Thinking like a scientist

Jerry Coyne made a crucial point about this De Dorian Sci Ed 101 stuff.

…teaching evolution and dispelling creation provides students with a valuable lesson: it teaches them to think scientifically—surely one of the main points of a science class. They learn to weigh evidence and to show how that evidence can be used to discriminate between alternative explanations. It’s of little consequence to me that one alternative explanation comes from a literal interpretation of scripture. Indeed, it’s useful, for this is a real life example—one that’s going on now—of how alternative empirical claims are fighting for primacy in the intellectual marketplace. What better way to engage students in the scientific method?

Exactly. It’s a terribly narrowed and pinched version of teaching that De Dora is defending here. (He seems to be trying to claim this isn’t what he wants, it’s just what the law compels, but I don’t really believe him. I think he has a visceral dislike of all but the most apologetic atheism and I think that dislike infects everything he says on this subject. I could be wrong though – he writes so clumsily that it’s really impossible to be sure exactly what he is saying.)

Bizarrely though, De Dora said much the same thing himself at one point, but apparently without realizing he’d done it. He’s confused.

…the answer seems to be that we should ensure our high school science teachers are instructing students on how to think like a scientist, and imparting to students the body of knowledge scientists have accrued (and that all of our teachers generally are doing similar in their respective fields). From there, the children take that knowledge as they will.

God he’s a bad writer. But never mind that – the point is that he slipped up and said that teachers should be teaching students how to think like a scientist. So they should, but that means teachers need to teach students how anyone knows all this stuff, how the “body of knowledge” was collected and argued over and questioned and criticized – which includes for instance what it replaced, what previous claims to knowledge shaped it or got in its way or motivated it – and so on. It’s not enough to just open children’s heads and dump in a quart or two of Facts. If the Constitution requires science teachers to restrict themselves to such an impoverished version of teaching, then that’s a terrible worrying tragic situation. If it doesn’t, De Dora is talking nonsense.

Massimo is very annoyed that so many people are unimpressed by De Dora. Massimo does tend to exaggerate…

And speaking of content, what was so witless, wanky, wishy-washy, and witless about De Dora’s post? Oh, he dared question (very politely, and based on argument) one of the dogmas of the new atheism: that religious people (that’s about 90% of humanity, folks) ought (and I use the term in the moral sense) to be frontally assaulted and ridiculed at all costs, because after all, this is a war, and the goal is to vanquish the enemy, reason and principles be damned.

That’s rationally speaking?

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