Kristi Schultz Broughton Liberal Arts Essay Contest

Each academic year, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences invites students to participate in our liberal education essay contest. The contest is open to all currently enrolled Butler undergraduates who have completed two or more semesters at Butler or another post-secondary liberal arts institution, and the submitted essays are judged by a committee of Butler University faculty drawn from various disciplines, and members of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean’s Advisory Board. The student who writes the winning essay wins a $1000 prize and is featured on the LAS Essay Contest webpage.

The essay contest is named in honor of Kristi Schultz Broughton. Although not a Butler grad, Kristi was an avid supporter of Butler. Kristi was an elementary school teacher and a Butler Mom whose life exemplified the values of liberal education and a commitment to teaching and learning. The contest is made possible through the generous gift of Kristi’s sister Karen Schultz Alter ’85 and brother Steven R. Schultz ’88.

Science, Skepticism and Seeking Truth

Science and evidentiary reasoning are a significant component of a liberal arts education, but popular attitudes have swung away from validating science, scientists, and their findings. How might your own liberal arts education allow you to better negotiate this tendency? How can a liberal arts education foster and foundationally strengthen a framework for civil public discourse in a world characterized by skepticism? Has the trend related to science already expanded into skepticism in other academic fields? What are the broader societal ramifications of this trending skepticism?

The World Revolves Around the Sun, Not Your Opinion

by Emmie King

I remember learning in elementary school about heliocentrism, the belief that the sun revolves around the Earth. This was so silly to me at the time; my teacher said that the Earth revolves around the sun, so there was simply no way that this other theory could be true. It wasn’t very wise that people did not listen to Galileo even though he was an expert, just like my teacher. Galileo studied the sky, so he must have known more about the stars and planets than regular people. Why didn’t they listen to him?

The truth is, expertise is a difficult thing to define, even in modern society where we have tangible degrees and documented certification. We see failures even in the professional fields; politicians often fail us with corruption. Doctors often fail us with ignorance or misperception, and sometimes just common malpractice. We also see successes from the unqualified. A random man in Paris scales a building to save a dangling child from a balcony, or a young child wins a talent contest. Is a degree or certification necessary, then, to be considered an expert on something?

As a child, I was taught to trust and respect authority because they know better, but as I have grown older, I have been taught to resist and distrust. The general consensus is that adults know better, and now that I am an adult, I can see that my parents were right. Adults do know more about the world, so they should be in charge of children to keep them safe. As an adult, I have more experience in life, and therefore more expertise, just as someone who spent time to earn a degree may have more experience and knowledge about their field.

There is an unfortunate attitude popular today, just as it was during the time of Galileo, that gives people a false sense of authority. People innately hate being wrong, and platforms like the internet give people the chance to present themselves as knowledgeable without any real certification.

We see this often today regarding issues about the pandemic. Some say that COVID vaccines are safe because scientists have found them safe. Some say that that is a blatant lie, and COVID vaccines are not safe. It is difficult to decipher who is right and who is wrong when there is so much controversy, and it becomes difficult to know who to trust. Is it better to trust the news, a government website, or your family? As a child, my answer would have been my family, but as I’ve learned to think for myself, I understand that every human being is flawed, and the world is much harder to navigate than that.

Today’s greatest challenge in shutting down harmful ideas is navigating the internet. The use of the internet has allowed opinions to spread like wildfire, and if an argument is presented with one good point, it is easy to spread that one point around while ignoring all counterarguments. The internet allows a faceless, identity-void medium to present opinions with all boldness and aggression and face little to no social consequence. This heightens the dangers of this attitude of distrust toward the certified and knowledgeable. Everyone, regardless of achievement, has the potential to run a platform of influence and inspire opinions in others, even going so far as to spread misinformation and propaganda.

The internet especially heightens the “I know all” attitude, and it allows misinformation to thrive under the guise of “I researched this myself, so I know what I’m talking about.” Despite the scientific evidence, there are still some who believe that the Earth is flat. They distrust scientists, actively ignoring their research and considering themselves experts.

One thing I have appreciated about my liberal arts education at Butler University is that I have been forced to think, which is not always fun for me. I am expected to participate in class discussions and share my thoughts and opinions. This is often scary to me because I greatly dislike conflict, but I have been amused to find that even when I disagree with others’ opinions, it does not always result in an argument. There are better options such as silence and careful listening, forming an opinion that I keep to myself, or even gentle argumentation, focusing on persuasion rather than attack.

If these issues regarding the pandemic were handled like this, then I believe there would be less strife. I believe that there would be more of a sense of trust in each other and in those who, certificationally, know better. If we were to focus more on persuasion rather than accusation, we would be more likely to center on a truth, and if we were to focus more on truth rather than opinion, we would be able to find solutions rather than problems.

When my teacher taught me about Galileo and the geocentric theory, she happened to be correct. The curriculum that was given to her by the school aligned with what scientists were able to prove through observation and experimentation. I understood that she had more certification and knowledge than me, so I trusted that what she had to say was the truth. Similarly, Galileo dedicated his life to the careful study of science, so he should have been trusted.

It is a wiser bargain to trust those who have dedicated their lives to the study of this information rather than to trust friends or family members who have dedicated a few hours to study. It is important to examine figures of great influence to determine what qualifications they meet and what can be trusted as truth. It is impossible to change the way that everyone thinks and approaches problems, but individuals can avoid contributing to the problem by allowing careful thought to their decisions and respecting the words of the qualified.