Science, Non-Science, and Nonsense: Toward the Legitimate Science Classroom

Mark A. Kalthoff explores the differing views of what constitutes science and argues that a science curriculum should rightly include far more than the exact and testable data which many modern educationists assert are the only legitimate material for study in a science class.
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Recent years have witnessed no shortage of controversy regarding the nature and proper content of primary and secondary school curricula. The science classroom has offered no exception. Indeed, ever since the famed Scopes “Monkey” Trial of 1925, parents and teachers, politicians and lawyers, scientists and clergy, journalists and pundits, have weighed in with sundry suggestions, proposals and mandates regarding the teaching of science.1 The results, contend some observers, suggest less progress in legitimate learning, than in production of lame legislation and loony litigation. In many cases, once the shouting subsides, terms of dispute can be stated rather simply: Such-and-such a topic, whatever interest it may hold for some, does not belong in the science classroom because the topic in question is not science; and only science belongs in the science classroom. A recent example of this kind of public kerfuffle was the 2005 Kitzmiller v. Dover trial in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania Federal District Court, in which the public school teaching of “Intelligent Design” theory was found to be an unconstitutional violation of the first amendment’s establishment clause. My concern is not to consider the merits or flaws with Intelligent Design or any other contested theory or ideology, be it from the left or the right. Instead, this essay considers a premise upon which much curricular debate rests and it suggests something about the educational implications that follow from a recognition that this premise is, in fact, false.

In 1976 the English philosopher Alan Chalmers came out with a very nice little book under the title What is this Thing Called Science? He concluded the volume ironically by criticizing his own title: “[T]he question that constitutes the title of this book is a misleading and presumptuous one,” he wrote. “It presumes that there is a single category science, and implies that various areas of knowledge, physics, biology, history, sociology and so on, either come under that category or do not. I do not know how such a general characterization of science can be established or defended.”2 About the same time, other philosophers of science reached similar conclusions. The distinguished philosopher of science, Larry Laudan, for example, observed that ever since Plato, “philosophers have sought to identify those epistemic features which mark off science from other sorts of belief and activity. Nonetheless, it seems pretty clear that philosophy has largely failed to deliver the relevant goods. . . . [I]t is probably fair to say that there is no demarcation line between science and non- science, or between science and pseudo-science, which would win assent from a majority of philosophers. Nor is there one which should win acceptance from philosophers or anyone else . . .”3 Philosophers of science have persisted in this thesis to the present day. How did they reach such a conclusion? And what are the implications for the science classroom? First, the story of the failed attempts to distinguish science from everything else is long and complicated.4 Further, scholarly “awareness of the contingency and fluidity of the boundaries between the sciences and the humanities,” continues to generate conversation.5 Although the scope of this essay does not permit a complete retelling of the narrative, it opens with a review of the tale’s general themes before consideration of the educational implications.

The tale begins with ancient attempts to distinguish knowledge (episteme), on the one hand, from mere opinion (doxa), on the other. Here Aristotle led the way in his Posterior Analytics by distinguishing knowledge (or science) from opinion according to the principle that knowledge furnishes apodictic certainty. 6 Another ancient demarcation criterion was sometimes advanced upon the distinction between techne (the skill of one able at an art or craft or “know-how”) and scientia (demonstrative understanding
or “know-why”). One may be a capable auto repairman, for example, without possessing genuine understanding
of the chemical and thermodynamic principles of the internal combustion engine. Hence we distinguish between the craftsman and the scientist by virtue of the scientist’s comprehension of first principles. Thus there emerged in the ancient world two candidates for demarcation: one grounded upon the separation between apodictic certainty of science and fallible opinion of extra-scientific issues; the other distinguished between understanding and mere know-how.7

By the end of the seventeenth century, however, scientists had come to disregard the distinction between understanding and know-how as a viable demarcation line. Newton, for example, is famous for rejecting attempts to understand the cause of gravity or to answer why-questions about it. Instead, he remained content to describe mathematically how gravitation functioned (whatever it was).8 The result was that scientists came to regard the distinction between science and non-science as the distinction between infallible knowledge and fallible opinion.

Such a view of the scientific enterprise could not withstand the overwhelming theme of the history of science, namely that scientific theories are not infallible. They are fallible, subject to correction and open to revision. If they were not, then the history of science would be in the odd position of declaring every revised or replaced scientific theory unscientific. This would render the history of science the history of non-science. The clear implication was that scientific belief, because it is not infallible, ultimately is a species of opinion.9

Still philosophers remained convinced that even if scientific belief is only a kind of opinion, it must be a special kind of opinion that is ultimately distinct from superstition. To demonstrate this, philosophers knew that they had to craft that distinction upon some other criterion than the alleged “certainty” of scientific knowledge. Surely, they believed, science could be set off from everything else, if not by virtue of the certainty it offered, then, perhaps, because it followed a distinct methodology, something they called the scientific method. Consider this view as expressed by the great English statistician Karl Pearson in his late- nineteenth-century work The Grammar of Science: “The scientific method is the sole path by which we can attain to knowledge. The very word ‘knowledge’ indeed only applies to the products of the scientific method in the field. Other methods . . . may lead to fantasy as that of the poet or metaphysician, to belief or superstition, but never to knowledge.”10 Strong words these are. It seemed perhaps that this thing called the scientific method would emerge as the decisive tool by which man could definitively set science apart from everything else and acknowledge it as the single source of knowledge. This would require, however, a rigorous and universally held explication of science’s unique method. On this line of thinking any activity that was recognized as scientific would presumably employ the same method as every other ostensibly scientific activity.

This is where the rub came. Philosophers simply could not agree on just what that scientific method was. Was science an activity that restricted its theories to observable entities? Was it an activity that exclusively employed inductive reasoning? Was it an activity unique in its capacity for making predictions? Consensus could not be reached.11 “Absent agreement on what ‘the scientific method’ amounted to, demarcationists were scarcely in a position to argue persuasively that what individuated science was its method.” Moreover, philosophical conceptions of scientific method often suffered from ambiguity or they substantially departed from the methods actually employed by practicing scientists.12 The outcome of this situation, as Larry Laudan eloquently stated was “more than a little ironic”:

At precisely that juncture when science was beginning to have a decisive impact on the lives and institutions of Western man, at precisely that time when ‘scientism’ (i.e., the belief that science and science alone has the answers to all our answerable questions) was gaining ground, in exactly that quarter-century when scientists were doing battle in earnest with all manner of ‘pseudo-scientists’ (e.g. homeopathic physicians, spiritualists, phrenologists, biblical geologists), scientists and philosophers found themselves empty- handed. Except at the rhetorical level, there was no longer any consensus about what separated science from anything else.13

Not surprisingly then, the twentieth century saw the emergence of a new set of demarcationist strategies. The best early case of this new set of strategies emerged during the 1920s and 1930s through the efforts of the so- called Vienna Circle of philosophers to forge a semantic conception of the scientific enterprise, sometimes called “logical positivism.” Science could be distinguished from non-science, logical positivists argued, because only the statements of science were meaningful. Meaningful statements were those that could, at least in principle, be verified. Hence the hope for setting apart science from non-science was placed upon this “verifiability criterion of meaning” which can be briefly stated as follows: a proposition is meaningful, and therefore scientific, if and only if the proposition is empirically verifiable.14 Accordingly, a statement such as “God created the world and saw that it was good” is neither true nor false, but simply meaningless because it is not possible, even
in principle, to say how such a proposition could be empirically verified. On the other hand the statement “Water freezes at 0° C” is empirically verifiable, and therefore meaningful, and thus scientific. Unfortunately for the logical positivist program, however, their own verifiability criterion of meaning could not pass its own test and was rendered meaningless; for to what possible empirical test could this criterion of meaning be subjected? How could anyone, then, presume to demarcate science from non-science by appealing to a meaningless principle? Or as another critic put it, “To say that only factual statements have validity is to be not only dogmatic but self-contradictory, since the statement itself is not factual.”15 The abject failure of logical positivism to demarcate science from non-science ran even deeper than this. While it certainly ruled out some “undesirable” metaphysics from the ranks of science, it failed to exclude other patent nonsense that happened to meet its criterion of meaning. For example, the proposition “The earth is flat,” while clearly absurd, happens to be empirically verifiable in principle (even though the evidence mitigates against it); and therefore it is a meaningful statement that cannot be deemed “unscientific” according to the logical positivist demarcation criterion.16

Following the implosion of logical positivism, philosophers proposed that the search for a qualitative standard by which to isolate the scientific enterprise should be abandoned in favor of a quantitative benchmark. Maybe “scientific status is a matter of degree rather than kind.”17 What sort of things might we consider here? Candidates include the degree to which a science is “well- tested.” For example, one might contend that the theories of terrestrial mechanics are more testable (and thus more scientific) than those of astrology. Perhaps instead, one might appeal to a pragmatic scale. The more scientific an activity, it might be argued, the more useful and reliable will be its products. Some have advanced the notion that science is comparatively progressive and cumulative in its knowledge. Unlike religion, for example, science can claim a rate of “cognitive progress” by which it is set apart from non-scientific activities that accrue knowledge only very slowly, if at all. Still others suggest that a scientific activity will result in more predictions of unanticipated outcomes than a non-scientific activity. It turns out, however,
that every such quantitative benchmark – testability, pragmatic benefits, cognitive progress, predictive capacity and others – demonstrably fails as a viable demarcation criterion.18 Although the scope of this essay does not permit exploration of how each one does fail, philosophical attempts to justify the quantitative approaches all reach the same conclusion: regardless of the criterion applied, each ends up including within the domain of “science” much that is intuitively and generally regarded as “extra- scientific,” and conversely each ends up excluding as “extra-scientific” much that is widely regarded as “scientific.”

What, then, are we to do? Are we to conclude that there is no such thing as science? Or at least, if there is, that we have no way of telling it apart from anything else? I do not think such despair is in order. Do we have to retreat
to some sociological definition and say, “Science is just whatever scientists do”? This would be of little help, of course, because it would merely recast the question to ask who the scientists are.19 Or perhaps we fall back on a tacit intuitive answer: “Science is like obscenity. Although we cannot define it, we know it when we see it.” None of these ultimately satisfy. Consequently, at least in the context of education, we are driven to the only sane conclusion. We must stop asking whether or not an issue, belief, subject,
or activity is “scientific.” Instead we must ask whether or not it is legitimate to discuss an issue, belief, subject or activity (regardless of its alleged “scientific” status) within a classroom that is ostensibly devoted to such topics as physics, chemistry, biology or geology.

Legitimacy and the Contemporary Situation

The issue of scientific legitimacy is distinct from the demarcation problem. As we have seen, the demarcation problem is a theoretical problem without solution. The question of legitimacy is a practical problem with a tangible solution that must be worked out through a collective effort linking the arena of public discourse to the philosopher’s tower, and the scientist’s bench. Although the legitimacy question is not without solution, its solution may change over time. As the philosopher of science Del Ratzsch has put it, “The nature and boundaries of scientific legitimacy were neither found carved in stone somewhere, developed purely a priori, nor just always known innately by humans. Rather, conceptions of . . . scientific legitimacy that we currently take to be correct have histories and have developed along with science.”20 Unlike the demarcation problem, the issue of legitimacy cannot not be solved. The question is whether it will be solved actively (and responsibly) or passively (and irresponsibly). It simply is the case that all manner of subjects are treated by scientists while they are speaking as scientists. Quibbling about whether or not we can classify the subjects about which they speak as “science” has proved an exercise in futility. Rather, our need is to determine whether or not any topic, even if it seems “extra-scientific” by whatever demarcation criterion adopted, may be a legitimate focus for study and discussion by science students.

This is so important because scientific and so- called “non-scientific” issues are interminably intermingled in both theory and practice. Scientists past and present repeatedly have incorporated into their ostensibly “scientific” discourse pronouncements about purpose, ethics, the deity, worldviews, meaning, duty, morality, chance, design, mind, metaphysics, ontology, teleology, good, evil, and so on. The question is not whether such practice is scientific. The question is whether it is legitimate to do so. Before exploring that question, permit me to recite a few examples to acquaint us with the kind of utterances I have in mind.

Ernst Mayr, perhaps the twentieth-century’s greatest biologist, argued in his book, This is Biology: The Science of the Living World, that contemporary moral and political issues are properly matters for biological discourse. He asserted that “an understanding of evolution can give us a worldview that serves as the basis for a sound ethical system that can maintain a healthy human society . . .”21 Worldview? Ethical system? Healthy society? This is hardly the stuff of old-fashioned pure and simple biology. Such topics
have traditionally been the purview of priests, ethicists, and policy experts. But Mayr contends they are matters
for the student of biology. Perhaps they are. At least they cannot be ruled out according to any received criterion of demarcation.

Now consider for a moment conclusions of several biologists who offer pronouncements that they believe to follow directly as conclusions from their biological science:

Ernst Haeckel (1877): “The cell consists of matter called protoplasm, composed chiefly of carbon, with an admixture of hydrogen, nitrogen and sulphur. These component parts, properly united, produce the soul and body of the animated world, and suitably nursed become man. With this single argument the mystery of the universe is explained, the Deity annulled and a new era of infinite knowledge ushered in.”22

Douglas Futumya (1983): “Some shrink from the conclusion that the human species was not designed, has no purpose, and is the product of mere material mechanisms – but this seems to be the message of evolution.”23 Michael Behe (1996): “The result of these cumulative efforts to investigate the cell . . . is a loud, clear, piercing cry of ‘design!’ The result is so unambiguous and so significant that it must be ranked as one of the greatest achievements in the history of science. The discovery rivals those of Newton and Einstein, Lavoisier and Schrödinger, Pasteur, and Darwin. The observation of the intelligent design of life is as momentous as the observation that the earth goes around the sun or that disease is caused by bacteria or that radiation is emitted in quanta.”24

Francis Crick (1988): “Biologists must constantly keep in mind that what they see was not designed, but rather evolved.”25

Michael J. Denton (1998): “. . . the unique fitness of the laws of nature for life is entirely consistent with the older teleological religious concept of the cosmos as a specially designed whole, with life and mankind as its primary goal and purpose. . . the emerging picture provide[s] powerful and self-evident support for the traditional anthropocentric teleological view of the cosmos.”26

George Gaylord Simpson (1949): “Man is the result of a purposeless and natural process that did not have him in mind. He was not planned. He is a state of matter, a form of life, a sort of animal, and a species of the Order Primates, akin nearly or remotely to all of life and indeed to all that is material.”27

Of course there are many more such quotations. Richard Dawkins proclaims that “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist” while another biologist insists that “the universe is a purposeful creation.”28 We could go on and on ping-ponging back and forth quotations attesting to the scientific evidence or lack thereof for meaning, purpose, design, values, et cetera.

Let my intent be clear. I am not concerned here to argue, as some do, that the preceding quotations are dastardly intrusions of scientists into the domain of metaphysical and religious discourse, although they might be just that. Rather since rigid demarcation fails, we should openly acknowledge the fact that the various disciplines, while distinct, are not wholly separable from one another. This means we must learn to navigate those borderlands where scientific discourse overlaps most often with other human concerns. The question becomes one of legitimacy. Is it or is it not legitimate to include in science classrooms discussions of contested issues and ideas that scientists believe, nonetheless, to follow directly from their scientific practice?
There are, of course, those who answer in the negative. Yet, to my knowledge, those who do, rest their opposition to discussions of such things as good and evil, meaning and purpose, design and beauty, etc. upon the nonsensical presumption that science and non-science can be competently demarcated from one another. As already noted, such questions about meaning and purpose whether they ought to or not, do in fact have a place in science because scientists have given them a place, repeatedly talking about purpose, issuing ethical imperatives, and offering normative claims in the name of science.29 Further, scientists do, in fact have scientific methods for addressing the idea of “purpose.” Forensic scientists, detectives, lawyers, insurance fraud investigators, U.S.- government funded SETI researchers, and others all rely on sophisticated scientific methods for detecting purposeful activity. This is not the place to tease out the various conceptions of purpose. That topic could easily command yet another essay. Still it should be easy enough to see that it is one thing to determine whether a given event was the product of intention or purpose. It is another thing to identify the intention or purpose behind the event as benign, beneficent, malevolent, natural, super-natural, etc.

So we return to the question: Is it legitimate to include in science classrooms discussions of issues and ideas that scientists believe to follow directly from their scientific practice, even if some of these issues lurk on the borderlands shared with presumably “extra-scientific” concepts like purpose, meaning, beauty, and design? Permit the proposal of a tentative answer that defends the inclusion of such issues on a carefully limited basis, while avoiding the pitfalls of an “anything goes” free-for-all in the classroom.

Legitimacy and Liberal Education

The great Samuel Johnson rightly noted,

Prudence and justice are virtues, and excellences, of all times and all places; we are perpetually moralists, but we are geometricians only by chance. Our intercourse with intellectual nature is necessary; our speculations upon matter are voluntary, and at leisure. Physiological learning is of such rare emergence, that one man may know another half his life without being able to estimate his skill in hydrostaticks or astronomy; but his moral and prudential character immediately appears.30

I submit that the chief end of education is to furnish and discipline students’ minds and to equip them for human flourishing and constructive participation in civil society. If I am right, and if Samuel Johnson was correct about the perennial need for virtue, if he was correct about the secondary need for technical specialization, and if he was correct when he also asserted that “whether we provide for action or conversation, whether we wish to be useful or pleasing, the first requisite is . . . knowledge of right and wrong,” then I submit that all teachers, of whatever subject matter (even biology, physics, astronomy, or hydrostatics), need to understand these things and be committed to them. Otherwise their primary educational duty cannot be fulfilled.31

I am not suggesting that the science classroom abandon the periodic table for the ten commandments, that learning acid-base titration techniques be replaced by speeches on moral philosophy, or that Mosaic cosmogony replace study of natural selection. I am suggesting that limiting the science classroom to such activities as studying the periodic table, learning titration techniques,
or understanding a natural process like descent with modification, while necessary, cannot be sufficient, even for science education. I am suggesting that to realize the primary pedagogical aim of preparing students for virtuous and constructive participation in civil society, we must not retreat exclusively into the comfortable disciplinary hinterlands of specialization and technique, as if science can be hermetically sealed from other issues. It rarely can. Instead teachers must lead students into the sometimes risky no-man’s land where science overlaps with religion, with ethical and metaphysical theory, with public policy, and with epistemology. For it is there that some of the most important educational work can and must happen. To retreat from it through fear of transgressing a dubitable demarcation line between science and non-science is not just a technical philosophical mistake, but a potentially dangerous omission.

In short, I propose a vision of education that begins with a particular view of mankind and ends with a corresponding understanding of liberal education. Both biologists and theologians acknowledge our identity as homo sapiens. The Latin homo means “mankind or man.” The word sapiens, from the Latin sapientia, means “wisdom” and “discernment.” To be truly human thus requires the cultivation of wisdom and discernment, that is the cultivation of what the ancients called the cardinal virtues – Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, and Temperance. Cardinal here is from the Latin cardo, meaning “hinge.” In short, the realization of all other human goods and of our full flourishing hinges or turns upon the acquisition of these virtues, especially wisdom.32

There is another view of mankind. We might call it homo sciens, from the Latin scientia from which we get the word science. Homo sciens knows lots of stuff. The stuff he knows begins with the assumption that man is, like everything else he sees, a material thing. To be fully human, on this view, is to stockpile material things, to amass knowledge of material things, and to acquire expertise in the techniques of manipulating material things. In the end, this view of mankind underwrites the cynical conclusion of the twentieth-century American journalist H. L. Mencken who declared that human beings are no more than “an endless series of miserable and ridiculous bags of rapidly disintegrating amino acids.”33

What is man? Any view of education must begin with a working answer to this question. Homo sciens can do things. He knows stuff. He is the master of means. Homo sapiens knows what to do and why to do it. He understands ends. The story of the modern era has been the story of the waning of homo sapiens and the waxing of homo sciens.34 As we have acquired the tools to do more and more, we have lost the wisdom needed to tell us what ought to and ought not to be done. The way to restore a salutary balance between these two visions of man is to foster an integrated view of education, a view that sees education as more than merely imparting information and techniques. We need a view that explores the disciplinary borderlands and is suspicious of the alleged sufficiency of narrow specialization. Richard Weaver put it so well when he noted, “Specialization of any kind is illiberal in a freeman. A man willing to bury himself in the details of some small endeavor has been considered lost . . . specialization develops only part of a man; a man partially developed is deformed.”35

In her insightful discussion of Evolution as a Religion, the philosopher Mary Midgley remarked upon the popular ideal of scientists as objective inquirers: Scientists ought to be so impartial that they either do not have anything so unprofessional as a world-picture at all, or,

if they have one, do not let it affect their work. But this is a mistaken ideal. An enquirer with no such general map would only be an obsessive . . . Merely to pile up information indiscriminately is an idiot’s task. Good scientists do not approximate to that ideal at all. They tend to have a very strong guiding imaginative system. Their world-picture is usually a positive and distinctive one, with its own special drama.36

My present concern is to recommend that scientists and science teachers embrace a sufficiently large world-picture to help foster what John Henry Newman called, in his classic treatment of liberal education The Idea of a University, a “philosophical habit of mind.” Newman described this educational ideal:

An assemblage of learned men, zealous for their own sciences, and rivals of each other, are brought, by familiar intercourse and for the sake of intellectual peace, to adjust together the claims and relations of their respective subjects of investigation. They learn to respect, to consult, to aid each other. Thus is created a pure and clear atmosphere of thought, which the student also breathes . . . He apprehends the great outlines of knowledge, the principles on which it rests, the scale of its parts, its lights and its shades, its great points and its little, as he otherwise cannot apprehend them. Hence it is that his education is called “Liberal.” A habit of mind is formed which lasts through life, of which the attributes are, freedom, equitableness, calmness, moderation, and wisdom; or what . . . I ventured to call a philosophical habit.37

This ideal can only be achieved when science does not presume to be the only kind of knowledge, when moral categories and virtues are not just things we teach students about in comparative religion classes, but things we teach students to embrace in every class. Students cannot embrace things they do not know. Both science students and humanities students must study issues at the borders between the sciences and the humanities; for to comprehend a subject requires knowledge of its relations to other subjects. Fostering this relational perspective is the duty of all teachers.38

One practical avenue toward achieving this perspective comes from admitting that scientific knowledge is not the only valid form of knowledge, that one can have genuine knowledge of such things as duty and virtue. “We have to allow there is another kind of knowledge besides the explicit, exact and testable kind . . . Traditional skills, intuitions, scientific systems, poetic and religious insights and the understanding of moral values are all fed from the same root.” This is what the philosopher and physical chemist Michael Polanyi called “tacit knowing.”39 We could profit from considering his perspective.

Finally, and even more practically, our science classrooms would do well to include discussion of select issues that surface in public discourse with which our students must eventually wrestle and reckon. Perhaps the best and diciest contemporary example, which I mentioned at the opening of my remarks, has emerged in the case of “intelligent design” theory (ID). One of ID’s most vigorous critics is the political philosopher Larry Arnhart. Despite his conviction that intelligent design is wrong, he puts forth a recommendation for teaching ID in the science classroom:

Allowing our public school students to study and debate creationist criticisms of Darwinism in their biology classes would promote a better understanding of scientific argumentation and of the moral and political implications of science. If students were allowed to study some readings from the intelligent design theorists along with Darwin’s writings and some contemporary defenses of Darwin, they could better judge the evidence and arguments . . .

Science education in the public schools often consists of mindless memorization of scientific formulas so that students have no understanding of how one goes about weighing evidence and arguments for and against scientific ideas. Moreover, students rarely see the emotional excitement associated with scientific controversies that have moral, political, and religious implications. A lively classroom debate over Darwinism would be a great improvement, and it might actually prepare students to become citizens capable of judging scientific disputes that have deep consequences for human life.40

Both politicians and philosophers appear to concede the merit in Arnhart’s proposal. The explanatory statement accompanying the 2002 Elementary and Secondary Education Authorization Act included the following language: “A quality science education should prepare students to distinguish the data and testable theories of science from religious or philosophical claims that are made in the name of science. Where topics are taught that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution), the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist, why such topics may generate controversy, and how scientific discoveries can profoundly affect society.”41 Philosopher of science Del Ratzsch takes head on the tendency of most scientists to exclude the notion of supernatural design from the discussion table:

[A]ttempts to support blanket, normative prohibitions on even considering supernatural design in science seem without exception to fail for various reasons. Attempts to justify such prohibitions on pragmatic grounds seem to do little better. The intuition that science cannot deal with the supernatural, so must systematically ignore it, seems a bit like advising swimmers in the Amazon that since they cannot see pirhanas from the bank nor survive a pirhana attack once in the water, they should plunge right in, pretending that there are none. Perhaps better advice might be to work on learning some pirhana recognition techniques.42

We live in one world, not separate scientific and religious worlds, but one world. Consequently, the differing perspectives from which the sciences and humanities view our one world must be accommodated by the minds of individual human students in which these different perspectives are fostered.

Consider these remarks from a Canadian newspaper by Michael Ruse, an internationally respected and widely-published philosopher of biology who has written extensively on evolutionary biology: “Evolution is promoted by its practitioners as more than mere science. Evolution is promulgated as an ideology, a secular religion – a full-fledged alternative to Christianity, with meaning and morality. . . . Evolution is a religion. This was true of evolution in the beginning, and it is true of evolution still today.”43 Now, Dr. Ruse may have gone over the top. He may be as far off the mark as one can get. He may, on the other hand, be right on target. This is not the issue. The issue is that students who may read his words in the newspaper at breakfast before school should be able to ask their science teachers to help them sort these things out. Science teachers should be eager to devote class time to doing so. But they cannot do it correctly unless they are permitted to do so and properly equipped for the task. Our schools will better serve their primary educational mission of furnishing and disciplining minds if they welcome, indeed encourage, opportunities to consider contested issues in the science classroom. Sometimes valuable pedagogical lessons lurk in the disciplinary borderlands. And there is no questioning the fact that divisive public policy issues are often thorny to the degree they are interdisciplinary. Acknowledging this in the science classroom is one way to prepare students for wise participation in contemporary civil society.