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Understanding the Nature of Science: A Critical Part of the Public Acceptance of Evolution. Keith B. Miller Department of Geology Kansas State University.

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Understanding the Nature of Science: A Critical Part of the Public Acceptance of Evolution

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Understanding the nature of science a critical part of the public acceptance of evolution l.jpg

Understanding the Nature of Science: A Critical Part of the Public Acceptance of Evolution

Keith B. Miller

Department of Geology

Kansas State University


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Science educators have largely failed to communicate the processes by which scientific understandings of the natural world are obtained.


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Widespread misconceptions of the nature of science underlie much of the popular resistance to the conclusions of modern science -- particularly evolution.


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Misconception 1

Science is a thinly disguised effort to promote a godless worldview.


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Response

Science is:

1) a methodology

2) a search for chains of natural

cause-and-effect processes

Science is NOT:

1) a statement about the nature of

ultimate reality


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Misconception 2

Supernatural action is a legitimate subject of scientific inquiry.


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Response

  • The methodology of science is incapable of investigating “supernatural action.”

  • A supernatural agent is effectively a black box, and appeals to supernatural action are equivalent to appeals to ignorance.


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Misconception 3

Evolution is inherently atheistic.

(corollary)

Evolution and Creation are two mutually exclusive choices.


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Response

  • Science does not affirm or deny the existence of a Creator. It is simply silent on the existence or action of God.

  • A simple conflict or “warfare” view of science and faith is historically invalid.


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Misconception 4

True science deals with proven facts

Theories are mere speculation and philosophy


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Response

  • Science is NOT a mastery of a body of unchanging scientific “facts.”

  • Observational “facts” by themselves do not yield understanding.

  • Theoretical inquiry is the essence of science. Theories integrate diverse observations and give them meaning and coherence.


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Response

  • Theories are modified and replaced as new observations accumulate, and improved explanatory models are developed.

  • The very strength of scientific methodology is that ideas are subject to testing and verification.


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Misconception 5

Historical sciences are not testable


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Response

  • The predictions of hypotheses about past events are continually tested by new observations.

  • Research in the historical sciences proceeds by an almost continuous process of hypothesis creation and testing.


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Misconception 6

There is no way to objectively select among “theories.” Theories win acceptance for political and social reasons.

(corollary)

Public opinion is a valid basis for determining public science curricula.


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Response

Good science is not determined by popular vote. Rather, it is the consensus of the community of science professionals that determines the currently best theories. That community includes individuals with a wide range of cultural and religious worldviews.


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Conclusions

  • We should all be quick to distinguish scientific practice from a philosophical scientism that denies the ultimate reality of anything beyond the material.

  • As scientists and science educators we must be attentive to teach not just the content of our science, but its methodological foundation.

  • Science is a dynamic, open-ended, and thoroughly human enterprise.


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