One of the writing prompts I assigned to my argumentative writing class directed the students to write about what they thought the role of science should be in our lives. As source documents I had them read this article by Michael Crichton and this article by Stephen Jay Gould. While I have my own views on what the role of science should be, I try my level best to keep from influencing my students’ opinions on the matter because I want them arguing with intellectual genuineness and not in an anticipation from what they think I want to hear. My only caveat is that they support their argument with reason and logic and avoid baseless and ill-informed opinions.
Some of the answers I got from the science prompt not only disappointed me as a teacher, they kinda made me sad for the future.
The teacher in me was saddened when I realized that too many students apparently don’t know how to read intelligently, because despite the fact that Gould clearly defines “theory” in scientific terms I still got far too many essays that assumed “theory” and “guess” are synonyms. They are not. Evolution is a theory in the same way that gravity or relativity is a theory.
Far more disturbing than the poor readings of the source documents was the number of students that argued that science shouldn’t offend people. These students, which were admittedly very few, seemed to think that scientific discoveries that in some way “offend” or “stress out” the religiously devout should be suppressed. One student actually wrote that while evolution may be true, scientists should stop talking about it because the very idea of evolutionary theory offends so many people.
Thomas Paine, in his essay “Profession of Faith,” stated,
It is impossible to calculate the moral mischief, if I may so express it, that mental lying has produced in society. When a man has so far corrupted and prostituted the chastity of his mind as to subscribe his professional belief to things he does not believe, he has prepared himself for the commission of every other crime. He takes up the trade of a priest for the sake of gain, and, in order to qualify himself for that trade, he begins with a perjury. Can we conceive anything more destructive to morality than this?
I’m not blaming my students for their aversion to truth because we’re living in an age where intellectualism is looked down upon, but at some point they’re culpable for perpetuating ignorance, which in my mind, is immoral and despicable. I hope this ostrich approach to scientific discovery isn’t as prevalent as I believe that it is, but I’m nervous that in reality it’s probably more prevalent than I could ever imagine.
God offers to every mind its choice between truth and repose. Take which you please, — you can never have both. Between these, as a pendulum, man oscillates. He in whom the love of repose predominates will accept the first creed, the first philosophy, the first political party he meets, — most likely his father’s. He gets rest, commodity, and reputation; but he shuts the door of truth. He in whom the love of truth predominates will keep himself aloof from all moorings, and afloat. He will abstain from dogmatism, and recognize all the opposite negations, between which, as walls, his being is swung. He submits to the inconvenience of suspense and imperfect opinion, but he is a candidate for truth, as the other is not, and respects the highest law of his being.–Ralph Waldo Emerson “Intellect“