There is only one way of knowing about the natural world: Science
Misdirected efforts in New Zealand to honor Indigenous culture by infusing myth into science classes are harming the teaching of science there, just as they are elsewhere.
Māori “ways of knowing” (Mātauranga Māori) are a vital part of New Zealand’s cultural heritage and should be preserved. Honoring cultural traditions, however, does not mean one has to conflate facts and myths.
In Dec 2021, Jacinda Ardern’s government’s Ministry of Education implemented a policy, that science students should be taught that Māori ‘Ways of Knowing’ (Mātauranga Māori) have equal standing with ‘western’ science.
This is flawed on so many grounds. In the first place, there is no such thing as “western science”. There is only ‘science’. I remember visiting China many years ago at a meeting to combat the rise of various superstitions there, and listening to talks about alternative medicine under the guise of ‘Chinese medicine”. Once again, there is no such thing. As Tim Minchin once said: “You know what they call alternative medicine that works? Medicine!”.
Science is universal. It is not ‘male’, nor ‘white’, or ‘western’. That is because science is a process to uncover the way nature works, and it does so by deriving objective and testable conclusions on the basis of empirical evidence. Gravity works the way it does, independent of the fact that Newton, who first derived the equations describing how it works, was a British Male. (This, btw counters the ridiculous nonsense apparently spouted during some Truth and Reconciliation discussion, which Richard Dawkins recently tweeted.)
But the more emotionally charged falsehood associated by this requirement, which forms the basis of so many other inappropriate attempts to honor Indigenous cultures, including that which led to the firing of Frances Widdowson, is the claim that somehow ancient Indigenous ‘was of knowing’ are equivalent to the knowledge generated by 500 years of modern science. They aren’t. While there is much indigenous knowledge that is accurate and useful, much of it is steep on ancient creation myths that are just as silly as the Judaeo-Christian myth about the world being created in 7 days.
As Dawkins, who was just on tour in New Zealand, pointed out in a recent opinion piece in The Spectator, “Mātauranga Māori includes valuable tips on edible fungi, star navigation and species conservation (pity the moas were all eaten). Unfortunately it is deeply invested in vitalism. New Zealand children will be taught the true wonder of DNA, while being simultaneously confused by the doctrine that all life throbs with a vital force conferred by the Earth Mother and the Sky Father.”
This kind of vague spiritualism probably goes in one ear and out the other for many students and may therefore be somewhat innocuous. But other actions taken by scientific institutions are not so innocuous.
University of Auckland, for example (which I know from personal experience has a number of science departments populated by rather zealous virtue signalers), recently removed two of the science faculty there from teaching evolution classes, after the School of Biological Sciences stated, in response to these two being part of a group of scientists who had spoken out against the new regulations, “We do not feel that either Kendall or Garth should be put in front of students as teachers. This is not safe for students.’ Implying of course, that it is not safe for students to hear the truth, another disturbing trend in higher education.
A colleague in New Zealand sent me another example of the kind of nonsense being infused into the chemistry and biology curricula there. The guidelines state: "Commence studies with an exploration of mauri and what this means for the environment and what mauri means within the context of the body as we embark on chemistry and biology in the health sciences ".
Here is the definition of ‘mauri’ from the curriculum. “Mauri is present in all matter. All particles have their own mauri and presence as part of a larger whole, for example within a molecule, poly- mer, salt, or metal. When matter is broken into smaller particles each particle remains as part of the taiao, for example when a substance is burnt or dissolved the particles re- main, with their own mauri."
The Universe is remarkable, without the need to add nonsense elements to a cosmos that continues to surprise and amaze us everyday and which inspires new technologies that continue to improve our lives.
A beautiful JWST image inspires both awe and wonder, as well as a host of new questions. There is still so much we still can learn about the nature of the cosmos. But we can only do so if we don’t confuse science and myth. Only then will we understand the universe the way it truly is, and not the way we want it to be.