Understanding the Nature of Science:
A Critical Part of the Public Acceptance of Evolution

by Keith B. Miller
Department of Geology
Kansas State University

      Challenges to modern evolutionary science are often rooted in fundamental misconceptions of the nature of science itself.  Among the public, there is a widespread perception that the focus of science on natural cause-and-effect explanations is a thinly disguised effort to promote a godless worldview, rather than an inherent methodological limitation.  This false “warfare” or conflict view of science and faith underlies much of the public rejection of the conclusions of modern science.  Furthermore, theories are commonly viewed as merely unsubstantiated guesses, rather than as the unifying concepts that give our observations coherence and meaning.  Theories within the historical sciences, in particular, are seen as being inherently untestable.  Because historical theories are viewed as untestable guesses, it is argued that all “theories” have a right to a hearing in the public science classroom.
      Science for many is simply an encyclopedic accumulation of unchanging observational “fact.”  The dynamic nature of science with the continual revision of theoretical constructs becomes for them evidence of the fleeting validity of scientific “truth.”  The tentative and open-ended nature of scientific conclusions has trouble gaining traction in a culture that seeks certainty and simplicity.  Many students are impatient with the often ambiguous and complex answers of science.
      The future of scientific literacy will depend on how we respond to these misconceptions as scientists and educators.  It is important that we are attentive to teach not just the content of our science, but also its methodological foundation.  The nature and limitations of science must be taught consciously and explicitly.

An accompanying powerpoint presentation from Miller begins with two principles — 1) science educators have largely failed to communicate the processes by which scientific understandings of the natural world are obtained, and  2) widespread misconceptions of the nature of science underlie much of the popular resistance to the conclusions of modern science, particularly evolution — and continues with six misconceptions (about the nature of science) plus explanatory responses.

This talk was part of a session — Speaking Out for Evolution: Rationale and Resources for Supporting the Teaching of Evolution — on October 16, 2005 for the annual meeting of The Geological Society of America.  You can read titles & abstracts for other talks in the session, by Carol Tang, Scott Sampson, Carl Bergstrom, Judith Scotchmoor, Mark Terry, Patricia Kelley, and Eugenie Scott.

you can read

other pages by Keith Miller

and pages by other authors about
warfare between science and faith   &   methodological naturalism

this page is http://www.asa3.org/ASA/education/origins/mn-km.htm