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[Phys-L] Re: A Letter to Juliet from Richard Dawkins - part 2

"Scientists - the specialists in discovering what is true".

Really? What is "true". I always thought we determined what was untrue.

Actually we do neither. We create consistent models to be able to explain
physical things. These models are not true because it is recognized that
they all have limitations, and they are one way of explaining what we
currently view as being the "facts". Facts are also not necessarily true
because as you delve deeper there are often modifications to them. A
particular model may be only true for limited circumstances such as Hooke's
law, or more generally applicable such as Newton's laws. Often a model that
is considered to be fairly general can't be used in certain circumstances,
so we must use another model which is acknowledged as being more limited.
All of these models use physical evidence and do not admit supernatural

What I have said certainly rehashes much old ground and is not news to the
members of this list. I think that if we all presented science in this
light, most of the debate about ID, creationism... would vanish. This
definition also gets rid of the contentious word "theory". If we then
substituted model for theory in our writings, people with any religious
faith would be far more comfortable with science.

Also this definition if philosophically presented to students could be used
to help them with some difficulties in the classroom. All too often science
is presented as "absolute truth". If students learned that what is being
explored is merely a model for the current observations and can be modified
it would make physics much less intimidating, and might help resolve
misconceptions due to usage of inappropriate models.

This definition also might be helpful in selling PER and other reformed
pedagogies. PER is merely a better model for education. It does have some
very persuasive evidence behind it, but it can be modified. The Traditional
model is one which while it has some effectiveness does not fit a number of
"facts" and it can be demonstrated that it fails in many ways.

IMHO many mathematicians seem to be much more resistant to change because
they deal in a subject that they consider to be absolutely true. Physicists
may be more open to change because the history of physics is filled with
dramatic shifts in thinking and many of us have witnessed some of them.

John M. Clement
Houston, TX
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