unreasonable debate. If scientific thinking was taught and utilized by all I really believe the world would function a lot healthier.

    Good work, and I really loved your presentation!

  3. What a terrific presentation! Very nicely done — thanks for putting so much effort into it, and for sharing.

    Let me add a handful of additional thoughts by way of comment…

    First, echoing Professor Starkey’s comment above, it’s worth emphasizing the strong connection between the scientific way of thinking and the liberal arts more broadly, including–perhaps especially–the various “humanities” disciplines. Insofar as what you’re offering here is a defense of, and a plea for, better critical thinking, more curiosity, open-mindedness, etc., you’re not just advocating for the sciences, but for the whole liberal arts tradition. (Which I take to be a good thing!)

    Doubling down on the above, let me be so bold as to argue that we *need* the humanities in order to make the full case you want to make. Your presentation takes it for granted that compassion is valuable, that we ought to take responsibility for our actions, that knowledge is worth pursuing, that we have duties toward our posterity, etc., and rightly so, in my view. But… note that all of these are philosophical/moral convictions, not scientific ones. Science per se can tell us how to develop more sustainable technologies, but it can’t tell us that making sacrifices today so that others may live well tomorrow is morally right. Science can help us split the atom, but it can’t tell us whether we should harness that power for the sake of clean energy, use it to destroy our enemies, or refrain from using it because of the associated risks. And so on and so forth.

    Again, however, let me emphasize that none of this is meant critically; I’m just offering it as an addendum to your excellent presentation. [For the sake of full disclosure, I feel like I should note that I have a PhD in philosophy and am now a dean of humanities, so I’m not exactly impartial here.] I’d be curious to hear if you have any further thoughts on this stuff.

  4. Dr. Jordan,

    Thank you for your kind and thoughtful comments!

    I’m glad to hear that you picked up on the connection between sciences and humanities. That was something I was striving for. To show that there’s more to science than memorizing facts and equations and running tests in laboratories, in hopes of renewing interest and enthusiasm for science.

    You bring up a great point that I haven’t thought of. I think you’re probably right in that the humanities are largely (more or even entirely) responsible for these morals and characteristics. To clarify, I’m not saying the sciences alone are entirely responsible for them, but that they can help promote and foster them. Some of my wording in my presentation may have been too strong regarding this.

    Thinking about it more though, personally, I see science as a label for this way of approaching and thinking about the world. I feel it’s a mindset that leaves me in awe of the world and drives me to understand all aspects of it. It prioritizes understanding and cooperation, opposed to power and domination. It makes me cherish the world and drives me to be more kind and understanding towards others. And as I mentioned in my presentation, I think many of the discoveries we’ve made through science can influence our morals and perspectives. Though it could probably be argued that they could be influenced in the opposite way, as well.

    But now that I think about it more, maybe all of this is more influenced by the humanities and my own upbringing. I’ll admit, my knowledge and education of the humanities is much less than of the sciences. Also, I think what makes this difficult, and something I did struggle with in my research and writing, is that science is such a broad term. There is a lot of writing on the philosophy of science and exactly what it is. Something you may be interested in!

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