This article is based on a recently published research study on scientific temper in physics teachers. The study shows how science teachers form mental models about natural phenomena like the phases of the moon or eclipses. Many people strongly follow their religious beliefs from personal experiences, for such phenomena. For example, considering a new moon day as an ‘inauspicious day’ or not eating during eclipses, believing in astrological prediction, positions of planets, etc.
We all know there is no scientific evidence to prove that food gets spoiled during an eclipse or a new moon day- amavasya, changes human behaviour or is a bad omen. While this is a major problem rationalists are grappling with, it presents a greater challenge when it comes to science teachers following such beliefs. These beliefs contradict the science they teach with some real-life experiences or some unscientific claims around eclipses or in astrology.
The paper discusses an interesting case of some teachers, who were a part of the study, and believed in astrology. Several people, including teachers, do believe that the positions of planets affect humans. In such beliefs, people often attribute ‘gravity’ of the moon or planets to affect human behavior. A fundamental question here is, how can the moon or any other celestial body affect different people differently, per their dates and times of birth? The population of the earth is 7.8 billion. Do Jupiter or Mars, which are billions of miles away precisely know the birth dates of all 7.8 billion people and ‘behave’ accordingly? How do these planets sense any ‘rituals’ performed to prevent or correct their harmful effects on humans?
The article highlights the importance of understanding the equation of ‘gravity, that it means the same in science and in real life. If one substitutes the mass of a person and a planet, say Jupiter and the distance between the planets in the equation given above, one gets a very very small value of the gravitational force, as the distance between Jupiter and a person on the earth is extremely large.
Finally, the article mentions steps that can be taken to foster the process of scientific thinking, beyond the textbook concepts. The knowledge in the textbook applies in real life, too. Every effort in connecting the contents of the textbook (or those taught in class) with real-life experiences would bring the students and hence, the society closer to scientific thinking and develop scientific temper- a much needed way of life.