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The joys of parents learning science

We’re always hearing stories about kids making skeptical insights or getting interested in science. They’re exciting because these kids are our future, and maybe we see a bit of our nerdy selves in them. I don’t have kids, but I still get excited about something similar – parents learning science.

My parents have always been very pro-science. They always encouraged me in my science classes and Science Olympiad, and were elated when I decided to major in genetics. However, they’re not particularly science oriented. My dad was a history and special ed teacher, and my mom was an art teacher. My dad is into politics and sports, and my mom is obsessed with decorating and traveling. They treat science how rational people should – scientists are experts in a certain area, and even though my parents don’t personally understand the topics, they put their faith in scientists. It’s no different than putting faith in a mechanic or a pilot – everyone has their specialty, and we can’t know everything. They don’t believe that evolution and global warming are just giant conspiracies precisely orchestrated by hundreds and hundreds of evil scientists. Just because they personally don’t have the background to interpret the data doesn’t render it false (if only creationists could understand this simple concept).

We’re all intelligent, but in different areas – and sometimes that causes problems. The more I study biology, the less in common we have to talk about when I come home. Usually conversations consist of my dad rambling about some history book he’s reading and me trying to keep my eyes from glazing over. But this time I had a plan. I brought home Why Evolution is True by Jerry Coyne (who also has an excellent blog). My dad will read science books if given them (he loved Guns, Germs, and Steel and Hot, Flat, and Crowded), and I figured this time I can kill two birds with one stone: Get my dad to learn more about my interests, and get him to ramble about something I’m actually interested in.

Success!

It’s only been a day and he’s halfway done. He says he loves it and that it does a great job of explaining concepts to a non-scientist. He’s keeping a little notepad nearby so he can write down especially awesome facts to share with me, or questions to ask me so I can clarify. There’s just something really cool about my dad running up and ranting, suddenly realizing the frustrating creationist logic I have to constantly deal with.

Dad: How do people deal with the fact that 99% of all species that have existed are extinct? Why would God design things to all die? That doesn’t seem very intelligent to me.
Me: God works in mysterious ways *wink*

Dad: We have fossils! What more proof do they need?
Me: Satan buried them there to test your faith. That or the scientists made it all up.

Dad: Now he’s talking about examples of unintelligent design. Did you know women have painful childbirth because we evolved from four legged ancestors?
Me: I thought it was because God was punishing Eve.

Playing the devil’s advocate is fun. My dad knows I’m an atheist, and he’s not religious at all either, so it’s all for laughs. But it’s great seeing him react to all the religious “arguments” that I have heard people seriously make. Not only that, but it mirrors how my dad instilled good skeptical thinking in me. I’d often ask questions (How did they get the squirrels to talk in that commercial? It has to be a computer) and he would reply with a ridiculous answer (Squirrels just talk when you’re not looking). I would then go about explaining why that was silly, and logical thinking was developed!

I look forward to his future comments and questions as he finishes the book. Then my mom is going to take a crack at it! Soon the whole family will be well-read evolutionists, mwahaha!