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"In his new book, Ignorance, neuroscientist Stuart Firestein goes where most academics dare not venture. Firestein openly confesses that he and the rest of his field don’t really know that much, relatively speaking. And what’s more, knowing itself, he argues, is highly overrated."

I like this sort of humility! Popular science books need much more of this, in my opinion.
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Peter DO Smith's profile photolaurie corzett's profile photoGaythia Weis's profile photoJames Karaganis's profile photo
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Well, sure. If you don't know that you don't know, then you won't make any attempt to know more. All he's saying is that there's a lot more to know.

Which is good.
 
Knowing what you don't know is also saying that you are knowledgeable about the probable limits of what you do know. One hard thing about conveying science is the concept that there is uncertainty, but that does not preclude taking actions based on what is known. Too many deniers out there what to dismiss science with an "Oh well, it's only a theory". As the author above says, people in general do not like ambiguity. Thus the appeal of rigid belief systems. Rather than trying to sell the non-scientist public on the facts, we need to attempt to entrance them into the process of discovery that is science.
 
+Gaythia Weis Absolutely, and quantifying that uncertainty is very important. Accepting that the results of the scientific method are accurate only to a certain level of precision is, I agree, difficult for many people.

Now, I grew up in the sixties, and I will say that the grounding in science that I received then was very different from what is given to students today. I supposed it helped that my father held advanced degrees in nuclear physics.

It is extremely difficult to open the mind of the faithful to science: they already believe that they have all the answers, and frequently appear to take pity on those whose minds are closed to the wonders of Creation. It is a difficult experience at best, and in the end rarely serves any purpose other than to irritate everyone involved.
 
As that evil poet Donald Rumsfeld knew: There are the known knowns, the known unknowns, and the unknown unknowns.
 
+James Karaganis "It is extremely difficult to open the mind of the faithful to science: they already believe that they have all the answers"

I am one of the faithful you are talking about (I am a Catholic), and I regret you have mis-characterized our position.

First you should understand there is a broad spectrum of religious belief that encompasses a very wide field. If you want to make statements about religion you need to be more specific about which part of the spectrum you are talking about.

Catholicism, the dominant form of Christianity, fully supports the aims, methods and results of science. This is why it has an active Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Catholic Church actively collaborates with the scientific world. The Catholic point of view is that scientific method is the best way of answering scientific questions, it is as simple as that.

I have many friends who are fundamentalist Christians (they are a minority group) and have often discussed this question with them so can claim some understanding of their position. To say that they reject science is flat out wrong. They accept the overwhelming majority of science but reject some scientific findings where it contradicts some aspects of their faith. I think they are wrong in this and as a result have had many entertaining discussions with them. To characterize them as anti-science is wrong since they accept the great majority of science and the scientific method. Although I think they hold some mistaken beliefs I respect them and refrain from crudely demonizing them. Thoughtful engagement is always more useful.

" they already believe that they have all the answers"

No, that is not true. As I said above, we fully accept that there is a vast world of scientific unknowns and that science is the best (in fact only) method of investigating the scientific unknowns. In any case, religion is not about science at all. It is about the relationship of the believer with God and the relationship of the believer with his fellow beings. This relationship has spiritual and moral dimensions, not scientific dimensions.

If you read some of the theological literature and the literature of the philosophy of religion you would quickly discover that there is a world of lively debate about a great number of uncertainties.

Finally, in Christianity, faith is emphasized precisely because the Christian is confronted with a world with many unknowns and puzzling contradictions. So I am afraid it is completely untrue to say that Christians think they have all the answers. See this interesting post about the problem of natural evil - http://bit.ly/I4Sxd5

" in the end rarely serves any purpose other than to irritate everyone involved."

That is likely the result of misunderstanding their position and crudely demonizing them as 'anti-science'.
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