Mr. Tanenbaum laments that, according to a recent survey, "40 percent of the American electorate seems to have forgotten what science is." However, I would respectfully contend that Mr. Tanenbaum, like many scientists who have “drawn the line,” are either ignoring or are unaware of the philosophical context of science.
Perhaps some of the “problematic 40%” are still aware that the process and progression of the natural sciences depends upon several presuppositions--claims that are not provable, but are accepted by faith. Let me briefly list them. First, scientists must acknowledge the existence of objective reality—belief that physical reality exists apart from our imaginations or individual subjective interpretations. Second, experimentation is based on presupposing the operation of “cause and effect” relationships in nature. Finally, scientists believe that experimental outcomes should be repeatable because it is accepted that natural processes are orderly and governed by certain natural laws that do not change from day to day. In short, these presuppositions represent a belief system that precedes and under-girdsscientific thought and activity.
Mr. Tanenbaum’s view raises a second contextual problem for science and science education. When we consider the philosophical context of what we call natural science (once called natural philosophy), we realize that “natural science” is limited in its capacity to define the boundaries of what we call “the real world.” On the other hand, those who credit natural science with limitless powers to know all of reality (i.e. possess the faith that "all we see is all there is") find it completely logical to deny “supernatural causation.”
|Truman (Jim Carey) walks to work|
in his contrived world
I believe that many in Mr. Tanenbaum's "40 percent" are good scientists, well aware of the wonder and complexity of the natural world; yet they are also well aware of the philosophical context of science. The resulting perspective has led them to choose not to believe that life can be explained entirely by undirected natural causes. Therefore, these folks tend to favor discussions of supernatural causation in the science classroom. They argue that belief in such models is as valid as the belief that inanimate matter can self-organize and become animate without supernatural intervention.
|Truman touches the limiting horizon|
of the contrived world.
What then is the role of the teacher or professor in a place of learning? Is it his or her place to guard the boundaries as if to keep Truman from discovering that there might be something beyond the horizon? Or is it to rediscover the joy known by educators of past centuries who believed in a truly “liberal” education? I have known the satisfaction of watching students motivated to learn when they are exposed to the “inquiry approach” in the science classroom and laboratory. The scene in which Truman breaks through the false horizon erected around his artificial world should convict all of us against the tendency to limit our students and cut off creative thinking. If we fear the entry of “junk science” don’t we believe that “good science” is capable of eliminating false hypotheses through honest inquiry?
|Exhilaration in discovering "reality beyond"|
As I complete this blog entry, the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) is calling on Ball State University to discipline Dr. Eric Hedin, a professor of physics and astronomy, for his alleged attempt “to proselytize students and advance Christianity by using gaps in scientific knowledge—the ‘boundaries of science’ in an attempt to prove religious belief correct…” What’s the harm in college students “exploring the boundaries of science” at an age when they are seeking the meaning of life? After all, aren’t they also exploring moral and ethical boundaries as they consider their relationship to alcohol, drugs, and gambling? All the while many students are bored and unfulfilled as they listen to liberal progressive and humanistic dogma in the classroom. Many can relate to Jim Carrey’s character, Truman, was as he went to work daily in his artificial world. On the other hand, might the answer to the woes of science education be found in the science classroom where ‘tolerance’ for all viewpoints is justly applied?” Wouldn’t it bring a breath of fresh air on secular American university campuses and on many “Christian campuses” to offer to students a “truly liberal education?
From a Christian worldview, teaching and research in the natural sciences should be undertaken as a stewardship of the truths of the natural revelation and of the special revelation. As stewards of both the knowledge of science and the young learners entrusted to us, we should take our role seriously:
Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren,
knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment. – James 3:1
Brand, Leonard. 2004. A Biblical Perspective on the Philosophy of Science. http://www.aiias.edu/ict/vol_31B/31Bcc_043-080.pdf
Ham, Ken, Georgia Purdom, Steve Golden. 2013. Responding to the False Claims of a Scientific American Columnist. www.answersingenesis.org Search word: “Tanenbaum”
Pearcey, N.R. and C.B. Thaxton. 1994. The Soul of Science: Christian Faith and Natural Philosophy.
Crossway Books, Wheaton, IL.