Thursday, October 29, 2009

The bible, science, and evolution..oh my!

my post to a sociology list

Couple of responses...If you read my initial email on this topic, I don't say that any traditional story should be/is accepted as source material for scientific inquiries. To be sure, myths, fables, fairy tales, etc., are just more data for analysis from a sociological perspective.

I also know that the scientific method, too, is subject to the same kind of analysis, i.e., it is behavior that humans engage in (both verbal and non-verbal) and, as such is available for analysis. I say this to acknowledge that although I endorse its methods, standards, etc., I am very much aware that the knowledge produced by it is not, "the truth," but is provisional. I think that we all agree that any scientific inquiry has limitations, no one claims that it does not. Hence, I am quite comfortable telling students that although there are limitations, this is the best method that we have come up with, so far, that permits the pragmatic utilization of knowledge, i.e., we use the knowledge developed through the scientific method and it appears to work as anticipated...planes do fly reliably. Much of the knowledge produced by the scientific method has proven to be both reliable and durable; note that these are some pragmatic criteria for the establishment of something called, "truth" -- if it works, it is true. Pragmatism does not provide evidence of an ontological reality, however and from a human standpoint, that seems to be just fine.

As to evolution then, I tell students that based on the methods of science, the theory is supported by the evidence. I remind them that the methods used to establish evolution as a reliably plausible explanation for genetic change and stability are the same methods that are used to develop life-saving medications. So, if they reject evolution because it is "only a theory" and it is not supported by the facts, then I challenge them to wonder why they don't reject the use of medications for the same reasons. Medical researchers are still not convinced about the causes of many diseases (just read the other day in New Scientist that there are some who are looking at the evidence that OCD, schizophrenia and several other, seemingly well-understood biological processes, might be caused by viruses), but they continue to develop interventions, based on the empirical knowledge that they have so far about diseases and although treatments are not perfect (i.e., they do not rid the person of the disease in many cases), they do provide relief, amelioration, etc.

RE: offending someone's faith...First, I just think it is wrong for me to use my authority (which is there whether I want it to be or not -- basic sociology, yes?) to tell them that they are wrong about what they believe. Hell, most Americans think that something called, "America" is a real thing, despite the lack of empirical evidence for its existence (consider how many have given their lives because of it. I especially am not going to tell students that they might, or that their loved ones have, given their time, energy, sacrifice, lives for a "social construction." Waaay to immoral for me). Heck, I bet that there are some on this list who firmly believe in "America." This goes back to the previous discussion about "shock and awe" in the classroom. I do shock, not because I want to shock people, but because empirical findings ARE shocking. I see my role to introduce students to the empirical evidence (after explaining to them the "rules" for the scientific method), however shocking it might be, and to help them make sense of it sociologically. If they choose to believe differently as a result, so be it. If they reject my explanations for the evidence, so be it. Not my role to convince them of the supremacy of knowledge based on science because of the reasons stated above.

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