Poverty, religiosity and scientific literacy | Inquirer Opinion

Poverty, religiosity and scientific literacy

05:05 AM January 22, 2019

Recent commentaries about our scientific aptitude (“Skepticism about science” by Mahar Mangahas, 12/15/18, and “Filipinos becoming ‘scientifically illiterate’” by Edilberto C. de Jesus, 1/5/19) bring to the fore multiple correlations of our level of education, religiosity and poverty rates. Our skepticism about science, at 48 percent, is second out of the 28 countries surveyed. Forty-three percent of Filipinos say that “we put too much trust in science and not enough on religious faith.”

These articles are very much in lockstep with Mangahas’ earlier op-ed, “Intense Filipino belief in the afterlife” (11/3/18). The impact of a highly religious ethos cannot be overstated. The constant and pervasive stifling culture of religion is the very antithesis of the forward-thinking, critical and progressive trajectory of science. The books on which theology is dependent upon was written in the first century. They are filled with claims that are intellectually regressive and harmful to our wellbeing. Throughout history, religion has proven to be the primary cause of human demise.


The survey is an indicator of how a substantial number of Filipinos are left out of a progressive worldview. Understanding of science, despite the march of technology, requires higher education. The better educated are generally urban and financially able to avail themselves of it. What does it mean when half of our people believe that “science does more harm than good”?

Besides being badly misinformed, it tells us of a populace that is oblivious to all the good things that science has brought them. DNA and climate change may require more time for the average person to comprehend fully, but are they aware that electricity and smartphones are the products of science? And what about all the drugs available to us that prolong our lives?


We are left to speculate whether “harm” means we are becoming less and less dependent on religion for answers to life’s “mysteries.” The millennials and Generation Z members are leading highly satisfying and moral lives without religion. Theirs are generations unencumbered by “fire and brimstone” and myth and superstition. They are not looking for answers; these are thinking and questioning generations. They are too well connected to be conned by pulpiteers. They will move us forward (if they don’t leave), so long as the fearmongers keep their distance.

At the forefront of this survey are the same people who are not paying attention to the realities of today. Our very own mentors — Spain, Belgium, Ireland to a lesser extent — have all turned secular. It’s a sorry fact that Belgium and Ireland, that were once the “priest factories of the world,” now have to import Filipino and African priests to appease their faithful. An atheist minister (in Canada), church closings, priests leaving (or incarcerated), parishes going bankrupt, bishop resignations — these are “writings on the wall.” In the end, the failure of religion to modernize and become relevant is its Achilles heel. “To have lived well is to change often”—that’s an admonition from a cardinal of a century before that has since lost its meaning.

On a practical level, we have a constituency of Filipinos who will not be employable in a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) economy. These are the people who will make up a significant number of the poor and the marginalized. Our natural ingenuity got stuck with the jeepney! We are mired in the “God will provide” mentality. Five hundred years of praying has not given us a Thomas Edison, a Steve Jobs or even a Lee Kuan Yew (because these role models are atheists?). Half of us are still waiting for manna, and others are too busy reinventing the wheel.

It’s downright lamentable when we can be so satisfied with call centers or being the best maritime sailors in the world, using technology provided by the Indians and ships built by South Korea. That’s a country with half of our population, in a constant state of war, with hardly any water “frontage” and yet a leader in shipbuilding and ocean-going drill rigs, and tops in R&D, telecommunications, electronics, auto, etc.
We are all fluff, not enough action, and have the mindset of a dinosaur. The high rates of poverty and religiosity correlating highly with scientific illiteracy are significant factors that will determine whether we can engage and appreciate the role of science in our lives.

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Edwin de Leon, M.Ed. ([email protected] gmail.com), is a retired science teacher, high school principal and a secular humanist.

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TAGS: Edwin de Leon, Inquirer Commentary, Poverty, Religiosity, scientific literacy
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