During the summer of 2005, the Serendip/SciSoc Group focused on the theory and practice of "Science as Story Telling and Story Revision". Among the issues that arose was a recognition that the original article would generate different specific concerns in different audiences, and so it would be useful to address these with several more targeted versions of the general argument. One such version, directed to audiences concerned about the relation between science and religious faith, is provided below. Kate Shiner was a junior biology major at Bryn Mawr College when she wrote this article. Comments are welcome in the on-line forum for discussion of Science as Story Telling.

Science: Be Not Afraid

Kate Shiner

To many, scientists can seem like a whole different breed of person. They come up with sweeping theories like evolution and the big bang and then seem to expect people in the rest of the world to throw away their own explanations about life. The divide between science and the rest of our culture is glaring and some would prefer to "solve it" by simply ignoring science or remaining wary and detached wherever they must encounter it. After all, who knows what gruesome and godless paths science may lead us down before we are even aware of it, right? But I would argue that those who take this fearful view are doing themselves as well as science a disservice. Paul Grobstein (2005a) presents a new vision of science as storytelling that may help to demystify science and render it more inclusive.

To show how this approach may be helpful in this respect I must first attempt to explain the model of science as storytelling. It may seem counterintuitive, but it is possible to see science as just a way of telling stories about ourselves and our world. What is unique about these types of stories is not that they are born of beakers and lab coats, but that they rely on a storytelling style called the scientific method. Using a new model of this method (Grobstein 2005b) one can envision it very simply. First scientist(s) observe things, form a summary of these observations, and then combine the summary with new observations. The implications of these new observations either fit the old summary or show its inadequacy and thus the need for a new story. The observations are often but need not be quantifiable, although they should be replicable and collectively observable so that other scientists can take them into account and a story can (hopefully) be achieved that works for a more than one person.

Some point out that innately personal and/or non-replicable observations that are by their nature unassailable seem outside the realm of science, and this may be one of the limits of this particular type of storytelling. Another "limit," although it may also be seen as a virtue, of science is that one can never know what new observations might be made and thus can never claim that a current scientific story is irrefutably true. This is a virtue in the sense that progress is made in science only because its stories are constantly open to revision.

Just as people are diverse, the relationships that different people have with the story of science are equally diverse. There are those who are comfortable approaching science looking for answers about such ultimate questions as where we come from and what humanity's place is in the universe. In theory science can be used to investigate these questions, but finding any permanent Truth in the model of science as described above seems unrealistic, because science is founded on the principle of constant change and revision. Thus for those who are looking for or have already found steady and grounding principles of belief in their lives, science can seem at best unsatisfying and at worst corrupting.

In fact one need not put his or her faith on the line when choosing to engage in science. "The beliefs of individuals are important but to misunderstand them as what one will hold onto until evidence turns up...is not only foolish but dangerous." (Grobstein 2003) A faith laid on a foundation of the fear of being "proven wrong" is not faith at all; and it is worth considering that engaging in science and meeting the challenge of this fear may indeed strengthen one's faith. It is true that skepticism is an ideal of science, but it need not be in the sense of the third definition given in the American Heritage dictionary, which is "doubt or disbelief of religious tenets." Science is one kind of story, a story about productive inquiry and collective observation that is indeed dependent on a profound skepticism about its own conclusions. But one need not be a skeptic about every story in one's own life to become a scientist. Non-skeptics approaching science should be able to take from it what is useful to them to enrich their own understandings of the natural world. Furthermore, their observations and interpretations will undoubtedly benefit the story of science by widening its scope, and in doing so make it more representative of the whole of the human perspective.

References

Grobstein, P. (2003) "I Believe..." Its Significance and Limitations for Individuals, Science, and Politics. Retrieved [June 20, 2005] from http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/sci_cult/belief.html

Grobstein, P. (2005a) Revisting science in culture: Science as story telling and story revising. Journal of Research Practice, 1(1), Article M1. Retrieved [June 20, 2005] from http://jrp.icaap.org/content/v1.1/grobstein.html

Grobstein, P. (2005b) Thinking About Science: Evolving Stories. Retrieved [June 20, 2005] from http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/sci_cult/scisoc5


See Religion As Testing: Another Sort of Story Revising for a response to this essay
and
Science and Religion, Faith and Revision: A Conversation for continuing discussion




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