What’s natural about nature? Deceptive concepts in socio-scientific decision-making

The conflicts between nature and nurture are brought to the fore and challenges socio-scientific decision-making in science education. The multitude of meanings of these concepts and their roles in societal discourses can impede students’ development of understanding for different perspectives, e.g. on gene technology. This study problematizes students’ use of “nature” and “naturalness” to further the development of the experience of science education in relation to the nature-nurture debate. We build on the social constructivism view that present conceptions of nature and naturalness emanate from historical and modern social constructions of nature. Claims presented by upper secondary school students in interviews actualizing the control of human actions pertaining to treatments for hereditary diseases by making use of concepts of “nature” and “naturalness were analysed. The students suggested control of human activity on different levels of biological organisation, either from within the Romantic view or the Enlightenment view on nature. The Romantic view provided students with moral grounds for consistently preserve what is considered as nature and means to bolster their reasoning by referring to the balance in nature, the purity of nature, and the laws of nature. The Enlightenment view provided students with means to support gene technology by embedding “nurture” into the concept “nature” by using knowledge while implying that nurture is a natural way to overcome such imperfections of nature. We propose that these conflicting views should be addressed in biological education to promote students’ understanding of contemporary discourses dependent on the different concepts of nature and nurture.