2005 Salt Lake City Annual Meeting (October 16–19, 2005)

Paper No. 2
Presentation Time: 8:30 AM


MILLER, Keith B., Department of Geology, Kansas State Univ, 108 Thompson Hall, Manhattan, KS 66506-3201, kbmill@ksu.edu

Challenges to modern evolutionary science are often rooted in fundamental misconceptions of the nature of science itself. Among the public, there is a widespread perception that the focus of science on natural cause-and-effect explanations is a thinly disguised effort to promote a godless worldview, rather than an inherent methodological limitation. This false “warfare” or conflict view of science and faith underlies much of the public rejection of the conclusions of modern science. Furthermore, theories are commonly viewed as merely unsubstantiated guesses, rather than as the unifying concepts that give our observations coherence and meaning. Theories within the historical sciences, in particular, are seen as being inherently untestable. Because historical theories are viewed as untestable guesses, it is argued that all “theories” have a right to a hearing in the public science classroom.

Science for many is simply an encyclopedic accumulation of unchanging observational “fact.” The dynamic nature of science with the continual revision of theoretical constructs becomes for them evidence of the fleeting validity of scientific “truth.” The tentative and open-ended nature of scientific conclusions has trouble gaining traction in a culture that seeks certainty and simplicity. Many students are impatient with the often ambiguous and complex answers of science.

The future of scientific literacy will depend on how we respond to these misconceptions as scientists and educators. It is important that we are attentive to teach not just the content of our science, but also its methodological foundation. The nature and limitations of science must be taught consciously and explicitly.