Beliefs and Values in Science Education

By Michael Poole | Go to book overview

subjects to be followed up, I have provided an extensive list of references.

The ways in which beliefs and values affect the language of science, its models and metaphors, is the theme of Chapter 3. For example, the metaphors of the earth as a machine or as a living organism shape views about the environment, a topic addressed in Chapter 4. This chapter, along with the remaining three chapters, is concerned with particular areas of science teaching in which beliefs and values play a significant part.

Chapter 5 is about teaching the Earth in space and traces out current interest in metaphysical as well as physical questions about origins. The topic lends itself to promoting the 'awe-and-wonder' aspect of pupils' spiritual development. It also offers opportunities for teaching about the limitations of science through a discussion of the nature of explanation. Chapter 5 paves the way for looking, in Chapter 6, at one historical episode in cosmology – the Galileo affair. The final chapter also focuses on the beliefs and values involved in particular historical events – the Darwinian controversies. The materials can help in teaching pupils about the nature and history of scientific ideas, essential for science education. They also provide opportunities for examining the nature of scientific evidence, proof and change, as well as distinguishing between claims and arguments based on scientific factors and those which are not.

The subject matter of this book also offers resources for fulfilling, in science teaching, some key aims set out on page 6 of the National Curriculum Council (1993) discussion paper, Spiritual and Moral Development:1*

The knowledge and understanding essential to
both spiritual and moral development, and the
ability to make responsible and reasoned judge-
ments should be developed through all subjects of
the curriculum. In most aspects of the curriculum
pupils should encounter questions about the ori-
gins of the universe, the purpose of life, the nature
of proof, the uniqueness of humanity and the
meaning of truth. They should be encouraged to
reflect on the possibility of certainty, and to ques-
tion the often exaggerated view of the infallibility
of science as the only means of understanding the
world, and the equally exaggerated view of the
inadequacy of religion and philosophy.

This passage encapsulates much of what this book is about – science, philosophy and religion. Any examination of beliefs and values about the nature of science must address some basic issues in philosophy. Also, much of the historical development of science over the last few hundred years can only be understood against the background of the religious (specifically Christian) beliefs and values held at the time. In the words of an Open University Course on Science and Belief, covering a similar period:

This is not a matter of partisan selection; it is
simply a fact of historical reality that, during this
crucial and formative period for Western science,
it was Christian belief that it chiefly encountered at
every stage of its development and with which it
reacted in a great variety of significant ways.2

A growing recognition within education of the importance of the interplay between science, philosophy and religion is reflected in the emphasis currently being placed on promoting pupils' spiritual, moral, social and cultural development across the curriculum, an undertaking in which science education has its part to play.

M. W. Poole
King's College London

* Superscript numerals refer to numbered notes at the end
of the book.

-12-

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