Replacing Appearance with Reality:
What Should Distinguish Science in an Honors Program?
In October, 2006, a general education task force at Harvard proposed,
given the growing importance of religion in the contemporary world, that all
students take a course in the area of “Reason & Faith.” It wasn’t long before
sharp criticism appeared. Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker, as re-
(Jan. 22, 2007), observed that “There is an enormous
constituency of people who would hold that faith and reason are two routes
to knowledge .
.. it’s like having a requirement in Astronomy & Astrology.” In
December, 2006, the proposal for “Reason & Faith” was withdrawn and re-
placed by a less provocative “What It Means to Be a Human Being.”
Despite the controversy over religion at Harvard, honors students usu-
ally understand the importance of religion in contemporary events since they
are generally well read.
Even though only one college student in twenty
chooses a science major in the U.S., honors students choose science majors
more often and appear to have keener interest in scientific issues.
should not be surprised by these seemingly discordant trends.
States, with both more Nobel prizes in science and more creationists than
any other country, has long been schizophrenic with regard to the relation-
ship between science and religion. With Ronald Reagan, who intoned on be-
half of General Electric in the 1950s, “progress is our most important
product,” we often mouth our allegiance to science in general terms but balk
if specific scientific claims appear to undermine traditional beliefs. In his suc-
cessful 1980 campaign for the presidency, Reagan observed that evolution
“is a scientific theory only” (Berra, 1990).
At Augsburg College, we had an unusual opportunity to place science in
a more prominent position in our honors program with a grant from the Na-
tional Science Foundation in the late 1990s. We not only required honors stu-
dents to do more in science than other students, we encouraged the signific-
ant number of science majors in the program to include a philosophy of sci-
ence course as part of their honors curriculum.
Given that Augsburg has had
an exceptional relationship with NASA for many years, this is not surprising.
What may be surprising is that Augsburg is a church-related institution that
emphasizes “faith and reason.”
My purpose here is not to traverse the well-worn path of the putative
“warfare” between science and religion. Instead, as a computer scientist and
a philosopher of science, my goal is to suggest some ways science can be
given a distinctive emphasis in an honors curriculum. Indeed, in the sixteen
years that I directed the Honors Program at Augsburg, I found that many of
my most beguiling experiences stemmed from this kind of effort.
hand, the program strove to challenge some of our outstanding students’ un-