Wile On Science & Technology

This post continues the analysis of Jay Wile’s Exploring Creation with General Science by looking at the last two and least contentious[1] of the prefatory or framing modules. After some comments about how scientists come to the wrong conclusion because they rely on flawed experiments,[2] “Module #3: How to Analyze and Interpret Experiments” seems reasonable for a middle-school science class. It introduces various features of experimental science, e.g., experimental variables, control groups, blind experiments.

“Module #4: Science, Applied Science, and Technology” revives an out-dated understanding of science and technology. Science is a pure, curiosity driven investigation of nature untainted by worldly concerns. Scientists, who hope to explain “some facet of creation,” do “not care one whit about whether or not the knowledge gained is useful.” Applied science, by contrast, seeks to make something useful or to find a better way of accomplishing some task, either by developing a new process or a new machine. Lowly technology, while similar to applied science, “is often the result of applied science” or science or accident. Wile’s distinction reflects a difference between “knowing why” and “knowing that” something happens and privileges knowing why. It also assumes that “knowing why” is a purely intellectual project motivated by curiosity, unlike applied science and technology, which answer to worldly concerns. Module #4 also includes a vaguely incongruous discussion of simple machines as examples of applied science and technology.

Now that we understand what science is and is not as well as its limitations, Wile feels students are prepared to learn about geology and paleontology, “two of the most controversial fields in science.” Modules #5 through #8 promise to cover these controversial fields.

  1. While most people outside the history of science and the history of technology would find “Module #4: Science, Applied Science, and Technology” reasonable, the disciplines have largely moved beyond Wile’s 1950 categories used to describe science, applied science, and technology.  ↩

  2. It seems strange to see Wile once again using Percival Lowell’s Martian canals as an example of science reaching erroneous conclusions. Few people would consider Lowell an experimental scientist. And insofar as he performed experiments, his conclusions reflect less flawed experiments than the limits of his instruments and over interpretation of his observations.  ↩

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