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Truth in Science and ‘Truth’ in Religion: An Enquiry into Student Views on Different Types of Truth-Claim

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Science and Religion in Education

Part of the book series: Contemporary Trends and Issues in Science Education ((CTISE,volume 48))

Abstract

Using focus groups, this small-scale, qualitative study investigated the way that students tend to think about religious truth-claims as compared to other types of truth-claim. All the student participants conceived of religious truth-claims as ‘opinions’, to be contrasted with the certain, indisputable ‘facts’ of science. For many students, it was the lack of empirical verification, as well as the existence of disagreement, which meant religious beliefs were relegated to this position. If these findings are generalisable, then there are implications for the ongoing theoretical dispute over the extent to which truth should be a focus in religious education. The tendency for students to see religious claims as subjective lends support for a critical pedagogy that places evaluation of truth centre-stage. The findings also suggest a need for religious education and science teachers to include more reflection on the nature of the scientific method in their schemes of work in order to dispel the myths of unanimity and certainty in science.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    See Grimmitt (2000) for a survey of RE pedagogies.

  2. 2.

    For a simple explanation of the conceptual framework underlying this pedagogy, as well as lesson resources and schemes of work exemplifying critical RE pedagogy, see Easton et al. (2019).

  3. 3.

    See Easton et al. (2019) for this scheme of work and accompanying lesson plans and resources.

  4. 4.

    In Easton (forthcoming), I discuss a number of other important themes, including the complex position taken by students over the truth-status of moral statements.

  5. 5.

    There were two ‘sides’, each made up of a different set of statements. Side A contained statements which are commonly viewed as ‘opinion’, such as ‘chocolate is the best flavour of ice cream’. Side B contained statements that are usually viewed as ‘fact’ such as ‘copper conducts electricity’. Students had to make a decision over which side to place new statements on.

  6. 6.

    The two sides were labelled only as ‘Side A’ and ‘Side B’ on the student handout. However, since all students spoke of side A as ‘opinion’ and side B as ‘fact’, I will now adopt these labels.

  7. 7.

    https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/mar/22/scottish-fossil-may-cause-radical-shakeup-of-dinosaur-family-tree-saltopus (accessed 23/03/17)

  8. 8.

    https://theconversation.com/do-you-really-need-to-eat-ten-portions-of-fruit-and-veg-a-day-74477 (accessed 23/03/17)

  9. 9.

    Bagdonas and Silva (2015) give a detailed exploration of teaching this debate.

  10. 10.

    For more on the nature of science in Science Education, see the journal ‘Science & Education’, which has numerous articles on this topic. It is the official journal of the International History, Philosophy, and Science Teaching Group, which also sponsors national and international conferences addressing the teaching of the nature of science. As part of their ‘Project 2061’, the American Association for the Advancement of Science provided a guide to their various educational resources that aim at ‘understanding the nature of science and developing the habits of mind needed to use that understanding for personal and social purposes’ (AAAS 2010).

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Correspondence to Christina Easton .

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Appendix: Selected Parts of the Interview Schedule

Appendix: Selected Parts of the Interview Schedule

Discussion Question 2

Here are four statements. How are the first two statements different from the second two statements?

  1. 1.

    3 + 3 = 6.

  2. 2.

    Water is made up of hydrogen and oxygen.

  3. 3.

    There is no God.

  4. 4.

    God wants everyone to pray five times a day.

Discussion Question 4

Angela believes that the earth is flat. Scientists think it is round. What would you say to Angela if she told you that the earth is flat?

Discussion Question 5

Side A

Side B

Chocolate is the best flavour of ice cream.

2 + 2 = 4

Cats are the nicest animals.

Copper conducts electricity.

Blue is the best colour for decorating bedrooms.

Vitamin C is good for you.

Would you put these statements on side A or side B?

  • Hitler is an evil man.

  • God loves everyone.

  • Cheetahs can run faster than lions.

  • White and black people are of equal value.

  • The world was created by God.

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Easton, C. (2019). Truth in Science and ‘Truth’ in Religion: An Enquiry into Student Views on Different Types of Truth-Claim. In: Billingsley, B., Chappell, K., Reiss, M.J. (eds) Science and Religion in Education. Contemporary Trends and Issues in Science Education, vol 48. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-17234-3_11

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-17234-3_11

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