Re: [asa] on science and meta-science

From: Cameron Wybrow <>
Date: Wed Nov 04 2009 - 00:35:17 EST

I agree with Keith's suggestion that some history of science should be taught in science class. And a logical follow-up to this, indeed, almost a requirement to make it work well, is that the science teachers who are teaching the units on the history of science, both in high school science classes and in university science classes, have some training in it. Not specialist training on the level of Ted Davis -- it would be unreasonable to expect a Physics professor to have a Ph.D. in Physics and another degree in the history of science as well -- but some training.

The typical undergraduate four-year science degree will have, what? Based on the science programs at the university where I did my undergrad, about 40 or so one-semester courses, roughly 10 per year, not counting labs. Some of those 40 courses, probably about 8 of them (i.e., about one-fifth of the student's total load) are elective courses. Suppose that just a single one-semester elective were given up to a new requirement, i.e.:

"All science majors at this university must take either *one* semester of the history and/or philosophy of science, or *one* semester of the history and/or philosophy of the special science in which they are majoring (physics, astronomy, geology, biology, etc.). The course may be taken from any relevant department (e.g., one of the science departments, or the history department, or the philosophy department), as long as it is approved for the purpose by the Dean of Science. The course may be taken at any time during the program."

This requirement would not reduce the student's required science courses, and therefore would not short-change the graduate on the technical side. It would reduce the number of electives, but only by one. It would fit easily into any student's schedule. It offers a range of choices for the exact course taken. It is not an onerous requirement, and not at all a practically unworkable one. It means nothing more than that the Chemistry student might have to give up that 3rd-year Anthropology or 2nd-year Art History elective for a History of Chemistry or a Philosophy of Science course. But such a course should be of interest to any serious Chemistry student, anyway, so it would be no big sacrifice.

This would not make a science graduate a scholar in the history of science, but it would at least be a start towards establishing a broader, more philosophically critical mode of studying and teaching science. And it would be of educational value for all scientists, even those who don't become teachers. University graduates aren't supposed to be just high-level technicians; they're supposed to have a broad understanding of the foundations and implications of what they are doing. Too often science students graduate without that breadth of understanding. I have often found very technically bright professors, grad students, and undergrad students in the sciences stunningly inarticulate, not only outside of their own field, but even when explaining the basics of their own field to an intelligent lay person. To me this is a failure in science education. And of course, such people are likely to fall prey to the unarticulated metaphysical assumptions that Keith is talking about.


  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Keith Miller
  Sent: Tuesday, November 03, 2009 11:02 PM
  Subject: Re: [asa] on science and meta-science

  Murray wrote:

    Actually, reflecting upon this situation one might suggest that the problem with science teaching is precisely that the metaphysical interpretation is *implicit* rather than *explicit* - but teaching science *as though* it were metaphysically neutral, students are given the perception that there are not metaphysical commitments - which probably makes it all the easier to foist upon them the metaphysical interpretation(s?) implicit in the science. And wouldn't this issue: the implicit advancement of an unarticulated materialistic metaphysic through the teaching of science be precisely the objection which theists have to the practice of science education in the US?

  One thing that much science education research has shown is that the nature and methods of science (NOS), which necessarily involves metaphysics and philosophy, are left implicit in most teaching. Students are left to pick up the NOS by osmosis. If it is taught explicitly, it is often taught badly and simplistically.

  Few teachers even at the university level, let alone at the secondary level, have been equipped to teach the nature and philosophy of science. Many are ignorant of it. My personal recommendation is to include more history of science in the science class. Giving the historical context of science helps to provide some of the larger context in which science occurs, and communicates in a practical manner something of the nature of science.

  There is also a new website that on the NOS which is quite good. You can find it by searching "Understanding Science."


To unsubscribe, send a message to with
"unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
Received on Wed Nov 4 00:37:19 2009

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Wed Nov 04 2009 - 00:37:19 EST