Kerkut’s student syndrome

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Kerkut’s student syndrome pertains to the problem of dogmatism in scientific education. It occurs when persons such as undergraduate students uncritically accept ideas that they believe to be scientifically proven while fail to fully understand it and replace any personal investigation of evidence by sheer references to authorities. At the same time, they tend to hypocritically and often falsely accuse other people who do not share they point of view of the very same dogmatic approach they adopt themselves.[1]

Historical background

G.A. Kerkut, an evolutionist, discusses from his position, in his book Implications of Evolution, how in the past centuries theology students at Cambridge pathetically accepted ideas on the basis of authority.[2] He compares them to contemporary undergraduate students and points out that latter ones have irrationally succumbed to the same unthinking tendencies in their studies in general, and in accepting evolution in biology in particular. Paradoxically, they feel, quite mistakenly, to be different from their predecessors in that they think “scientifically” and despise “dogmas”.

Kerkut continues with typical example of conversation with a student whom he asks if he knows any evidence confirming the theory of biological evolution. This question typically elicits a sarcastic superficial smile: “There is plenty of evidence from paleontology, comparative anatomy, embryology, systematic and geographical distribution…” and the student continues with his nursery rhyme.

Kerkut further challenges student with question whether he thinks that the evolution is the best explanation of the relations in the living world. Student answers that there is no other except the religious one, suitable at the very maximum only for fundamentalist Christians who themselves in his view do not truly believe it. The next question is whether he believes in evolution only because there is no other theory he would be aware of. The answer is negative and student reiterates to previously mentioned “evidences”.

Then Kerkut asks whether the student has read any book of evidences for evolutionary theory. Student enlists authors of popular school textbooks and at the end mentions Darwin’s book On the Origin of Species… When being asked whether he has read that book, student starts to be evasive, but still asserts that through this book he has reached the sufficient understanding of evolution. Kerkut reacts that if it is so, a student should be not only able to define and state pros but also cons and deficiencies of evolutionary theory. He further portrays student as being taken aback and making impression as if being a victim of unfair game.

Finally Kerkut concludes that student was not very scientific in his approach and swallowed with blind faith the bait of latest “scientific” dogma and when being asked, he just parroted the views of contemporary Archbishop of evolution. He believed something what he intellectually has not grasped and just referred to the authorities, in this particular case to the existence of book On the Origin of Species…

In concluding remark Kerkut advances thesis that many of Church’s worst features are still left embedded in present-day scientific studies and suggests that students should read the scientific evidences and arguments against the evolution, present them as essays, and investigate all weak points of evolutionary theory.[3]

References

  1. Richard Terrell (2011). Evolution: Really?: A Christian Humanist Inquiry Into a Persistent Controversy. WestBow Press, 49. ISBN 978-1449713508. “He also addressed the problem of dogmatism in scientific education, comparing the modern evolutionary science student to the theology student of the past, accepting ideas on the basis of authority while claiming “to be different from his predecessors in that he thinks scientifically and despises dogmas.”” 
  2. G. A. Kerkut (1960). Implications of evolution, International series of monographs on pure and applied biology: Division, Zoology. Pergamon Press, 3. “…he will have faith in theories that he only dimly follows and will call upon various authorities to support what he does not understand. In this he differs no one bit from the irrational student of the bygone age who would mumble his dogma … You may ask, “What has all this got to do with evolution?” It is my thesis that many of Church’s worst features are still left embedded in present-day studies. Thus serious undergraduate of the previous centuries was brought up on a theological diet from which he would learn to have faith and to quote authorities…” 
  3. Paul E. Little (1967). Paul Little's Why & what book. Victor Books, 105. “After discussing how pathetically theology students at Cambridge, in a former century, accepted dogma and teachings they did not fully understand or personally investigated, G.A. Kerkut, an evolutionist, points out that many present-day undergraduates have succumbed to the same unthinking tendencies in their studies in general, and in accepting evolution in biology in particular. For some years now (he writes), I have tutored undergraduates on various aspects of biology.” 

See also