Why Is Science a Part of Liberal Education?

I am constantly reminded by my young son that we are curious beings. He has an endless fascination with exploring the world. I share that fascination of the natural world with him, which is one of the reasons that I chose to major in biology and chemistry. I chose a small liberal arts college because I wanted to know my professors. When I graduated, I left with much more than a good foundation in the sciences. I gained a deeper understanding of how a Christian can be a scientist.

Some of the most important conversations that occurred during my time at Concordia as a student were not in the traditional science classes but in courses where I had to understand what it means when science calls something true and why it says that. I now have the opportunity to continue this conversation with freshmen as a Concordia faculty member in the Integrated Biology course (Core Biology 101). In CBIO 101 we explore how history, philosophy, and culture shaped the paradigm of modern science and thus affects what science calls true. We start each semester by diving into what is meant by “The Hammer,” which is defined as “The epistemology of science is influenced by its own worldview, or paradigm, when deciding what is true about the natural world.” We then apply “The Hammer” to topics in the life sciences to fulfill the objective of the course: To get students to be aware of, and critical of, their own thinking on topics they generally do not think about in ways they ordinarily do not think.

“The Hammer” not only applies to the life sciences but to the physical sciences as well. Explanations of the natural world in physics and chemistry are influenced by the paradigm of modern science. We describe how the world works only using our senses.

However, if we were to be aware of the paradigm of science, we might ask ourselves “Is an explanation that is limited to the natural world enough to explain the natural world?”

Theoretical physics is starting to address questions such as this as it explores what is reality.

We can see how history, philosophy, and culture have influenced the development of laws and concepts that allow for modern day technology and medicines. By reading both modern and historical scientific literature, attending seminars on topics in science, and learning how the scientific method works through reading and hands-on work in labs, we can understand better how these foundational discoveries impact both what science calls true and why it calls something true. In other words, we can further practice applying “The Hammer” to the physical sciences. While the depth of understanding of the concepts may be different for a science major and a non-science major, a non-science major can have just as good understanding of how science is used to understand nature as a science major. Both types of students should be able to clearly understand and apply these concepts to be “wise, honorable, and cultivated citizens” of the natural world.

As a member of society where we are constantly bombarded with “facts” vs. “alternative facts” or “junk science” vs. “real science”, we need to understand why we hold certain ideas as true, and be willing and able to listen to others and then intelligently ask questions about ideas and worldviews that may differ from ours. We need to have a foundation in many different areas, including how the sciences are used to understand nature, to be able to communicate productively with others.

Lindsay Kane-Barnese is Associate Professor of Chemistry at Concordia University Irvine