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

Paper No. 12
Presentation Time: 10:45 AM


WRIGHT, Elizabeth, Liberal Arts Department, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, 112 S. Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL 60603-3002, ewrigh@artic.edu

One way to deal with creationists in the science classroom has traditionally been to distinguish between the subjects accessible to science and those outside the realm of scientific inquiry. However, students, especially those new to science, may be uncertain about what we mean by topics addressable by science and the scientific method. What places a topic outside the realm of science?

On the first day of my introductory courses for non-majors I, like many of my colleagues, discuss the nature of science and of the scientific method. I conclude that the scientific method represents an advance in the history of scientific inquiry, because in its ideal form testing determines our decisions about a hypothesis, not the church, the king, or even our own desires. (We also discuss how actual practice always deviates from the ideal!)

I then present a hypothesis about the structure of the earth: a diagram of the “world of the ancient Hebrews,” based on Hebrew scriptures and commentary. It incorporates the solid earth, waters above the earth, below the earth, and above the firmament, the firmament (air and astronomical bodies), the Heavenly Seat of the Divinity, and Sheol. I ask students to imagine testing this hypothesis, which they do very easily. I lead them into a discussion about our current model of the structure of the earth, and develop the notion of density layering. I then ask them about the density of the various components of the ancient hypothesis, including God or Sheol, and let them come up with the idea that some things are beyond the reach of science. This exercise sets good ground rules for what we consider in my science classes and what we do not, which comes in handy in lectures on evolution.