A Lesson on Isolated Anomalies
I’ve finally been reading Volume 1 of Janet Browne’s biography of
I was particularly struck by one episode (on page 141). The year was 1831.
“Nothing before had ever made me thoroughly realize, though I had read various scientific books, that science consists in grouping facts so that general laws or conclusions may be drawn from them.”Browne adds,
“[T]here must be a great deal of mutually supportive material for scientific theories of all denominations. Once such theories were established, it took more than an isolated shell to change them.”
This is a point that seems to get lost when discussing “teaching the controversy” about evolution. An important part (perhaps the important part) of science education is not teaching the facts but teaching the approach, teaching the way scientists approach the world (and how that differs from the way of the historian, of the artist, etc). That ought to include an appreciation for the fact that scientists use reasoned judgment to interpret the panoply of empirical data, and to determine which anomalies are problems and which are likely not. The development of that judgment – through the patient process of becoming familiar with the scale and interrelatedness of the evidence – is an important part of a scientist’s training.
I think part of the intensity with which scientists respond to challenges to evolution is rooted in the investment made to develop that scientific judgment. The public recognizes the existence of diagnostic authority, based on years of medical training. But they don’t seem to credit a similar authority in scientific training.