Prior to serving as the president of the Gutenberg College, Dr. Swanson taught at the University of Oregon, Northwest Christian College, and Westmont College (his alma mater).
Chris believes that Gutenberg’s discussion-based approach helps students to retain far more of the material than do other teaching methods. He also values the Christian commitment shared by the faculty because it provides a forum for pursuing truth as students form their worldview. Chris primarily teaches mathematics and the sciences, but he also greatly enjoys tutoring in areas such as philosophy and literature.
Chris and his wife, Cynthia, are blessed with three children, two sons and a daughter. They homeschooled their two sons, both of whom went on to graduate from Gutenberg, and they homeschooled their daughter. All the Swansons share an addiction to Chris’s excellent homemade pizza.
The Physics Tradition: Have we progressed?
The most common view of physics is indefensible. It sees physics as a science progressively marching toward the ultimate truth. The example most often cited as evidence is the progression of Ptolemy, Copernicus, Kepler, Newton, and Einstein. The view simultaneously assumes two incompatible positions. First, we can know what is true because each step is “truer” than the previous step. Second, we cannot know if our current position is true, nor can we ever claim to arrive at truth.
I will explore the progressive view of science by looking at the perspectives of the scientists themselves. I will argue that none of them adopted this view. I will then consider “how we come know” and argue that the progressive view of physics denies our knowing nature. In the process I will sketch a different view of scientific knowledge which provides a better groundwork for confidence, humility, and the pursuit of truth.
An Inquiry Approach to Physics
It is a common criticism of history that the winners write the history books. The same is true in physics. As a student of physics, from high school all the way through graduate school, I was taught a canonical set of concepts and problems enshrined in textbooks. It was clear that the textbooks and teachers had all of the right answers and my job was to absorb these concepts and learn how to solve these problems.
I learned two other problematic lessons implicit in the pedagogy. First, I learned that scientific conclusions are settled and unquestionable. The idea that they were the result of intense debate and philosophical assumptions was never raised. In fact, in all of my education, no one ever asked, “what is science?” Second, I learned that curiosity, discovery, and thinking for myself are not a part of the discipline, at least not until I had a Ph.D. My job was to learn the paradigm, not question it.
In this workshop, we will explore together an inquiry approach to physics with an eye toward helping students have a mature and nuanced view of the nature of science and develop their ability to think for themselves. We will consider an inquiry approach to the history and philosophy of science and an inquiry approach into the concepts themselves.