Today I read “Was the $5 Billion Worth It?” an interview with Bill Gates, Jr. at the Wall Street Journal, which asked him if he felt his money spent on fixing education in America was well spent. Here is one significant reply:
Asked to critique these endeavors, Mr. Gates demurs: "I applaud people for coming into this space, but unfortunately it hasn’t led to significant improvements." He also warns against overestimating the potential power of philanthropy. "It’s worth remembering that $600 billion a year is spent by various government entities on education, and all the philanthropy that’s ever been spent on this space is not going to add up to $10 billion. So it’s truly a rounding error."
Every night when I watch the evening news I get depressed because we are facing so many huge problems that we can’t seem to fix, no matter how much money, effort and brain power we put into finding solutions. We have education, the budget deficit, global warming, health care, unemployment, the economy, religious conflicts, over population, and the list goes on and on. At first I was going to list the war in Afghanistan, but wars always seen to end someday, so they fix themselves – the problems I’m talking about are the ones that never get fixed and we argue over the solutions our entire lives.
If we spend $600 billion a year on education, how come education in America is seen as a huge honking failure? Today I read that only 12% of the American public believes in evolution and that around 50% believe that Jesus is due to return to Earth sometime soon. Is that a failure of the education system, or does it show a basic inability for the average person to learn.
But if you look at our big problems there is one consistent factor that few people want to address, and that is we’re polarized over how we view the fundamental working of reality. Essentially there are two philosophical opposing groups which I’ll label Science versus the Faithful.
The largest group are the metaphysical believers – people that think the Earth is our temporary home while God decides our true destination. They believe Earth is the center of God’s creation and humans are his chosen beings, and this life is a test of our souls.
The other group, sees the universe as being very old and very big, and the Earth and humans are insignificant compared to the rest of the cosmos. They see reality working by very exact laws that can be discovered through science and mathematics. These people believe our lives are only as important as we make them for ourselves.
God’s faithful, whether Christian, Muslim, Jew, or the many spiritual followers of Eastern religions believe in ancient holy books, written before science or history. These spiritual texts can’t coexist with science. The worshipers of these books firmly believe the key to metaphysical reality is within their scriptures. Most of the faithful accept the tenets of their beliefs after only a brief exposure to their basic concepts. Believing is very easy. Giving up these beliefs are very hard.
The followers of science believe knowledge is vast and to understand reality requires reading hundreds of books. They are the believers in good liberal educations, which means it takes twenty years of solid study to get a decent grasp on reality. Learning is very hard, and it’s so easy to forget.
The faithful believe much of education is a waste, and that a good deal of it are lies. They refuse to believe in evolution because they can’t comprehend it and because they intuitively understand it invalidates their most cherish belief, that we have souls that can exist in an afterlife. They refuse to believe in global warming because they can’t comprehend the science and because they believe this life is not important, but the next one, an eternal life in paradise should be our ultimate concern.
It’s probably more than obvious that I’m on the side of science. The really good question is: If we were all on the side of science, could we solve the really big problems we face? I think so. But I know the faithful also believe if everyone believed the tenets of their holy books the world would be a beautiful place too.
I wish there was some kind of compromise so we could make everyone happen, but there isn’t. The strange thing is the faithful think Earth is of no value, so why can’t they let us have this world since we loved it so much more. The faithful should live like the Amish, pursuing simple lives, following their spiritual disciplines until they die. I can’t understand why the faithful want to run this world when it matters so little to them in their philosophy. Why do they want political power when they should be seeking piety.
Here a logic puzzle.
We have four possible paths – two real actions betting on two choices.
- Global warming is a fact, we fix things
- Global warming is a fact, we don’t fix things
- Global warming is a scam, we fix things anyway
- Global warming is a scam, we don’t do anything
There are four results.
- We save the world
- We kill off civilization
- We get an energy efficient society
- We save some money
If the scientists are wrong the worse thing that could happen is we end up with a very energy efficient society. If the client deniers are wrong, we end up living in hell. No logical person would place their bets that lead to result 2.
Yet, for many in our society action 2 is where they want to place all their chips. And is it any wonder that most of these same people are also desiring the end of the world by wishing for the return of Jesus. Do they think the Rapture is brought on by overheating?
We will never solve our big problems as long as we’re polarized between science and faith, and neither side seems willing to change.
Someone needs to create a religion where the path to heaven lies in mastering science. Has none of the faithful ever wondered if their purpose on Earth is to figure out the mysteries of reality? I guarantee there are plenty of clues if you’re willing to study science.
JWH – 7/25/11