I recently attended a conference in Washington, D.C., where scientists and theologians from around the country got together to discuss the importance of understanding the science of nature through the nature of science (i.e., the processes and mechanisms of science). At a time of critical scientific and human challenges such as climate change, nuclear proliferation, human overpopulation, massive habitat destruction, and the loss of biodiversity, along with constant misinformation in the mass and social media (e.g., alien encounters and chemtrails), The Way of Science: Finding Truth and Meaning in a Scientific Worldview provides a much needed counteractive, and reason to hope for the future. Recent polling data indicate that just over 50% of Americans believe in special creation, and of those polled, about 40% believe that humans lived during the same time as dinosaurs. Although most people appreciate science on a technological level (e.g., the benefits of modern medicine, electricity, rapid transportation, and long-distance communication), it is obvious that there is a serious disconnect between science content and scientific literacy among the public. This engaging new book by Dennis R. Trumble, a project scientist in the Circulatory Support Laboratory and an adjunct professor of biomedical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, is about bringing to light the processes and mechanisms of science, while at the same time taking the reader on a journey to discover the deeper benefits and joy of the practice of science. As an educator and a scientist, I appreciate the nature of science as a “way of knowing” even more now that I’ve read this book.
Trumble begins with an overall introduction about the importance of understanding and “enjoying” the scientific process as a way of knowing. He states that “Far from being the sole province of scientists and academicians, critical thinking is a skill that can, and indeed must, be taught to every child from the earliest grade levels. Now more than ever we must arm our children with the wherewithal to think for themselves, teaching them how to tell proof from propaganda, rational beliefs from superstition, and objective reality from abject fantasy.” Part I of the book (“From So Simple a Beginning”) attempts to answer the question of how we can be sure that scientific ways of knowing are more reliable than traditional tenets, time-honored social doctrines, scriptural teachings, or even our own base intuitions. The author examines the way in which Charles Darwin arrived at his theory of natural selection and his struggle to come to terms with what his research and evidence revealed.
Part II (“Science for Everyone”) analyzes why scientific ways of thinking “do not come naturally to the human mind” (thus highlighting the critical need for universal science education) and challenges the popularly held belief that science is too difficult for the general public to understand. The main thesis in this section is that, like reading and writing, scientific literacy and critical thinking are skills that can be learned and acquired in order to give individuals the ability to evaluate empirical evidence and adjust their views accordingly. Trumble goes on to explain that accomplishing these goals is no easy task!
With this realization in mind, Part III (“Transcending Faith”) contests the common conviction that, right or wrong, the benefits of unthinking faith are worth the cost. Trumble makes it clear from the start that it is not his intention to drive people away from their faith and/or worldview. Rather, he wants the reader to appreciate and enjoy the marvels of the “real” world as revealed by science, which are “far more inspiring – and more liberating – than anything we have ever imagined for ourselves.”
In the final section, Part IV (“Life, the Universe, and Everything”), Trumble explores the “big picture” implications and questions that originate from the current body of scientific knowledge and evidence, including: Are we alone? What are the odds that there are other advanced civilizations out there contemplating the cosmos along with us? Does the fact that we live in a universe with an expiration date make our existence ultimately pointless, or does life’s true meaning transcend mere permanency?
This is a very engaging and thought-provoking book that tackles some of the most fundamental questions that modern science has given us the opportunity to explore in an informed way. In doing so, it reveals “why the scientific perspective, which values reason, empiricism, and anti-authoritarianism, is the best guarantor of our social, emotional, and spiritual well-being.”