Having toured most cities around the island of Mindanao, here in the Philippines, as an astronomy lecturer (providing basic astronomical lessons for children at elementary and secondary levels),
I can’t help but realize the impact of religion and superstition in creating a distorted perspective of science and the scientific method. The majority of The Philippines is Roman Catholic; however, in the southernmost island of Mindanao (where my work is based), there is also a substantial Muslim population.
One of the most common or glaring beliefs or misconceptions of children, when it comes to astronomy, is the idea that a divine being is the creator of all things, including those they are able to peer at through a telescope or see in the simulations in our mobile planetarium. Sometimes, the bolder ones among them actually approach me and ask “why was God not mentioned?”, in my lectures. I have to admit that at times, I am stumped to find the answer to such questions; but, I think I’ve come up with a good one. I simply say that “the laws that govern how things move in the universe don’t require the intervention and the supervision of a divine being”. I can even demonstrate this to the children directly by simulating the laws of planetary motion as defined by Johannes Kepler, inside the planetarium, and explain to them carefully why these motions occur. Thankfully, they realize how these laws can exist independently of a divine “puppeteer”; however, while they do acknowledge this fact of independence, they are so rooted in their faith and religion that they still believe that the overall picture is that a divine being is in control of the processes that go on in the universe.
The problem of faith and religion penetrating scientific circles isn’t only confined to elementary and secondary school students, or even college level students. Right this very moment, I am attending a physics conference along with professional physicists and physics teachers. While casually visiting some of the display booths, I spotted a T-shirt stand selling shirts with physics related equations and phrases, such as F=ma and E=mc2; however, I also spotted one that said “Physics is God’s way for us to understand the nature of the universe”. The fact that many participants of this conference liked the message of the shirt (and kept buying them!) signifies the deep influence of religious beliefs on people, even those in the professional fields of science.
I’m still confident that, in time, there will be a gradual shift from this tendency into a perspective that is anchored in rationality and the scientific method. One reason, is that there are organizations and institutions, like the one I am involved in, that travel around the country, teaching science and the scientific method through basic astronomy. Furthermore, we actually emphasizes the difference between faith and logic, and also try to create a culture of science for the sake of science and not because we only use it to acknowledge or push a religious agenda. This is why I strive hard in this endeavor through my job. I know that if we start by injecting scientific thought into young people, they will carry this culture with them and perhaps bring change to the general notion about science, as an “evil” force trying to change religion.
I hope that one day the next generation will see science as a force of good regardless of their philosophies and beliefs.
RODION M. HERRERA,
Head Astronomy Lecturer, Voyager
Educational and Events Services,
Davao City, Philippines