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“
I just finished a brilliant essay for this post (at least that is what I am going to claim). Probably Mark erased it because he was jealous (at least that is what I am going to claim). So I am going to try again…
“But I had to know. Even as the thought of going away without knowing came through my head, I knew that I had to know the truth. For the truth is a terrible thing. You dabble your foot in it and it is nothing. Nut you walk alittle farther and you feel it pull you like an undertow or a whirlpool. First there is the slow pull so steady and gradual you scarcely notice it, then the acceleration, then the dizzy whirl and plunge to blackness. For there is a blackness of truth, too. they say it is a terible thing to fall into the Grace of god. I am prepared to believe that.”
Robert Penn Warren “All The King’s Men”
I thought that you might appreciate that quote. I read it yesterday. and thought that is was interesting. Although I think that most of us merely dabble our toe in the stream and never feel the true and powerful pull of the water. (I wonder now if Penn is referring to Ezekiel?). It takes something (courage or maybe just effort) to go deeper into the flowing water.
I liked the two articles that you made the students read for their essay, although I have to admit that I liked Crighton’s better than Gould’s. I am sure it is because I agree quicker with Crighton than Gould. But I found Gould interesting and informative. And a challenge to what I believe, which is a very good thing. The ideas in the essays contribute to making my thought better and so therefore I am glad to have faced them. Hopefully I have moved closer to the truth. I liked how More described information in “Utopia.” Ideas were allowed to move freely an openly. Eventually the truth would prevail.
I think that these are two points that we forget or deny. We dabble, when the truth demands that we spent more time and effort than we do before we make a decision. And we refuse a proper hearing for other ideas.
Offended? Tough luck. Grow thicker skin. Or just shut up and get out of the way. Let the debate rage, the ideas flow, avoid the personal attacks, unless it is really funny or you are dealing with an incredible moron. (BTW IMO the only person that we are truly able to oppress is ourself. If that offends somebody, whoops.
I like the banner at the top of the page, but at times it scares me. It challenges me to be something better, but if also seems like a smug statement. As though making that statement somehow mean we have arrived. That mind set scares me and I fear that place. I guess this is because we make our personal beliefs bigger than the truth. A challenge becomes a personal affront.
I don’t know if this was better or worse, but there you go.