May 26th, 2011
A Crucial Question: What is The Evidence?
One of the most important, but most difficult, things to accomplish in schools is to teach students to think. It’s easy for teachers to fall into the trap of allowing their students to just memorize all kinds of information and repeat it on a test. However, real learning entails much more than just memorizing. Real learning comes by comparing, contrasting, classifying, applying, analyzing and evaluating data. It starts with asking the right questions.
Whenever we speak in public schools, we encourage the students to ask questions. We stress the importance of looking at things in more than one way and getting the whole picture before they make a decision. For example, when given a sketch of a fossil reconstruction, we all should ask, “What was the evidence used to develop such a picture?” Sometimes the evidence is extremely scanty. Bias often enters into the picture, and the resulting drawings are based more on preconceived ideas than on actual evidence.
Students are taught that abundant fossil evidence shows gradual transformations from fish to amphibians, amphibians to reptiles, reptiles to mammals, and so on. Textbooks often illustrate what these intermediate forms looked like. However, we must remember to ask the question “What is the evidence?” In actuality, there are no clear fossil transitions between any of the above groups. The pictures in the textbook are the artist’s conception of what these transitions might have looked like if they had existed.
The problem is that these artistic reconstructions are very convincing to children (and many adults too). Most do not stop to ask the question “What is the evidence?” They tend to accept it as fact because they saw it in a book, magazine or museum.
In addition to the question “What is the evidence?”, several other questions need to be asked. For example, students should ask “Is there another explanation for the same data? What assumptions are involved in arriving at this conclusion? Are these assumptions reasonable? Is the logic sound? Are the conclusions reasonable? Do they seem to fit with the ‘big’ picture?”
Students must realize that science is an activity carried on by ordinary, fallible human beings. They also need to realize that scientific models change as more information is discovered, and that what science considers “true” one day, is frequently shown false later. In contrast, the Word of God never changes. It has stood the test of time and the questions of scores of skeptics. While it can never be “proven” true by scientific means, there is sufficient evidence for any honest searcher who thinks, and is willing to believe.
by Dave and Mary Jo Nutting
Originally published in the March/April 1987 issue of Think and Believe
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