by Stephen Lyons
There are those that want you to have your student's place what is theory next to what is religious dogma and to have them make a decision as to which is true. These are not comparable and students should not be expected to make a choice. One is theory, the other simply not theory. It is rather religious dogma.
It comes down to explaining the meaning of "theory." Scientists use "theory" to describe a set of governing principles that explain a physical phenomena. The Theory of Evolution is a controversial example of a theory. This one as do others, explain a physical phenomena derived from scientific research. Let's consider what theory isn't.
A theory is not theoretical in the lay sense of hypothetical nor is it based on notion, compromise, consensus, common sense, conjecture, pronouncement, faith or divine revelation. It is rather the conclusion of scientific research. Customarily subjected to peer review and verified by experimentation before it is released to the public by being published in such journals as the Scientific American or Nature. What should your students know?
Your students' should know that without theories: bridges crash, airplanes don't exist, electromagnatism isn't understood, space flight is science fiction, the Earth is thought to be flat and the Sun goes around Earth. This is only a few example of on theories that explain physical phenomena. You should obviously be able to think of many others. What else you should say to your students?
For example, say to your students: Let's look at the research that was done supporting the theory. Who did the research, how was the research done, what research has been done by researchers to test the theory and who were those researchers? Did the work of these researchers confirm or discredit the theory?
Another part of this verification process is to check to see if any part of the theory conflicts with the Laws of Physics. If it does, then the theory is flawed. It is through this process that your student learns accept or reject theories. It is not enough to tell them. They must be placed in a situation where they cycle though this process mulitple times.
You are likely now thinking that this requires a college education, one that has a science major or least one Physicics and a logic course. Isn't that the pits: people like me think that you should be educated by now and that your students should want to be educated. And live goes on.
This focus on the meaning of theory is the result of a perceived threat that the Theory of Evolution is to Creationism. I really doubt if any of this would exist with any significance outside of academia if it were not for the Theory of Evolution's inadvertent threat to the veracity of a system of thought that has as a fundamental premise the existence of a divine creator. But, what is the consequence of modifing the meaning of theory?
There are many consequences. For instance, it discredits knowledge derived from scientific research. It also discredits the conclusions of scientific research as well as being a bases for maligning scientists. It can also cause students to reject science. With that achieved financial support to researchers at institutions such as MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) could be restricted with a snowballing effect. (I don't think they will achieve that without a fight, one that will not be lost by these highly intelligent and educated scientists.)
What may be the result? There may become an insurmountable gulf of difference between the scientists and non-scientists. One where the scientists and their method are not understood by the majority and the scientists perceive the non-scientists as being deficient and perhaps even ignorant. There is also the possibility that not knowing how to spot the misuse of science may lead to an epidemic of fraud and an America that is schizophrenic. You can prevent these possibilities from happening by helping your students understand science or by causing them to become scientist.