Why Our Schools Aren’t Giving us Enough Scientists

Nearly every day I receive another notice or article about the struggles to build a science curriculum that meets the need of the day to produce scientists to keep the economy moving, to cure diseases, and to stay ahead of the enemy technologically.

And no wonder: the power of science to solve physical problems has proven to be something on the order of unbelievable. Sometimes a religious disposition to revere God can lead to a relaxed appreciation for what people do, but this lacks wisdom. As we love God by loving our neighbor, so we revere God by respecting His image.

So we ought to appreciate the achievements of the great scientists and we ought to learn about their discoveries.

Furthermore, we ought to study science because it offers us a knowledge of the cosmos – of the physical world around us, over which we are stewards. We cannot wisely steward what we don’t know.

Many Christians are nervous about science, however. They fear that science offers only worldly wisdom and that worldly wisdom is in direct conflict with the revelation of Holy Scripture, especially, of course, on matters like the creation, fall, and flood of Genesis.

I don’t mean to sound dismissive, because I understand the concern. But as a matter of practical reality, it doesn’t matter. We must study science if for no other reason than that the sciences have risen from the Christian classical world-idea. But, truly, the natural sciences hold unspeakable potential for good, and if Christians believe they have good ideas about how to use the sciences then they need to be involved in the sciences to even have a voice in the discussion.

Reactionary, fear-driven avoidance only makes a Christian irrelevent.

I’ve written quite a few little blogs about how we should teach science in a Christian classical school, but I came to a realization today that I wanted to share with you so I could get some feed back on it. It has to do with how and when science should be taught.

I’ve made the case for some time that science follows on the seven liberal arts of grammar, logic, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. These arts train the intellect to perceive and to reason and they are part of a world-idea that supports inquiry into the physical universe.

A not unusual development has taken place historically. Consider this: science as I am referring to it (pure science, as opposed to applied science) arose among the ancient Greeks and, frankly, among no other people. Plenty of other peoples had technology and made great leaps in applied science. But none of them ever developed a pure science in which the cosmos was studied purely for the sake of gaining knowledge about it.

That “pure science” approach led to earth shaking discoveries with wide applications. It did so because the ancient Greeks loved every kind of knowledge so much that they developed the arts of knowing to a degree no other people in the ancient world ever had. If you are going to perform pure science, you have to master the seven liberal arts.

For various reasons, the sciences went into remission after the decline of the Roman empire, though many discoveries were made in Baghdad, Constantinople, and other centers of eastern influence. But with the early years of the scientific revolution, a vast new vision of life on earth came into being. Such a scientific progress as the world could never have dreamed about followed in the wake of Albertus Magnus and Aquinas, Bacon and Descartes, Galileo and Newton.

All of whom were profoundly educated in the seven liberal arts.

What brought about the scientific revolution? Astronomy! Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo – all astronomers. Why? Many reasons, not the least of which is that astronomy is the bridge from the arts to the sciences, for it is, remember, one of the seven liberal arts!

Since then, the sciences have uncovered long-hidden secrets about the world in and on and through which we live. They’ve grown beyond Bacon’s wildest dreams when he composed his Instauration and his Novum Organon (designed to replace Aristotle’s Oldum Organon). They hold out promises that Socrates would have laughed at.

Yet, we can’t produce enough scientists in our schools? How can this be?

I believe the problem is quite simple and, as I indicated above, not at all unusual. My friend Steve Manz expressed it with great simplicity: “Now that we have the sciences, we are losing the tools that gave them to us.”

Exactly. We want science, science, science, but we don’t want thinking, disciplined students. We don’t want to train them in the seven liberal arts, preferring instead to weigh them down with electives they can’t possibly understand. As a result, everybody has to work a hundred times harder for one tenth the potential results.

We need, as the cliche goes, to sharpen the saw. To get better scientists, the great need is not to teach more science classes. The great need is to teach children how to think.

More in my next post on how to frame the curriculum.

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