Science is not magic

Science-Or-MagicYou know what I hate? I hate it when a ‘science’ show for kids turns out to be a series of magic tricks.

The purpose of science is to explain the world. In the early days of human consciousness we tried to explain the world through religion and magic. Our need for explanation and order was temporarily satisfied by higher beings and magical occurrences that required belief beyond evidence.

As time has gone by we stumbled upon the scientific method. Come up with a hypothesis, test that hypothesis with experiments and determine its accuracy by seeing if the facts fit. This is the antithesis of religion and magic – it’s all about understanding how the world works in reality, divorced from blind belief. That’s not to say science is always correct, but that’s part of the process. And that process of questioning, or not accepting without understanding, is itself part of what makes science work.

So when you have a science show at a well-respected science museum, Scienceworks in this case, that does a pile of tricks without explaining the science behind them, that is NOT SCIENCE. It’s not demonstrating the wonder of science, it’s not creating new scientists, it’s not achieving anything consistent with its goals.

Now I know the kids have fun seeing things go bang and someone putting a skewer through a balloon without it popping. But they can do that at any magic show, at a birthday party. If you’re putting on a science show you need to use the tricks to explain the world to show that it’s not happening because of magic or gods; that it is happening because we humans understand how our world works – or some of it anyway. And, done right, that can be as wonderful and awe-inspiring as any magic trick.

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