|On Elastic Reality, Rigid Beliefs
||[Mar. 27th, 2007|05:57 am]
There are some rather silly ideas out there in the world today. Undereducated individuals make some claim and, for some reason, others believe it. Take, for example, Georgia State Representative "Ben" Bridges. He [allegedly] wrote a memo calling for a ban on teaching evolution. This is nothing new, particularly in the state of Georgia. But what sets this apart from most other such statements is the reason for calling the ban. He believes that evolution and the Big Bang are lies being concocted by Kabbalah. I would have thought we were past blaming the Jews for everything we perceive as wrong, at least on this hemisphere. What this memo actually refers to is a two-thousand year-old alternative creation story. He then falls back on the famous "evolution is a theory, not a fact, so it shouldn't be taught in a science class" argument. You can read this and other arguments at their website fixedearth.com.|
Evolution is a theory and a fact. We have, in our lifetimes even, observed microevolution. We have seen new species form and we have observed changes in phenotypes occur. We have a fossil record (if you choose to accept that they aren't another ploy by the Jews) that shows gradual change in species over time. Though the mechanisms of evolution are fact, the process as a whole and topics of genesis are unproven. Thus it remains a theory, and it probably will remain theory indefinitely. The science class is not a nothing-but-facts class. If science teachers could only teach proven facts, there would be little to teach. Gravity is a theory, but it is still taught. Assuming that the Theory of Gravitation is tossed aside, we would need to send with it (amongst others) Atomic Theory, Relativity, Circuit theory (hydraulics and electric currents), and the propagation of sound waves. Then consider everything based off of those subjects that would, too, need to be dismissed.
A theory is a falsifiable prediction or assumption about a (potentially unobserved) phenomenon. It's not some arbitrary guess; it is a hypothesis that has withstood rigorous testing. If part or whole of a theory is found to be untrue through testing, it is modified to reflect new observations or discarded as per the scientific method. Those that use the theory-not-fact argument ought to wage a full-scale war on mathematics since the entire field is base on a set of axioms. 0 < 1 is an axiom as well as 0 and 1 existing. An axiom is considered widely to be truth; however, there is no proof other than the axiom itself (sounds kind of familiar, doesn't it?). And if mathematics is dismissed, most of the rest of science must also be dismissed. Being a legislator, Ben Bridges would probably be interested in this idea, since he could remove several subjects from the curriculum and save an awful lot of money. Of course, few colleges would like to admit students with no math or science background whatsoever, and few employers would hire a fry cook or cashier who can't count.
Even if a general idea was proposed thousands of years ago, a modern theory that includes the idea is different (particularly in the area of testing. A cosmic spark that jumpstarted the creation of the known universe did not become an accepted theory until evidence was found in the form of a congruence between actual universal expansion and the Robertson-Walker model. Since then, other evidence has been found to support the theory. Myths are generally fabricated to provide some explanation of an unexplained phenomenon, albeit with no evidence and often the inclusion of supernatural elements. However, that does not mean there isn't any truth whatsoever in these myths. Like the Medium Paradigm, if you make enough guesses, one of them will eventually be correct.
This appears to be another attempt at weaseling creationism (or ID) into public schools. This also illustrates this idea of "elastic reality, rigid beliefs" whereupon a group or individual takes a fact or observation and finds a way to link it to their hypothesis usually by stretching or distorting the truth. It happens often in arguments from young-Earth creationists and other ID supporters and leads to some pretty wild claims (such the Grand Canyon was caused by the great flood of Noah's fame). Last October, Richard Dawkins gave a book reading to students and academia at Randolph Macon Women's College in Lynchburg, VA. A few students and faculty from nearby Liberty University (a Christian liberal arts school) made the trip to attend the lecture (whether they were genuinely interested in his views or just wanted the chance to confront him for his ideas is debatable). At the question and answer session following the selected readings, more than half the questions were raised by those from LU, and all of those questions all had the same purpose: discredit Dawkins and his ideas. Many such questions had multiple parts, some being along the lines of "Why not believe in God?" or "What if you're wrong?". But one man from LU brought up a very troubling example. He claimed that the LU museum contained a dinosaur fossil that was merely 3000 years old. There was no mention of how this fossil was dated, but if it were tru, it would surely be considered the greatest archaeological find of the ages. It's a wonder we didn't hear of it before or see the headlines covering newspapers and magazines across the world. The question was what would it take to convince Dawkins that the fossil was truly a few millenia old. It should be mentioned that there have been extraordinarily many dinosaur fossils found and dated. None of them are less than 65 million years old. Dawkins said that the sample would need to undergo radioactive dating processes. Not just one dating, but several different age-determining processes. There are many different radioisotopes that can be used for dating that use completely different fundamental principles to determine age. Yet these different process still agree on the age of a specimen. Dawkins replied, "If it's really true, that the museum at Liberty University has dinosaur fossils which are labeled as being 3000 years old, then that is an educational disgrace. It is debauching the whole idea of a university. And I would strongly encourage any members of Liberty University that are here to leave and go to a proper university." [from wikipedia]. As far as I can determine, no follow-up has been done and no scientific aging has been performed on the suspect fossil.
This urge to manipulate reality to fit one preferred model is not only absurd, it stands in the way of academic advancement.