The Challenge to Science

01/24/2013 By Shawn Burns

“Daddy?” Erin asked, “I want to go in the backyard.”

“But it’s wet back there today; it’s been raining,” I replied. I admit I was thinking more about clean kitchen floors than anything else. A better parent would have immediately put a plan of action in place, establishing a beachhead at the doorway with towels to clean up after playtime ended. I’m not that guy, today. Just don’t get mud on the floor, okay?

“No it’s not! It’s not wet!” she denied.

“What? Yes it is. It’s been raining off and on all day. You can see how wet it is on the ground out there.”

“No, I looked. It’s not wet.”

What was going on here? Was it really dry back there? Or could Erin just not tell by looking at it if the ground was wet? I walked over to the sliding glass door, Erin in tow, and we looked through the panes.

“See?” I asked, motioning at the glistening concrete outside. “It’s soaking out there.”

“No it isn’t,” she retorted.

“Just look at it. Can you see the water? Can you see how wet it is?”

“No. I can’t turn my head down. I can only see straight ahead.”

I had not expected that tactic. She was denying my claim by insisting on verifying truth on her own, and refusing to use every tool available to her to do so. In her version of the world, the ground in the backyard wasn’t wet, not because there was no water on it, but because the water on it could never be pointed out to her. I was baffled.

“Well, uh, look down,” I suggested.

“I can’t. It’s not safe. I bang my head when I try to look at the ground outside.” She demonstrated, banging her forehead on the door as she angled it down. She was willing to try my method of observation, but she refused to duplicate it in good faith. Instead, she invented obstacles to adopting the method.

It finally occurred to me that actually proving to her that the ground was wet was going to be impossible. She would twist herself around and around to avoid having to examine the evidence that contradicted her claim.

In the end, I did the only thing I could do to bring her around: I posed a PR conundrum for her, couched as an appeal to faith. “What do you believe more: that you are right, because you can’t see, and that I’m lying to you; or that I am right, because I can see, and you trust me?” Even children understand that it’s probably a bad idea to call their dad a liar. And couching it as a question of faith gave her an easy out.

“Okay daddy,” she conceded, “I trust you. It’s wet in the backyard.” And with that she returned to her indoor play.

This sounds like a metaphor for something.