Saturday, February 06, 2010

Sin #1: Hampering Science Education re Evolution

"Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution" -- Theodosius Dobzhansky, 1973.
Evolution is one of the four great theories of modern science. The other three are special and general relativity; the standard model of elementary particles; and quantum chromodynamics. Thanks to christian academies, home schooling, and things like the creation anti-museum, we now have, what, maybe 10-20% of the students in the United States being taught creationism and intelligent design instead. 90% of the new scientists and engineers in the world are being created in China and India. They are not being taught that folk tales are rational alternatives to one the greatest theories in science. The current industrial might of the United States comes from the dominance of its science, technology, invention, and entrepreneurism since The Civil War. Our universities are still the best in the world, but we risk all this when we fill our children's heads with nonsense.

I often think that the main problem people have with evolution is that we just cannot conceive of how long millions and billions of year are. I have been thinking about a potential teaching aid, in the form of my official gigging t-shirt, shown below: Actually fairly accurate. Our solar system is 2/3 of the way out from the center of our beautiful spiral galaxy, the Milky Way: 26000 light years. It takes our solar system 250 million years to circle the galaxy. Let's call that a Galactic Year (GY). So 1 GY = 250 million years.

Our galaxy is probably almost as old as the universe: 13.7 billion years old -- that is ~55 GY old. Our solar system is ~4.5 billion years old => 18 GY old (time to register to vote!). Life in the form of bacteria and their precursors have been around maybe 3 billion years => 12 GY. Complex life has been around since the Cambrian Explosion of 530 million years ago -> 2.1 GY.

Now let's get down to our favorite topic: us. Homo sapiens sapiens (us) has been around ~200,000 years => 7 galactic hours. On the shirt, this would be around 1/4 of a degree, or .008 inches -- about the thickness of a thread.

Human civilization, in the form of agriculture and domestication of animals, is around 10,000 years old => 21 galactic minutes. On the shirt, it's .0004 inches or around 10 microns -- microscopic. The 70 years or so that is all any of us get to experience is about 9 galactic seconds. So it's awfully hard for us to comprehend the ~10 GY it look life to find its way from single-celled to multi-celled organisms, or the 2 GY since then.

Scientific theories are compression algorithms: they compress vast quantities of data and observations into as few equations as possible.

Imperfect Replication With Differential Survivability
Five words. That's all it takes to describe evolution. Just add galactic years of time, and it will produce all the life on earth, and the human mind and "soul". What a compression algorithm!

No comments: