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1. Intro to “What is Science?”

Over the next several posts, I will share a lecture I used to give on the first day of class to all of my students. It is a brief, but dense overview of the philosophy and history of science, including the nature of proof. I shared it with my students because we no longer teach this to our science students, and the deleterious effects of it are evident in the increasing incidents of scientific fraud and all around poor presentations of scientific thought in popular science books written by scientists.

I presented it to students as an open letter in the introduction to their lab manual, so it is sans citations. However, it is reasonably consistent with more scholarly accounts. While some students liked it, most though it was boring, and some accused me of teaching theology. It seems these days that mentioning God in a science class in anything other than a completely dismissive, critical or patronizing fashion is ‘teaching theology.’

What is ironic about the whole thing is that I was trying to educate them on how various worldviews have developed so that when they are in a discussion with someone holding a different worldview than they, they can recognize the worldview, realize its origin and history, and respond appropriately in a way that builds understanding instead of resentment. The fact they were so ignorant they perceived it as theology demonstrated the need for them to study it.

For those who teach either philosophy or science, consider teaching logic and science history and philosophy to your students in some fashion. If we do not pass on the philosophical, historical and epistemological foundations of our respective fields, we are sending students out from our programs ill-equipped to deal with the challenges they will be facing as our knowledge base expands exponentially. Without a good foundation, our knowledge base cannot stand securely, and poor conclusions and applications will be made.


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