A science museum near Atlanta is set-up for school children, but apparently not for their grand sense of awe. After my son’s recent trip, he wondered why a question from a classmate was ignored. Their guide had been explaining the origin of the solar system, saying, “…then the sun made itself into a firey ball of gas.” One boy raised his hand and asked, “How did the sun make itself?” The guide dropped the rule about “No bad questions” and politely indicated they weren’t going there.
At this point in the story, I’m picturing this host as Willy Wonka on his tour of the Chocolate Factory. Wonka, annoyed by the kids’ curiosity says, “I’m a trifle deaf in this ear. Speak a little louder next time.” [Cue the Oompa Loompas.]
This boy’s wonder was deemed unfit for a scientific field of view. The non-response boggles the mind. Of course the subject strays into mystery. Yes it’s beyond measurement. I get how it crosses into private commitments. But the question is obvious and important. Are we really so skittish that we can’t at least list a range of possibilities in public? Even if kids miss the tension of these moments, I’m sure they sense something missing behind all the information. I’ll bet they can tell when narrative is missing. The story is missing.
The gap in our coherence
But is it really missing? Look closer. The awkward subject change tells a story of an unspoken agreement to divide subjects into boxes which don’t touch. Supposedly, science may not overlap with philosophy, theology, and human history. Yet it does, even in this situation–a ton of human history shows up in this brief exchange. It’s a story about a polarized culture, and about some assumptions which never face the formal scrutiny the scientific method places upon everything else.
Academic science communities not only have a method but also a narrative and a doctrine.
Can young children tell when an adult ducks a question? I’ll bet they can feel when wonder is put on ice. In this instance, making God-questions a public taboo creates a gap between kids and the narrative which has inspired centuries of awe, exploration, and discovery.
Every one who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the Universe-a spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble. – Albert Einstein
What’s your story?