Arizona's medical school is starting classes this week, which seems absurdly early compared to the rest of the university. I still have three full weeks to soak in the sun and take some time for myself. As well as contemplate the new course that I will be teaching. LaKeisha and I have a new TA position in which we will be leading a supplemental instruction course for minority students in general chemistry. It's refreshing because it's new, and it's exciting because we are being given almost free reign to develop our own course. We'll be following the content covered in the lecture, but our supplemental instruction will include additional practice and training as to how to best learn general chemistry.
As I have been contemplating this new course, I ran across a book that I read while in high school. It had a couple of chapters devoted to the scientific process and scientific explanations. I found most intriguing the following passage:
“If a scientific theory makes successful predictions, and if it does not conflict with other well-established theories, and if it makes no false predictions, then, whatever its shortcomings, it is true.” (pg 77)
I find this passage infinitely fascinating. What is truth, really? What is a scientific truth? There are models we use in chemistry that help us to understand and predict the nature of atomic particles. If these models are useful, is that sufficient grounds to necessitate them being ‘truthful’ as well? I don’t actually know what to think about this, but it’s been tumbling around in my mind. Can truth be subjective? Must it be always absolute?
A few months ago I participated in a retreat focusing on evolution (due the occasion of it being Darwin’s 200th birthday). In fact, I found that I learned more biology during this weekend event than I have ever remembered learning in previous years (which may not be something to brag about, but it was a very interesting weekend). Having a limited understanding of evolution prior to this, I was surprised to find that the idea is really quite reasonable and easy to comprehend. Yet for some reason, it is framed in staunch controversy between “religious” and “scientific” minds so that one might be led to believe that there is no middle ground.
But if the scientific theory of evolution is able to produce accurate predictions concurrent with our observations of the natural world, is it not worth learning and utilizing? Does that lend it “truthfulness?” Some may have philosophic differences that make it difficult to reconcile evolution and religion. But if it is useful in the context of science, why not give it a try?
It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me to say that a person “believes” in evolution or that they “believe” in science. Rather, we should use science as a tool to make discoveries, predictions, and engineer new technology. So what is “truth” and what bearing does it have on science? Is there an a priori truth? How do we know what we know?
I certainly don’t know what the "answer" is, but I would love to start a conversation, possibly in this new course. I love to listen to and participate in heated, rational debates. Those are my favorite. And whenever possible, why not tie it into something as exciting as science?