Thursday, February 3, 2011

Science and Math

Interesting article in the Jerusalem Post reflecting on Obama's State of the Union:
Science and math. Science and math. President Barack Obama’s new mantra is science and math. If only America’s students focused on science and math, he told us in his State of the Union address, then we’ll be as innovative as China and will no longer have to farm out the building of wondrous handheld gadgets. The gods of science and math will make our economy blossom.

But missing from the president’s new, post-midterm vision for America is any mention of the rot in values that is causing our decline. The reason we don’t excel in education is not because our schools focus on philosophy and the humanities to the exclusion of science and math, but rather because we are becoming a pack of ignoramuses watching inane TV shows, following the lives of mostly decadent celebrities, and engaging in an endless orgy of consumption. Our problem is not that we read too much Nietzsche and too little astrophysics, but rather that our character is becoming corrupt.
He argues quite well that America's rise was not based on science and math but rather on "thrift, hard work, close-knit families, a pioneering spirit, a love of adventure, a rejection of indolence, faith-based ethics, a God-centric society, a belief in spreading freedom and democracy." These are things that have been in decline while America is in decline. To propose a solution that has no chance of restoring any of those elements is to miss the point. Trying to out-China China is bound to fail. Chesterton said America is the only country founded on a creed. Getting back to that creed would do amazing things. That is because that creed is loosely based on Christian thinking. The more Christian a nation is the more successful it will be in a wide variety of ways.

The big problem with focusing on science and math is you need to answer the why question. Why should I stay home from my college parties and study science and math? Because society needs more people to do that. OK, why should I care about society? What about the short term fun I am missing? If you work hard you can get a good job and maybe earn lots of money. That might make you happy. But I can get happy right now with sex and drugs and video games. How is the science and math happiness going to be better than that? 

Don't get me wrong. I love science and math. I studied pure math in college and graduate school. I ended up in the computer science field and I am so glad I did. But you need to describe to young people why developing your mind's potential to tackle hard problems will be more satisfying than the superficial pleasures young people have available to them. It is one of those things we know from our Christian heritage but we forgot why it is true so we have trouble passing it onto the next generation. 

So why is it true? We were created for a purpose. We will never find true happiness until we live out that purpose. If you are meant to be a teacher then nothing can compare to the joy teaching will bring you. Not a superficial happiness but a deep satisfaction that you are doing something pleasing to God. How do you get there? One important thing to do is connect with the creator. He knows better than anyone why He made you. But another thing that is very helpful is developing your talents. Your talents are big clues as to where God wants you to spend your life and the better developed they are the clearer it will be what you ought to do.

Can an atheist or a secular person arrive at a similar motivation? Many of them don't. The ones that do typically smuggle in some Christianity into their reasoning. There are some other motivations like being recognized by society as intelligent. That might be seen as a deeper joy. But you are talking about many years of work with no guarantee that society will adore you. In fact most look down on science geeks. Is it really enough? When you understand the idea of coming before your God at the end of your days and hearing Him say, "Well done good and faithful servant." That is something you would pay and price for. There is nothing in secular thinking that comes close.

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