Miller's request for N&V articles

Darryl W. Maddox (
Thu, 16 Sep 1999 12:16:53 -0500

Hello Dr. Miller,

I am not yet a member of ASA though I have been on the list for some
time. Recently I have had a few thoughts and events come up that might
be worthy of one or more short articles so I thought I would see if you
were intersted.

1. What is our obligation (if any) as teachers, Christians and
scientists to bring logical and factual errors to peoples attention when
they are made in public lectures. A few weeks ago I saw a newpaper ad
for a series of lectures on Creationism to be given by a Dr.
................... at a local church. The last two talks were to be on
the age of the earth and the fossil record so I went. The Dr. turned
out to be a dentist who based these two talks primarily on the
information he obtained from 1 book. Needless to say he made many
factual errors and a good number of logical ones in the arguments he
presented. That weekend I sat down and wrote a review of the talks from
the notes I had taken. It took a while to deside if I should send the
notes to him and/or to the minister of the church or just keep them for
my own reference. Finally I sent them to him and asked if he would
prepare a reply which I could then include with my summary when I sent
it to the minister.

I teach introductory geology courses at the local community college and
while I don't see it as part of my instructional duties to monitor every
geology related talk given, somehow I think that as an instructor and as
individual geologist I have some obligation to the general public to
make them aware when someone presents such obviously incorrect
information. And if it is done in a church setting I somehow feel that
as a Christian I incurr a further obligation to tell someone. This
latter idea first arose a couple of years ago when our senior minister
let fly with a "You don't have to be stupid to be a Christian" sermon
based, again, on one book that was full of stupid statements and this
time not even written by a geologist. I just wrote a review and mailed
it to him. I don't know that I have any firm answers to the question
but I have been thinking about it and I think it is going to be
something that comes up more often. It might be an article that would
stir thoughts and comments from other geologists and scientists.

2) To what degree should we as scientists teach our students "the
facts", be they simple data or classification schemes, and to what
degree should we teach them to analyse data and arguments, do some
critical thinking, and learn to come to their own evaluations? I have
had and known as collegues teachers who taught nothing but mountains of
"the stuff" and others who didn't teach enough to bother buying the
book. From these experiences I have concluded that teaching nothing but
the facts can result in students who have no idea how it was developed
or how to use it or that, God forbid, it might not be quite right; and
the other method can result in students who think they are qualified to
evaluate anything but don't know anything about anything. So, given the
constraints of a 16 week semester, where is the proper blend? How do we
get them the information they must know to go on, if they are going to
major in the subject, yet begin to get them (particularly if they are
not science majors) to start thinking about how the information relates
to them and their lives and to society in general. Can we achieve the
dual purposes of teaching the majors all the information they need to
know and at the same time train all the students the thinking skills
they will need to become corperate and civic leaders and opinion shapers
- or is this even part of the reason we make non-science majors take
science courses? And of course this is a variation on the religious
question of should we teach them the doctrine and a big list of do's and

don'ts or do we teach them a few principles and let them learn to make
their own decisions about what is right and wrong and might that even
depend to some extent on the circumstances? Of course this also relates
to how do we present information on evolution, cosmology and other areas
where some of the information is simply observation, some very well
established theory, and some perhaps subject to change in the future.
How do we introduce and teach these topics without either making an
athiest out of all our students or letting them walk out thinking they
can believe anything they want to because, since much of science is
inductive logic and particularly since we have changed our mind in the
past, science imposes no constraints at all on religious based beliefs
about earth history?

These questions came up because I live in Amarillo Texas, home of the
Pantex nuclear weapons plant and we have a Pantex Plant Citizens
Advisory Board. Some of those folks have some real strange ideas about
how to come to a decision as well as what is and isn't relevant
information. But aside from that they also have various priorities
which affect the way they evaluate information. Since many of my
students will live here the rest of their lives, and some will wind up
on this or similar boards, teaching thinking skills vs just teaching
data seems pretty relevant.

3) The Kansas board of education decision has, at least for me, again
brought up the question of, what do we as scientists, citizens, and
Christians what the role to be (if any) of a state wide accreditation
testing program. I have seen a very definite improvement in the
computational, reading comprehension, and writing skills of my students
in the past few years and I attribute this to the state wide testing
programs. But should those programs test more than these rudimentary
skills? Do we as scientists, citizens and Christians want them to test
for knowledge in other areas? Personally I see no more reason for
asking questions about evolution than about plate tectonics or physics,
but is that an opinion shared by others? Is it a valid opinion? By
what criteria should we make such decisions? Well you get the idea.

Let me know if you are interested in any of these.



3) What if any should be our role as scientists and as Christians in