Argumentation in Science Education

Volume 35 of the series Science & Technology Education Library pp 3-27

Argumentation in Science Education: An Overview

  • María Pilar Jiménez-AleixandreAffiliated withAv. Xoan XXIII s.n, Universidade de Santiago de Compostela
  • , Sibel ErduranAffiliated withGraduate School of Education, University of Bristol

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Charles Darwin once described On the Origin of Species as “one long argument”. This sentence can be viewed as embodying several of the different dimensions of argumentation discussed in this book. On the one hand, it provides evidence, coming from someone with undisputable authority, on argument being an integral part of the construction of scientific knowledge. On the other hand, when applied to the outstanding piece of scientific thinking that is On the Origin of Species, the description combines two aspects of argumentation. The first aspect relates to the justification of knowledge claims, by marshalling converging lines of reasoning (see Kelly, Regev, & Prothero, this book), theoretical ideas and empirical evidence toward a claim. Darwin weaved together population theory from Malthus, or uniformitarianism from Lyell, with empirical data gathered in his voyage to Central and South America in his bold claim of the theory of natural selection. A second aspect of argumentation has to do with argumentation as persuasion, in Darwin's case as an attempt to convince an audience, composed both of scientists and of the general public, that the animals and plants had changed, that the species living on Earth descended from other species instead of having being created all at a time. Darwin was well aware that the task of persuading his contemporaries was not an easy one, such awareness being one of the reasons for delaying the publication of his book for about twenty years. In fact a joint presentation by Darwin and Wallace in the Linnean Society in 1858 stirred little interest, and the president of the Society summarised the year as one that “has not indeed been marked by any of those striking discoveries which at once revolutionize science” (Beddall, 1968, pp 304–305). However, one year later, the publication of Darwin's book launched a great controversy, corresponding yet to another aspect of argumentation, as debate among two parties with contrasting positions on a subject.