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Losing my religion?

17 May 2012

When it comes to faith versus science, faith still wins out in Mexico, although science is gaining. A poll of public perception of science and technology showed that 59 percent of Mexicans put their trust in faith rather than science, down from the 70 percent who opted for faith when the question was asked back in 2009. (El Informador, Guadaljara)

The “more science guys” say about what you’d expect them to say.  René Asomoza, director of the Center for Research and Advanced Studies (Cinvestav, for its acronym in Spanish) at the Instituto Politécnico Nacional (IPN), says that prayers and ritual cleansings  only shows that Mexicans “continue to think ancestrally”.

“It means we do not have a high level of literacy. People can not distinguish between resources that can help solve their problems and those who do not do anything.  It is the result of a low-quality education. Overall, I think that scientists have done a poor job of explaining what people are doing wrong. “

On the other hand, Arturo Menchaca of the Mexican Academy of Science blames the way science is taught… as it were “science fiction”.

If our education is poor, our science education is even worse.  People are just not aware of the impact science has in their everyday life when it’s an undeniable fact that the increased life expectancy of Mexicans is a result of research and technological development, and not the result of miracles.

Finding a large portion of the population rejects basic science in favor of cherished beliefs isn’t unique to Mexico:  78 percent of people in the United States believe in creationism in some form or another, and the U.S. is notorious for created anti-scientific “controversies”.  Take climate change.  A possibly outdated poll has 38 percent of U.S. residents still claiming the climate isn’t changing.  And that in a much more literate, science and technology aware society.

Here, evolution is just accepted, and while there may be some disagreements on how to deal with climate change, no one denies its existence.  Oh, sure, some would try to ameliorate it through faith or ritual, but that’s not so much anti-science as it is concern with what scientists do… 55.6 percent of the Mexicans polled said that scientists had the potential to do harm to the country.  I don’t think much about it, but knowing that  scientists can fashion weapons of mass destruction probably would have me answering the question of whether scientists can do harm to the country with a “yes,” too.  I think most people would… even the well educated, secular sorts who’d never buy a lottery ticket or light a candle to a saint.

Not that buying a lottery ticket, or lighting a candle, or sacrificing a white chicken and reading the entrails is completely rational, but it is human.  What I think bothers the scientists is that the people aren’t them… something human in itself.

Science education should be better in this country, and more research and development no doubt would be a good thing.  But polls like this just set up a false dichotomy between modernity and tradition:  the cause of most of the civil wars (especially the Cristero War) in Mexico for the last 150 years.

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