Philosophical Multicore

Sometimes controversial, sometimes fallacious, sometimes thought-provoking, and always fun.

Growing Certainty

Posted by Michael Dickens on April 30, 2010

It has been claimed by Creationists that young students are taught about how certain we are of evolution, even though we are not certain at all. (This post is not about Creationism; just bear with me.) When I heard this claim, I quickly realized how ridiculous it was. I remember what I was told in school, and it was nothing like what they say I was told.

In truth, I was never told that evolution was a certainty. Until I researched it for myself, I had been under the impression that it was the best theory we had, but that there were serious gaps in the evidence. I thought that the fossil record was full of holes. And my education certainly did nothing to ameliorate this problem.

As I kept thinking, I noticed that this issue also arose with regard to other scientific theories. For instance, I remember learning about hypothesized particles known as “quarks” that are even smaller than protons and neutrons; it was not until years later that I learned that quarks have actually been observed.

Despite what some Creationists may say, science education often leaves an impression of growing certainty. When you’re younger, they tell you that scientists aren’t really sure about this thing or that. But as you get older, you learn that there is actually a lot more evidence than your school was letting on.

Why does education instill this sense of growing certainty? One hypothesis is that they don’t want to tell young children about complicated theories such as quarks. But in that case, why even bring them up? Why not simply pretend that they don’t exist?

Perhaps there is a good reason for that. When I learned that quarks were real, I was not unfamiliar with them. Although I didn’t know much about them, I had heard of quarks before. So when I heard about their reality, I immediately recognized them as something that I had learned about.

It is useful for educators to instill in students this sense of recognition. But sometimes it is not worth it to explain the concept. Sometimes you really don’t think that a ten-year old needs to know what a quark really is. When students re-discover them later, though, that memory will still be there.

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2 Responses to “Growing Certainty”

  1. Matt Helm said

    Or maybe it’s just because, at least in the case of evolution, they don’t want to offend anyone by admitting that we’re pretty sure.

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