Most of us want to understand the world we live it. We seek to make sense out of our lives; why we are here; what the purpose of our existence is. Not knowing is unsettling, even scary.
For thousands of years, likely since humans could actually think as we understand that wold, we have tried to find ways to understand how things work. We tried to explain the forces of nature that we can’t control. Weather, seasons, earthquakes, volcanos. These things frightened us. To try to reduce the fear and uncertainty, we tried to explain these things as best we could. We created spirits, demons, monsters, and gods.
These creations varied from culture to culture. The Greeks had their Zeus, the Romans Jupiter, Bushmen had Cagn, Babylonians worshiped Marduk , Jews had Yahweh, Christians, Jesus. All of these deities had mostly similar traits, but also differences that varied according to the particular culture.
Some people, however, tried to find a different way to explain the world around them. Ancient Greeks had Plato, Aristotle, and others who tried to use reason and observation to explain things. The were often wrong, but it was a departure from just explaining things away as acts by a deity or deities.
In the 15th century, Galileo used his telescope to discover truths about the universe: that the planets were worlds like our own and not just points of light on the backdrop of the celestial sphere. Kepler, Copernicus, and later Newton, added to our understanding of the cosmos. The defining idea of these endeavors was that they used careful observations and reason to explain how things worked and, for the first time in history, accurately made predictions about the world that we could rely on. By the 18th century, the discipline of science was born. Engineering, medicine, communication, and other practical areas of study emerged that were different from the old ways of explaining the world. This way of learning about and explaining the world had two major differences from the mythologies that tried to explain things before: it was able to accurately make predictions, and it worked.
This leads to the most important difference between the mindset of religious and magical thinking, and reason and scientific thinking: People who rely on faith, hunches, and the like are afraid not to know. They seek solace in their faith in their god or gods. Their gods love them, watch over them, and will even save them from death by allowing an afterlife of rewards for being faithful.
Those who believe in the scientific way of thinking are not afraid of the unknown, in fact, they embrace it. The unknown is where we lean, where we can grow in understanding. It allows us to beat back the fear and uncertainly. It lets us make predictions about how the world works that can be tested and proved or disproved. This is how we can understand how our bodies work, which has lead to a doubling of our life spans in just over a hundred years. It is how we have provided ways to communicate across the globe, to share our thoughts and ideas, our emotions, our hopes and dreams.
It has been said by some that science is just another religion. This is false. The reason it is false is that science, unlike faith, can cause us to modify our ideas about the world as new information is discovered, giving us ever more accurate explanations for how the universe works. This allows the technological advances that save millions of lives and make our lives more comfortable. Unlike faith, it allows us to make predictions about the world that are accurate and reproducible, bringing certainty to the previously unknown, and pushing back the fear that the unknown brings. And unlike faith, science just works.
I just bought Why Evolution is True”, by Jerry Coyne, and Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea ,by Carl Zimmer. I’m also currently reading Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries, by Neil deGrasse Tyson, and In Search of the Multiverse: Parallel Worlds, Hidden Dimensions, and the Ultimate Quest for the Frontiers of Reality,by John Gribbin. In case you haven’t noticed, I love science.
Just to balance it out, I am also working on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, by Philip K. Dick and I’m getting ready to re-read “Sarum”, by Edrward Rutherfurd.
And now, here are some ornithopods drawn by hyrotrioskjan.
PZ Myers has an entry on his blog today about how the Discovery Channel purchased only 6 of the 7 episodes of David Attenborough’s latest, Frozen Planet. The reason? Episode 7 deals with global climate change. Yes, that’s right. The Discovery Channel that supposedly provides educational programming, has decided to strip off the final episode of this wonderful series because they choose to ignore science and fact. How is withholding and ignoring information on a critical topic that effects everyone on the planet educating? That the Discovery Channel chooses to give into ideologically motivated ignorance is infuriating.
I’ve chosen to express my ire to the Discovery Channel at their viewer relations page. Here is what I had to say:
“I am appalled that the Discovery Channel decided not to show the 7th installment of Frozen Planet. I thought that Discovery Channel was dedicated to providing quality educational and science programming, instead, I find that it has decided that it would rather cave to the uniformed idea that global climate change is not real and refuse to show the last installment of this series because it deals with the scientific fact. Shame on the Discovery Channel.”
Here are some more cool science and non-theist images for your enjoyment!
They make as much sense as the Christian trinity.
It is just as plausible as the Christian version.
The man who showed the world that science can be exciting and beautiful.
Probably the most influential scientist since Newton. Evolution baby!
His work greatly influence Darwin. He is the forgotten hero of evolution.
Pass the peas please! The theory of inheritance derived by his work with peas laid the groundwork for the science of genetics. I still remember this to this day from high school biology class.
Look around you. If you are reading this then you are most likely surrounded by things that science make possible. When you read about people who are anti-science and who seek to replace science with their fantasies of religion, think about all the things that make your life easier and richer than you would not have without science. I’m not just talking about iPhones and the Internet, or big screen TVs or even cars. Think about running water; clean running water. Think about electricity. How about the fact that most children in western societies regularly survive to adulthood? All these things can be attributed to science. If the religious right (you can’t call them radical anymore as they now make up the mainstream of the GOP) gets their way and vastly useful and proven scientific theories such as evolution, plate tectonics, and germ theory are suppressed in our educational systems and research funding, it can only bode ill for our modern way of life. If they get their way, you will need to move to Canada, Europe or Asia to have the same quality of life you have now.
So next time you hear someone going on about cutting science funding or trying to get intelligent design (creationism) into science classes in public schools look around and remember that much of what you see was made with science.
The website atheism.about.com has a really good article examining if astrology is pseudoscience or science. While I agree that astrology is bullshit, that is not what, I think, is the real take away point from the article. You could easily subsitute any number of questionable practices such as “psychic powers” or “homeopathy” for astrology.
The real importance of the article is how well it explains the scientific method. The reason this is important is that so many people have no concept of what the scientific method is and how it works. This leads to a gross misunderstanding and mistrust of science. This is bad because it leads to the undermining of scientific advancement in our society, a society that, more and more, is very dependent on the technology that science gives us.
There is a sad and firghtening trend in this country of mistrust, and even hostility, toward science. This kind of anti-science belief used to be confined to the radical right or left wing movements. The religious right fights against science when it contradicts the Bible (which is does the vast majority of the time). The radical left distrusts it because it is not “natural”, and they fear the possible misuses of science. Now, however, anti-science beliefs and rhetoric have become the norm. We see this in the current election cycle where Republican candidates are falling all over themselves to see who can be more anti-science than the rest.
It used to be that the GOP trumpeted the benefits of science as a way to make our society stronger, better, and safer. Does anyone remember the “Star Wars” program of the Reagan era? How about the Space Race? In this country, the military has always been a major driving force in advancing science and technology. It will be interesting to see how the military responds to the ever growing hostility of the GOP to science, considering that most of the military leadership has tended to be republican, as evidinced by the many generals who have gone into politics after retiring from their military careers.
This country used to be a leader in science and technology and that is what made it a great economic and military power. If this anti-science trend continues, we can only sit back and watch as our scientific technological leadership slips away and our economy because a totally consumer driven one, dependent on the technology of other countries who put science above superstition.
Here is a fun little drawing of Charles Darwin riding a tortoise.
Here is the link to the original: http://ahohesensei.deviantart.com/art/Darwin-riding-a-tortoise-160649209
The drawing is by ahohesensei. Her work can be found at http://ahohesensei.deviantart.com/gallery/.
I also came across this quote by Friedrich Nietzsche. I’ve read it before and have always liked it.
“The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself. “
Today is Ada Lovelace Day. For those of you who don’t who Ada Lovelace was, she was Charles Babbage’s assistant while he was working on his mechanical general-purpose computer, the analytical engine. She wrote the first algorithm for the engine becoming the first computer programer.
The purpose of Ada Lovelace Day is to call attention to the contributions of woman in technology and science and, hopefully, inspire more woman to enter these fields.
So to everyone out there, especially all the girls and woman who are interested in science and technology, happy Ada Lovelace Day!
There is a very cool article on the Smithsonian web site called Ten Historic Female Scientists You Should Know. It is a wonderful example of the contribution of women to the sciences throughout history.
There are, of course (since they only listed 10), many more women who have played important role in the history of science. Here are just a few of them:
Hypatia (b. ca. AD 350–370, d. March 415) was a Greek scholar from Alexandria, Egypt, head of the Platonist school at Alexandria and mathematician. As head of the Platonist school at Alexandria, she also taught philosophy and astronomy. As a Neoplatonist philosopher, she belonged to the mathematic tradition of the Academy of Athens, as represented by Eudoxus of Cnidus; she was of the intellectual school of the 3rd century thinker Plotinus, which encouraged logic and mathematical study in place of empirical enquiry and strongly encouraged law in place of nature. Hypatia lived in Roman Egypt, and was murdered by a Christian mob which accused her of causing religious turmoil. Kathleen Wilder proposes that the murder of Hypatia marked the end of Classical antiquity, while Maria Dzielska and Christian Wildberg note that Hellenistic philosophy continued to flourish in the 5th and 6th centuries, and perhaps until the age of Justinian. (Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypatia_of_Alexandria.)
Ada Byron – Considered by many as the first computer programer, man or woman. She assisted Charles Babbage on his analytical engine, creating the first ever computer program for it that could calculate Bernoulli numbers.
Grace Hopper - Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper (December 9, 1906 – January 1, 1992) was an American computer scientist and United States Navy officer. A pioneer in the field, she was one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer, and developed the first compiler for a computer programming language. She conceptualized the idea of machine-independent programming languages, which led to the development of COBOL, one of the first modern programming languages. She is credited with popularizing the term “debugging” for fixing computer glitches (motivated by an actual moth removed from the computer). Because of the breadth of her accomplishments and her naval rank, she is sometimes referred to as “Amazing Grace”. (Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grace_Hopper)
These are just a small sample of woman scientists. If you are interested in find out more about all the wonderful woman who have had a major impact on science, visit these links: