Saturday, July 26, 2008


Is it possible to believe in both evolution and God? Of course. But let's not delude ourselves into thinking that one is a science.

There is nothing wrong with teaching creationism as literature, philosophy, or as an adjunct to history. These things are important to understand why we know what we know--the history of science oftentimes reads like a soap opera replete with test tubes, gun powder, dumb luck, unlikely coincidences, and few happy endings. The history of knowledge can be as instructive, if not more instructive, as the actual knowledge. For instance, the idea that the earth was round was first posited by the ancient Greeks, but the proof of that was only ascertained nearly two millenia later, with Magellan's trip around the world, when, against all odds, they failed to fall off of the edge. The question: why did civilization have to wait for Magellan to sail around the world? Why not earlier seafarers, like Vikings or the Polynesians? What sort of economics, political structures, technology, and belief systemsmade circumnavigating the planet possible to Magellan and not to, say, Arab traders?

Creationism has its place in education, but not in science classes. The objective of teaching science is to teach kids that "this is what we know the world is", "this" being how plants photosynthesize, how proteins are synthesized, what crystal structures are, where the Horsehead Nebula resides (in Orion, visible only during the winter in the Northern Hemisphere). The objective of teaching science is not to teach that "everything in the world is commanded by something we can't see, our instruments can't detect, our best searches can't find, but we know it's out there anyway". As I said yesterday, if you teach the first well enough, the second will fall into place.

So let's quit worrying about our kids turning into blasphemous atheists. Let's point out, instead, how feathers help birds fly, the plethora of properties the humble water molecule possesses, how geese know where north is. Because if you really want to cultivate an appreciation for life, you kinda have to understand what life is to begin with.


Studd Beefpile said...

Your history of the round world is a little off. The Greeks knew the world was round, but so has likely every culture with access to the sea and even the most minimal amount of astronomy. The reason Magellan was the first to sail around the world is a more complicated question. I'd chalk it up to nascent capitalism more than anything else.

About Jules: said...

Never claimed to be a history major :-D

But the bigger question: why did we have to wait for Magellan to circumnavigate the world, is, I think, a little more complicated than nascent capitalism. You could say that economics drives everything, but there's a fair bit of stupidity, ignorance, chance, and luck involved, too. Not to mention technology.

Studd Beefpile said...

The technology is definitely important, but the Chinese had ships that were at least as good as anything the west had until the late 16th century. Remember, Magellan didn't set out to go around the world, he set out to find a route to the spice islands and to make money. Almost everyone who went on the voyage died. People took these incredible risks because of the profit involved. The Chinese and Polynesians had the ability to sail around the world, but no incentive to do. A few other cultures, like the Vikings, might have had the incentive but they lacked the means. Europe was the first place to have both.