Let there be science

The book Let there be science  by David Hutchings and Tom McLeish explores the case for Biblical support for scientific activity. I found it a fascinating although in many places I think they conflate science with technology. Rather than seeing this as a weakness I think it provides an opportunity to extend the consideration of Biblical revelation as to the nature and purpose of technology and what if anything this might have to say about the teaching and learning of design & technology in the secondary school. With these thoughts in mind I have written Let there be science – considerations from a design & technology education perspective as both commentary and critique.

My friend and colleague Torben Steeg, the very opposite of a ‘faith head’, has read the piece and raised the following comments and questions:


On page 5 you write

Those without faith might see the universe as being ‘ordered’ in this way as a result of its intrinsic nature and not through its being created by God but that seems to me to be just as much an act of faith as believing in God.

I think one might argue that it’s been the exploration of science/scientists that has revealed that the universe does appear to be ordered – for whatever reason. In that case it’s a working assumption that could be falsified; but I guess it’s a bit circular since without such an assumption the enterprise of science wouldn’t make much sense. So you could label that ‘faith’; but I don’t think it’s the same kind of thing as religious faith. (Though I’m sure some scientists operate from a faith that is more like the religious type…)

On page 6 you write

And it is echoed in the writings of Robert White (2014) a prominent geophysicist.

Natural processes such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, floods and the natural greenhouse effect are what make the world a fertile place in which to live. Without them, it would become a dead, sterile world and no one would be here to see it.

(page 10)

But… if you wanted to push this, why couldn’t an omnipotent god create a world (an the underlying science) where a fertile and rich environment wasn’t dependent on such things?

In your discussion of Chapter 10, (pages 8-9) it occurs to me that the notion of precautionary principle is useful – with practical examples being the original and the recent Asilomar conferences on, respectively, genetic engineering and AI.

On page 11 you write

However, the construction of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11: 1 – 9) by which humans could reach heaven was confounded by God through the creation of multiple languages so that those building the Tower could not communicate with one another. This can be seen as a denial of technological activity when it is being used to thwart God’s purpose.

It seems to me that the Tower of Babel story is of dubious relevance; if she’s an interventionist God, why the arbitrariness of when to intervene or not? For example, why not intervene when torture or gas chambers are being built – or is she only concerned about threats to her own domain…?

But then I do think that there is a tendency for religious types to assume that God’s interventionist aims align with their own (though they would probably say that their aims align with hers…) – as when all sides in a war (or election…) pray for victory.

Nick Cave captures this nicely…

I don’t believe in an interventionist God
But I know, darling, that you do
But if I did I would kneel down and ask Him
Not to intervene when it came to you
Not to touch a hair on your head
To leave you as you are
And if He felt He had to direct you
Then direct you into my arms

(You can watch/hear the whole thing here)

I have heard it argued (persuasively to me) that the second of the Ten Commandments (You shall not use the Lord’s Name in vain) refers not to casual ‘blasphemy’ but rather to the use of phrases like ‘It’s God’s will’ to persuade folk to the opinion of the speaker.

You go on to say that:

Hence it seems that God is placing the responsibility on humanity to use technology in ways that are consistent with the covenant between God and his creation, in particular our world, the living creatures that inhabit it and the ecosystems that maintain it.

But this responsibility is given without, it seems, very clear guidance; my, admittedly casual, observation is that Christians seem to disagree about a lot of things that relate to “our world, the living creatures that inhabit it and the ecosystems that maintain it“.


Rev. Colin Davis, Rector of Carrowdore & Millisle, Church of Ireland has also read the piece and made the following comments:


It can sometimes be a popular misconception that science and faith (mostly Christian, but I guess others as well) are in opposition and yet in reality, as Tom and David indicate, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The Bible teaches that God created order out of chaos and although the Earth can often seem a very chaotic place, in fact it ‘operates’ by very definite ‘laws & principles’. Science rather than being a ‘spoiler’ (removing the mystery from nature through explanations that are arid and lacking in wonder) helps us to understand more of how things work and provides greater insight that we can use to appreciate the wonder therein. We can see Biblical writing as exploring and revealing the relationship between God and humanity and in revealing something of the nature of science and our obligation to pursue scientific activity also reveal something of the nature of God.

We know from experience and history that gifts can be used for good or ill, and seeing science as a gift from God places on us ‘the burden of responsible use’. The story of the Tower of Babel points very much to a warning for humanity to use God given gifts, including science and technology in the light of this burden rather than for us to raise our own sense of achievement without regard to God’s wishes putting humanity in the position of challenging or denying God. The futility and arrogance of such challenge/denial is captured well in this anecdote I remember from my days when training for the priesthood.

A group of successful scientists were so accomplished and confident that they thought to challenge God and create their own human being. God accepted the challenge and taking a handful of dust he created a human. The scientists bent down to grab some earth and God stopped them saying, “Get your own dust!”

God, in creating the Universe including the Earth and all creatures living on the planet wants a special relationship with humans. God loves us and wants us to love Him/Her in return and to love one another but in doing this takes a huge risk. We have a choice as to whether we love God, one another or not. The way we live our lives, treat one another and use the gifts of the creator will be determined by the choice we make. For the Christian St Paul sums this up in Chapter 12 of his letter to the Romans:

3 For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.

4 For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function,

5 so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.

6 Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith;

7 or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching;

8 he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.

9 Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good.

It is not too much a stretch of the theological imagination to envisage another verse along the lines:

Or she that is scientific or technological to pursue this with due humility and regard for consequences.


As always further comments or questions welcome.

Advertisements

Humble Bundle deal on Make: titles

humble-bundle-10-16Humble Bundle is currently offering a wide range of books from the Make: catalogue. At the moment over $300 worth of books is on offer.

The offer expires in 7 days.

The deal is you pay what you want, over a very low limit, some of the money goes to charity, some to Make: and some to Humble Bundle; you can choose these ratios.

What you get is DRM-free e-versions of the books in pdf, epub (Apple iBook) and mobi (Amazon Kindle) versions.

There is a number of (IMHO…) highly recommendable books in the offer. What more can I say?

Stuff we like: A catch up

It’s always been our intention to use the Stuff we like… pages to share things we’ve been reading, watching and listening to. So this is the first in what I hope will become a rather more frequent series of ‘catch up’ posts – bringing the site up to date with some of the things I’ve been reading over the past few months. These are listed in about the order I read them – but I’ve also linked them (‘Filed under’) to the sections of the website where the permanent references are.

The Second Machine Age iconThe Second Machine Age – Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew Mcafee, published in 2015 by Norton. This provides a really good overview of the range of (largely digital) technologies that are starting to impact all areas of life. The authors discuss both the opportunities that these technological revolutions offer and also the risks to people from the scale of the changes they predict. They also provide recommendations for individuals and policy that they think will help ensure the smoothest possible transition to the technological age they predict. Interestingly they put quite a high priority on the importance of education to prepare both individuals and society for the second machine age and note the need to reform education for such a purpose. Although their brief overview of the (US) educational landscape does no more than skim the surface, I do think they are right that education needs to change in the face of the immense social challenges that digital technologies are bringing. This book won’t tell you much about how education should change – but it lays a foundation for understanding what such changes need to achieve. Filed under …about Technology

Learning Reimagined iconLearning Reimagined by Graham Brown-Martin, published in 2014 by Bloomsbury  is a beautifully produced book – full of gorgeous photos – through which the author explores radical approaches to education from around the world that have been facilitated by digital technologies. Organised by country, the book contains interviews with leading thinkers along with case studies of schools and learning communities. These are interspersed with ‘Thought Pieces’ from the author in which he reflects on some of the wider and overarching educational issues that his visits and conversations prompt. True to its focus on new technologies the book makes good use of augmented reality, in particular linking from the written interviews to videos of those being interviewed. If The Second Machine Age outlines why education needs to change, the wealth of examples in this book will inspire thinking about how it might change. Filed under …about Education

Girl genius 3 iconGirl Genius – Agatha H and the Voice of the Castle by Phil and Kaja Foglio, published in 2014 by Titan. This is the third novelisation of the wonderful series of Girl Genius steampunk comics. These comics are first published online (for free) in three instalments a week, then bound up and sold as comic books. Every now and then a series of the comics is published in novel form. All the incarnations are excellent; a strong and intelligent female lead, lots of good technology humour and great story lines. What’s not to like…..? Filed under …that is Just Cool

I Think You'll Find It's a Bit More Complicated Than That iconI Think You’ll Find It’s a Bit More Complicated Than That by Ben Goldacre, published in 2014 by Fourth Estate. This is a collection of articles by Goldacre previously published elsewhere – many of them in The Guardian’s bad science column and on the Bad Science website. The merit of the collection is that the articles are grouped into themes and thus allow a line of thought to develop. Goldacre has a laser-like focus on identifying the bad use of science and, in particular, on how data is used and misused. He’s an entertaining writer and this is an accessible and well-grounded introduction to a lot of ideas in statistics and data handling. The book includes a section on education; Goldacre has made something of a name for himself in advocating for education the use of these kinds of large scale randomised control trials that have transformed medicine. Not all education researchers are convinced that these ideas will transfer to education as well as Goldacre claims, but this book is a good place to read Goldacre’s argument. Filed under Big Data

Hot to Cold iconHot to Cold: An Odyssey of Architectural Adaptation by Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) published by Taschen in 2015. I’m a huge fan of  Bjarke Ingels’ architecture – the fact that he’s Danish is, of course, immaterial…. This book (produced for an exhibition of the same name at the National Building Museum in Washington DC earlier this year) provides an overview of around 60 of BIG’s projects, some built, others in progress and some speculative, ordered by the temperature of the climate where the work is set. What I like about this is that it provides really clear descriptions of the design thinking that led the group to some really very radical building designs.  I think these could be used as design case studies with pupils as a well as the book being a great D&T design reference. For those who prefer their information in comic book forms, an earlier work by BIG, Yes is More: An Archicomic on Architectural Evolution, covers some of the same territory. Filed under …about Design

The Language of Things iconThe Language of Things by Deyan Sudjic published in 2009 by Penguin. SuDjic is the Director of the design Museum in London, and in this book provides a great popular introduction to a number of ideas in design, looking not only at the language of design (as indicated by the title) but also design archetypes and the relationship of design with luxury, fashion and art. He’s a clear and often witty writer and I think this is nice overview of some interesting idea in design that D&T teachers would find valuable. Filed under …about Design

Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth iconOperating Manual for Spaceship Earth by R. Buckminster Fuller, published 2008 by Lars Muller. This book was originally published in 1968; one the one hand this shows very clearly in the style of writing – which was probably very relaxed for its time but can come across as a bit stilted in places by today’s standards. On the other hand, many of the ideas it in seem almost prophetic when read with hindsight. Buckminster Fuller is probably best known for the design of geodesic domes, but this book clearly shows him as a polymath with very wide interests and a knack for binging together seemingly unrelated ideas. His writing is motivated by a strong belief that social inequity is unacceptable and that design and technology should be a tool for equalisation, he is concerned about the consequences of rapid population growth, about the implications of automation and about   our unsustainable use of ‘Spaceship Earth’s’ resources. All of which continue to be live issues. However he is an optimist; he believes that humans can work together to produce a fair and sustainable world. He argues that humanity needs to bring range of tools to bear on the planet’s problems, including systems thinking and synergistic thinking, and that by doing so we have the capacity to ensure  a good future for all of Spaceship Earth’s passengers. Filed under …about Technology

Saturn's Children iconSaturn’s Children by Charles Stross published in 2009 by Orbit. Stross is among my favourite SF authors and this book has his trademark dark humour. Set in a future where humans have engineered advanced robots to look after them – and then become so lazy that they slip into extinction, the story follows the adventures of one of these robots. This is a great exploration of what happens when ‘our’ machines try to sustain a human society that is bereft of humans. Filed under …about Science Fiction

The Art of Critical Making iconThe Art of Critical Making: Rhode Island School of Design on Creative Practice by John Maeda, Rosanne Somerson and Mara Hermano, published in 2013 by John Wiley. This collection of essays by and interviews with members of the staff teaching at the highly regarded Rhode Island School of Design (RSID) ranges widely across material contexts and approaches to teaching design and making. But running through the book is the idea that making should be a critical activity and that design education should encourage deep thoughtfulness and a questioning attitude to such things as the materials being used, the purposes of this use, the needs of people impacted by the designing and making and social and environmental impacts. It shouldn’t be a surprise that these are seen as important in design education, but the value of this book lies in the descriptions of the learning experiences enjoyed by students at RSID, many of which, it seems to me could be applied to school-level education as well. Also of interest is the broad emphasis on the importance of the embodied learning that arise from physical interaction with materials; computers certainly don’t seem to be banned at RSID, but neither is their use privileged.Filed under …about Design

The Scientist As Rebel icon

The Scientist As Rebel by Freeman Dyson published in 2008 by New York Review Books. Dyson is one of the world’s leading theoretical physicists but applies his considerable intellect well beyond the confines of physics. This collection of essays is arranged in four groups; Contemporary Issues in Science, War and Peace, History of Science and Scientists and Personal and Philosophical Essays. It is compassionate, human and very readable. The first section contains the material most directly relevant to D&T education and includes an exploration of the implications of the mass adoption of novel technologies such as neurotechnology and synthetic biology, speculating, for example, that:

Instead of CAD-CAM we may have CAS-CAR, computer-aided selection and computer-aided reproduction.

But the essays are of interest beyond this; he provides unfashionable views on climate science, thoughtful observations of the relationship between religion and science, and insights into a range of contemporary issues such as environmental protection and genetic engineering. Filed under …about Technology

Teaching- Notes from the Front Line iconTeaching: Notes from the Front Line by Dr Debra Kidd, published in 2014 by Independent Thinking Press. A thoughtful and bang-up-to-the-minute exploration of the some of the significant contemporary issues facing teaching and teachers. Kidd writes as both a teacher and a senior leader in schools, she is passionate about high quality education and, equally,  clear that much of the political and administrative activity around schools undermines quality education. This will not be a surprise to most working in schools. What marks this book out as more than just another teacher’s whine about how hard teaching is, is that this a handbook of ‘pedagogical activism’. The cover of the book claims that “We are … in need of a revolution in education” and most chapters end with a series of  bulleted action points of things ‘you can do now’. Kidd  does not think there is time to wait around and hope things improve, she want teachers to “take control of the direction of education and policy”. You may not agree with all her views or prescriptions, but I think most teachers will find inspiration in her proactive attitude. Filed under …about Education

Design as Art iconDesign as Art by Bruno Munari, this edition published 2008 by Penguin (original published in 1966). Munari was an influential Italian designer of the 20th century and in this series of short pieces he explores not only the relationship of Design to Art but also the place of design in society under the broad areas of Stylists, Visual Design, Graphic Design, Industrial Design and Research Design. He is a thoughtful and humourous writer and a number of his chapters (along with the copious drawings that accompany them) could form the basis for activities that will get pupils in D&T thinking more deeply about design. Filed under …about Design