Remarks on Teaching
Science and the Nature of Science
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Science is one source and symbol for an imaginative, disciplined mind.
In addition to giving us basic information we need to make sense of the
natural world, the sciences teach us to identify and scrutinize our
assumptions, to hone our powers of analysis, and to expand our capacity
for synthesis. They impart great lessons for any vocation: to link cause
with effect, to search for relevant evidence, and to seek the truth
As a method for exploring—for finding things out—science lives by its
disdain for Authority and its reliance on experimentation and
observation. The seventeenth-century gentlemen who founded the Royal
Society of London took as their motto Nullius in verba—Don't take
anyone's word for it! Scientists are human. They have limited powers,
they make mistakes, they have incomplete knowledge, they may be too bold
or too cautious in interpreting their findings. Science is a system by
which imperfect beings can test and refine their understanding of the
Like the practice of science, the study of science must be more than
acquiring a collection of facts. An awareness of how scientists think
and how science is done helps us realize its limitations. Scientists are
accustomed to dealing with doubt and uncertainty. Good scientific advice
may be frustratingly conditional: sometimes scientists don't know enough
to give a straight answer; sometimes Nature just can't be pinned down.
And there are some issues—like moral choices—that science by itself can
only inform, not resolve.
Scientific exploration is open-ended: today's facts are merely precise
statements of what scientists understand at this particular time, not
eternal truths. Science is organic, tentative; like life itself, science
is a becoming, a great adventure of the human mind and spirit.
29 September 2004
lecture for the DuPage Division of the Illinois Association of School
Boards. · © Chris Quigg.