This paper reflects the research and thoughts of a student at the time the paper was written for a course at Bryn Mawr College. Like other materials on Serendip, it is not intended to be "authoritative" but rather to help others further develop their own explorations. Web links were active as of the time the paper was posted but are not updated.

Contribute Thoughts | Search Serendip for Other Papers | Serendip Home Page

The Story of Evolution, Spring 2005
First Web Papers
On Serendip

Teaching Science


Liz Paterek

Science is often taught as the "real truth" (1); however, this approach is inaccurate and does not benefit science. Science should be taught as one of many possible explanations for an event based on experimental evidence. The root of the problem of teaching evolution and other controversial science within schools not lies in the subject material but also in the manner in which it is taught. Changing the way science is taught would improve the understanding and application of science and possibly get rid of some of the controversy; however, but teaching science as truth creates problems for the acceptance and use of science. Therefore it must be ensured that science is taught in manner that full represents how it works.

Science is often taught as a method set out to provide truth. Mayr states that when seeking truth we turn to science (1). The author of a high school science textbook, which received the stamp stating that evolution is only a theory, complains that the other science is presented as being true with the exception of evolution. He is offended by this statement because he feels that if other science is taught as fact, evolution should be presented in a similar manner (2). This statement is of truth in science inaccurate but it is representative of the manner in which science is often presented in the classroom. For example, students are not taught that gravity is one possible explanation behind why things fall to the ground, and that it is very well supported by experimental evidence. Instead they are taught that things fall because there is gravity. This makes gravity seem like truth.

Science can never be proven. It is simply an explanation for some event that is based on experimental results. As long as the experiments continue to support this story, it does not require revision. However, this does not make it true; it simply means that all evidence up until this point has supported that story. At any point some new evidence can be presented that changes the story. While that evidence must be tested further to make sure that it is accurate, the fact that the story is malleable is something that is unique to science. Another unique aspect to science is that its claims are able to be tested and disproved. It provides a mechanism that requires scientists to validate their theories with evidence (3). Since individual perspectives can play a role in science, there are always multiple ways that the story can be told based on the evidence gathered. This provides many paths that can lead to theories that better support the evidence, although none can ever be proven correct. These aspects make science different from religion, which often does not offer an explanation for events or provide repeatable experiments.

A story can be described as the summary of events, and is often influenced in some manner by the author's perspective (4). Science then is a story which is built on events, called experiments. The story that is told is influenced by those who tell it. The Catholic Church for instance, can look at Darwin's writings and state that there is an element of intelligent design in evolution (5). By citing the "irreducible complexity" of things such as the immune system response, one biochemist argues this intricateness is the "hallmark of intelligent design". However, this perspective is not scientific because the biochemist answers questions posed against the theory with responses like "we don't know". He also believes that the diversity of life is "a mystery" and offers no evidence outside of the complexity of the system or experimentation that can be done to validate his ideas (3). However, from Darwin's perspective, a more scientific perspective, there is only evolution, it has no higher purpose. Things that evolved exist only by random chance and their beneficial effect on the organism. Darwin uses evidence such as the fossil record, comparative embryology, and vestigial structures in species to support his claims (1). Today computer programs can be used to validate the theory of random chance and natural selection, showing that over time a random pattern can produce something that appears to have been made through intelligent design.

Presenting science as a story has many benefits. Students can more accurately understand what science can provide human society. Therefore when they approach science, it will not seem as thought it brings ultimate truth but provides explanations that can be beneficial to the understanding of the world around us. This also permits science to be more malleable. When people do not accept it as truth and are willing to question older theories, new theories can be formulated. This can move science in a new direction. Stories accepted as absolute truth can be dangerous because people tend to be unwilling to change their views in light of new evidence or a story that better summarizes observations. This is clearly seen in the current debate over evolution where evolution is still so strongly fought against in part because it goes against a "truth" that humans are special and superior. This unwillingness to change can lead to stubbornness and the inability for science to find new theories that benefit human understanding.

By changing the way science is taught, it may make it less controversial in the classroom. There does not seem to be any dispute over learning other religions in school. Most schools speak about Greek and Roman mythology. The lack of dispute is most likely due to the fact that mythology is not presented as a fact but a story. It does not threaten the prevailing religion. When science is taught as absolute fact and it .will sometimes go against Biblical teachings and it becomes a threat to religion.
Presenting science as a story and not fact poses some problems. People may be unwilling to accept the fact that science is not provable. Knowing that we cannot really prove anything is a disconcerting thought. People may reject it or fight against it. People may also be less willing to use science as a basis for understanding because it cannot provide truth. Religious alternatives like creationism often offer a comfort of seeing the "world as stable and purposeful" (3). Since religion offers comfort and truth it may sway people who feel they need some truth in their lives. Another worry is that common understanding of words like theory may taint perspective. Edward Larson states that the understanding of the words theory is "akin to 'hunch'"; however, to scientists it means "a systematic framework of explainable observations." (3) With these common misunderstandings, it would be easy for teachers to write off evolution and other controversial science as merely a "hunch" rather than a well researched and documented event that seems rational based on the evidence we are provided. People may lack the understanding that just because it can never really be proven, does not mean that the overwhelming amount of evidence that supports much of science can be ignored. This means that teaching science in a way that still emphasizes that the theories are carefully researched and backed with strong evidence.

Presenting science as a story is beneficial to the scientific process and will create less controversy. In teaching science as a possible story, the door is opened for students to think for themselves in trying to understand the way the world works rather than relying on ideas of the past. However, it must be ensured that science is treated with respect despite the fact that it is not provable. Classroom must state that science is based on a large amount of experimental evidence and that it is testable. While it can never be proven, an individual can choose to believe in whatever they wish.

Works Cited:
1) Mayr, Ernst. What Evolution Is. Basic Books. 2001. New York
2) Evolution Ruling Gets Cheers from Scientists. CNN.com. 14 Jan 2005. 5 Feb 2005.
Available WWW: http://www.cnn.com/2005/EDUCATION/01/14/evolution.stickers.ap/
3) Adler, Jerry Doubting Darwin. Newsweek. 7 Feb. 2005
4) Dictionary.com. 7 Feb 2005
Available WWW: dictionary.com
5) Milner, et all. Intelligent Design? American Institute of Biological Sciences April 2002. 5 Feb 2005. 2005
Available WWW: http://www.actionbioscience.org/evolution/nhmag.html


| Course Home Page | Forum | Science in Culture | Serendip Home |

Send us your comments at Serendip

© by Serendip 1994- - Last Modified: Wednesday, 02-May-2018 10:51:48 CDT