When we started developing our model of atomic structure (which is turning out somewhere between Bohr and Schrödinger, by the way), many students were anxious about whether the model was “right.” We talked about what rightness meant, what a model was, and what made a good model. CERN had just made their faster-than-light neutrino announcement, and we talked about what that meant for Einstein’s model (was it a bad model? Was it wrong?).
This became the springboard for some great conversations about the difference between “facts,” “opinions,” and judgements. I distinguished them this way: a judgement is based on some reasoning; therefore we can evaluate the quality of the reasoning. An opinion is based on no reasoning; it’s an entirely subjective preference, which therefore cannot be evaluated on any grounds. So then they want to talk about what’s a fact.
We segue briefly into some discussion about whether we ever know anything for sure. My take: if you’re looking for what is “right,” look for it in your faith, if you have one.* Because it doesn’t come from textbooks, and certainly not from me.** (They gaped at me as if I had just told them there was no Santa Claus.) What we have in this classroom is “the best judgement we can make, based on the best information we can get.” And we will continue to make that judgement better and better — theirs and mine.
*Or your sense of justice. Or whatever you find numinous.
** You might find it in yourself, though. Michael Doyle does.