At some point, we have to acknowledge the tremendous amount of faith that science requires, especially to the general public. The public’s exposure to science that it can understand is not much greater than the average Christian’s exposure to theology and religious education.
In both areas, they are taking a lot on faith; on the word of their teachers, and friends, and authority figures that the small example they see is proof of the way the world works. Religion offers up a handful of stories and the faith of billions throughout history as proof. To your average high school or liberal arts grad, science has only offered up a handful of experiments they’ve personally witnessed; fewer when you limit the sample to those they have been taught to a level of understanding.
We see it as absurd when people accept a doctrinal paradigm based on a few miracles; but in some ways, we are asking the same, and offering less. Religion offers a cohesive cosmology. One with a promise of eternal life; of justice for wrongs against us, and meaning to the life we have. Science offers a colder paradigm, incomplete by comparison. And it does not promise to answer any of the big questions; the meaning of life, our place in the world, the nature of self.
We will lose the preaching game. We always will. It’s time to stop playing it. Our morality and ethics have evolved out of reason and evidence. Our highest virtue is that our conclusions about right and wrong, truth and falsehood are self-evident. They are reached by a reasoning, educated mind; they can be reached by any reasoning, educated mind on its own, given the same facts. We can not dictate right and wrong. We can not proclaim morality; each time we do we weaken the distinction between reason and faith.
We have got to play the teaching game, and we have got to play to win. We have to play it with kids, early and often -- teach them the benefits of holding ideas and belief up to experiment. Illustrate the power of reason, and reward its use. We don’t just need another Bill Nye -- we need a hundred.
We have to play the game with adults, because we’re running behind and we’ve got to convince parents of the necessity of comprehensive science education. We have to prove every point, the hard way. We don’t get to have doctrine -- that is a luxury we can not afford. (Though if things do get rough we always have lasers. Everybody loves lasers.)
Ultimately, religion and science both require leaps of faith. Even the experienced scientist extends their paradigm into the unknown to say there will be a rational explanation for every question they encounter. They have faith that the unknowable won’t stay that way forever, even if they never find out the answer themselves. We have faith as a collective that, even though our understanding of the universe gets reformatted a lot (luminiferous aether, anyone?) that we are headed in the right direction; that our methods are sound.
We have to accept the need for faith in our paradigm, if we intend to spread it. And we have to earn that faith with an understanding that it will take time. Religion has millennia on us. And science (that isn’t laughably bad) is only a few generations old.