Department of Physics, Engineering Physics & Astronomy

Department of Physics, Engineering Physics & Astronomy
Department of Physics, Engineering Physics & Astronomy

Coping with a Broad Belief Spectrum: From Astronomical Pseudoscience to Mainstream Religion

Salman Hameed
University of Massachussetts, Hampshire College

Date: Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Time: 3:30 PM
Location: Stirling A


Belief in paranormal, supernatural and other new-age claims is rising according to surveys by the NSF and others. Astronomy-related pseudo-scientific beliefs are especially common. For example, more than thirty percent of Americans consider astrology to be scientific and more than one-third believe that extraterrestrial beings have visited Earth at some time in the past. Not only do such beliefs ignore sound reasoning and information but they also compete as alternative explanations for the world around us. While a general education might be expected to reduce acceptance of unsound beliefs, the level of such beliefs is surprisingly high among those with a higher education. The challenge becomes even more daunting when dealing with religious beliefs about origins that clash with modern science. How do we get our students to challenge unsound reasoning and information without turning them off to science? I will present details and share experiences from two courses - one dealing with paranormal beliefs and the other with the contentious issue of science & religion (co-taught with a philosopher) - that I have taught at Hampshire College in Massachusetts. I will also present results from a pre and post class survey of beliefs taken for the paranormal course. A Weblog that monitors discussions on "science and religion" can be consulted at: