To know God and to make Him known.

Science: A Path to Wonder

On August 2, 1971, Apollo 15 commander David Scott stood on the surface of the moon in a live television feed and demonstrated an incredible scientific fact that had been described by Galileo more than three hundred years earlier: that two bodies of differing weight will fall at the same rate if they do so in a vacuum. Encased in his cumbersome, protective space suit, Commander Scott held in one hand a hammer and, in the other, a feather. He then said the following:

Well, in my left hand, I have a feather; in my right hand, a hammer. And I guess one of the reasons we got here today was because of a gentleman named Galileo, a long time ago, who made a rather significant discovery about falling objects in gravity fields. And we thought, where would be a better place to confirm his findings than on the moon… And so we thought we’d try it here for you. The feather happens to be, appropriately, a falcon feather for our Falcon [the name of the lunar module]. And I’ll drop the two of them here and, hopefully, they’ll hit the ground at the same time. (“The Hammer and the Feather” Lunar Surface Journal 167:22:06-43)

Then, Scott dropped the hammer and the feather. As predicted, they fell at exactly the same rate and hit the moon’s surface simultaneously.

Imagining this astounding scene, we might have the following questions:

  • What is gravity and what does it do?
  • What is a vacuum?
  • What do we mean by falling bodies?
  • What is the moon?
  • How is the moon similar to Earth?
  • How is the moon different from Earth?
  • What were astronauts doing on the moon, and how did they get there?
  • Is the concept of a vacuum related to the use of space suits?
  • What would we observe if we tried the hammer/feather experiment on Earth?

As you might guess, the questions could keep coming. Do we have to ask these questions? No. But history shows us that human beings are impelled to ask questions about the natural world and man’s place in it. There is something unique about the nature of human beings that drives us to know and understand the natural world. Asking questions and seeking answers is the dialectical activity that breathes life into the facts accumulated through the grammar stage.

One does not need to go to the moon to dig into the character of the cosmos (cosmos is a word meaning “an orderly and harmonious system”). A child digging in the dirt and feeling the earth between his fingers, a child holding her hands under the faucet in fascination with the running water, and a child noticing how building blocks balance on top of each other and then fall when pushed over, are each engaged in the natural world. They are developing a grammar of nature that will continue to expand for their entire lives.

[In] our concern for the physical safety of our children, we have forgotten the invisible injuries to the souls of children who no longer play outdoors and understand themselves to be adventurers and discoverers.

As parents, we must return to a way of life in which we direct our children to accumulate scientific grammar. In previous eras, much of this came from life experiences such as tending a garden or boiling eggs or camping under the stars. In some cases, we are more intentional in our direction; we will have our children memorize scientific facts such as the types of volcanoes or the five kingdoms of living things. Dialectic takes over when the questions begin—questions such as “What is it?” “How is it similar to that?” “What caused it?” “What does it do?”

Too often, when we think of science, we have images in our minds of complicated mathematical formulas scrawled on blackboards or professors talking over our heads in a language that sounds as foreign as Sanskrit. If a parent does not step back from these images and explore at a more basic, more fundamental level, then science might seem too daunting to tackle. Much that we learn about advanced scientific discovery can be overwhelming in its complexity and its terminology, but the heart of science is rather straightforward. Science is simply the study of nature, and that can begin simply with wonder and with trying to understand the source of that wonder.



Note: This article was originally published in The Question by Leigh A. Bortins.

CATEGORIES: Articles, Big Ideas: Truth, Beauty, Goodness and more!, Classical Christian Education, Dialectic Stage (ages 12 to 14), Grammar Stage (ages 4 to 11), Rhetoric Stage (ages 14 to 18)

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