Unwanted science dictates

March 7, 1997

PROFESSOR Humphrey's ill-reasoned argument for mandatory science instruction contains at least three fallacies.

First, he presumes that a belief in God is tantamount to a disbelief in science. Not only is this historically unwarranted, but in the US case on which he relies, he fails to note that two-thirds of those who believe in evolution also believe that God is responsible for it. In the circumstances, the pedagogically responsible thing to do is not to condemn religion but to use students' natural belief in a divine plan as a springboard for teaching evolution.

His second fallacy involves an equivocation on the definition of science so that it means both an established body of truths and a critical mindset. This leads him to the paradoxical conclusion that we should indoctrinate students in science's critical mindset. The way to avoid this paradox is to teach ways of enabling students to become critical of the beliefs they already hold - in other words, a "Socratic" approach that gradually leads students from whatever dogmatic religious beliefs they might hold to more nuanced ones that can accommodate evolution.

But the biggest fallacy is to presume that greater understanding of science (at least as defined by scientists like himself) would increase students' belief and interest in it. While one might wish this were the case, the fact is that a large proportion of the lay public count themselves among science's well-wishers precisely because they purport to see a connection between science and spirituality, as in the "Tao of Physics". Were such spiritual connections systematically outlawed by the scientific community, one might expect an even sharper decline in public support for science.

Steve Fuller Professor of sociology and social policy Durham University

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