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“Two Roads Diverged in a Wood…”

{Note:  Today will be the last post for about a week while I take a few days to recharge. Feel free to peruse previous posts until then!}

Back in January, I did an episodic version of my essay, “What is Science?” It is my primer on the history and philosophy of science—the how and why we do science the way we do. It also covers, very briefly, the nature and types of proof, and how scientific proof is not universally appropriate in all fields of science, and how confusion can easily arise over the issue.

In other posts, the difference between philosophical and methodological naturalism has been examined.

Next week, the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) will be discussing the adoption of various supplemental materials in science courses to update the textbooks to reflect changes in the state public school achievement exams.

(While the value or waste of such educational metrics is a valuable topic for discussion, I’m not covering it here.)

Part of what is at issue is what and how the above topics will be presented. What is the philosophy of science that we want students to understand before leaving high school? Will a distinction be made between philosophical and methodological naturalism? Why or why not? Will we teach how scientific thought evolved from superstition in a historically accurate and unbiased way? Will we include both the comfortable and uncomfortable moments of those developments?

Why might such fundamental questions be controversial? A common error in logic is called equivocation, which is substituting evidence for one conclusion into the argument for a different conclusion.

A common equivocation is equating methodological naturalism (MN) with philosophical naturalism (PN) and discussing them in the same context. Many people feel that if you are using MN, you must therefore hold a worldview of PN. Therefore, an attempt to separate them, teach students to separate them and to recognize when they are being confused in an argument can be counterproductive to those who benefit from the conflation.

Namely, the confusing of PN and MN benefits those who advocate PN as the only sane worldview, and appropriate the strengths of MN as applying to PN. In plain English, an example of this would be those who believe that since science does not and has limited ability to investigate the existence and properties of any supernatural aspects of the universe, such aspects cannot therefore exist. Since they have a desire that nothing outside of nature exists, this is a convenient position to take. However, MN does not demand that condition that the natural realm be the only one to exist. It only demands that natural causes are expected when studying natural phenomenon.

Recognizing this limitation is inconvenient because it cannot close the books on those who maintain either a belief in or an allowance for anything beyond natural causes. Therefore, those who oppose such beliefs do not want people to see the equivocation. The downside is that education and critical thinking suffer.

So, the question comes down to do we want to teach our children how to think, how to evaluate evidence clearly and correctly and come to their own conclusions, or do we want to muddle their minds and teach them what to think, which has the inevitable impact of reducing their capacity to consider new ideas and all of the ramifications of those ideas, which will reduce creativity and innovation?

If you had three minutes to talk with your SBOE, which would you advocate and why?


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