I don’t know about now but back then, she was the personification of awesomeness. The coolest bug-hunter ever. Everyone that dared to speak about her did so only in whispers. When we weren’t whispering about her, we could be found envying the ground on which she walked and the insects that got to spend so much time with her. She put the pro in programme—bless her—and she didn’t even have to try. Damn.
Imagine my shock and pleasure, then, when I learnt she’d be lecturing us, moreover in something that had nothing to do with creeping and crawling things. I was up early. I wanted—no, I needed—to be there when she walked into the lecture theatre; I had to be counted among those students she’d glared at through her clever-than-thou glasses. Imagine our extreme confusion when, after a curt good morning, the distinguished and dainty doctor said, ‘I’m not here to challenge your religious beliefs. I’m just here to do my job, OK?’
We all exchanged confused glances. ‘Ohh-kay. Where is this coming from?’
We learned, later, that she had good reason to issue some sort of verbal disclaimer. It turned out evolutionary biology was the single most failed unit in the entire faculty. It didn’t help matters that it was a core five-course-unit affair. Evil bio. That’s what the third years called it. Those who could afford to call it evo bio did so; I suppose they decided that if they weren’t going to pass, they might as well pay tribute to the legendary Mitsubishi evo. The general performance was so dismal that, by the time I left, there were plans to discontinue the unit.
The issue, apparently, was that many students were bent on giving to religion even that which (rightfully or otherwise) belonged to science. Their inability to separate certain concepts and themes (evolution, for instance) from what they felt was a deliberate campaign meant to undermine their belief in God had translated into an inability to answer questions in the sort of manner that would earn them enough marks to avoid a re-sit.
Course work had turned into an opportunity for scorned students to defend their faith. Answers to essay questions had mutated into sermons. I remember a lecturer telling me how completely stumped he was to find that one of his star students had used the space provided below the long answer essay question to (quote) preach (unquote) to him.
That seems like such a long time ago, now, though, and one would hope that something has changed. Except it hasn’t. Joe, Janice and Jake Public still distrust science. They distrust its motives. They distrust its methods. They distrust its results. They distrust the manner in which it declines to pick up after itself. They distrust it even as our leaders and governments continue to thrust it into the public domain. All around the continent, there is a fervent emphasis on science. How are people supposed to sign up for something they do not trust? How to trust something one does not understand?—and how does one understand something people have not bothered to explain?
Those that are in position to demystify science are, at the same time, worried that the entire process of demystification will ‘dilute’ their esteemed discipline. The rationale is that for science to enjoy its exalted position, it must, by necessity, maintain some of its mystery.
Unlike Einstein, many don’t think one should be able to explain the laws of physics to a barmaid. Because, really, what sort of science would that be?—and where would that leave the wannabe Michio Kaku? But perhaps scientists need not worry about the dilution of their beloved body of knowledge because there is always going to be that percentage that couldn’t care less—the percentage for whom science will always remain, for lack of a better word, ‘concentrated’: the barmaids that will only ever be interested in finding out whether you are going to have a Tusker or Guinness or Waragi.
And couldn’t the issue simply be that science has been misrepresented. Perhaps once the Publics understand what science is and what it isn’t, what tools it uses, how it supposes to find ‘truth’, what it tries to do and what it can’t do, they will stop going about with delusions of persecution all the time. Perhaps if students understood that not every scientist they are ever going to meet is out to get them—that not every scientist is bent on proving that there is no God, they might loosen up enough to write their exams and pass.
Hey, some of those scientists really are just doing their job. But maybe that’s the problem, eh?