October 03, 2005
[Please excuse the massive repetition I'm about to employ, but I have a point I'm trying to make...]
So, there was this dude named Galileo Galilei. Being influenced by his mathematician father, Galileo took measurements and systematic observations and used them to develop and support (or refute) theories of natural observed phenomena. He is thus considered by many to be the (or, at least, "a") father of the modern scientific method. He was also, in his day, prosecuted by the Catholic church because his observations and evidence challenged the beliefs held by some highly-placed members of the Inquisition.
Here's the thing about science: it is all about the understanding of the causal relationships between and among natural phenomena.
For example, if I lob an object into the air, it traces the shape of an arc known as a parabola. It decelerates as it heads upward, and accelerates downward, by an order of "squares". This is observable. Testable. Reproducible. Predictable. And it has very practical implications in the real world. It has implications for the basketball player attempting a jump shot. It has implications for our troops in the heat of battle preparing to launch mortar shells. Etc., etc.
The same kind of practical implications hold true for any number of scientific principles, and this includes the principle of evolution. While this principle is often referred to as the "theory of evolution", it has long since moved from theory to accepted scientific fact. Charles Darwin observed the principles of evolution in his landmark book, The Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection. The concept of natural selection is observable, testable, reproducible, predictable. It informs not only the scientific fields of biology and medicine, but also zoology and botany and all of the other life sciences.
However, evolutionary biology as a scientifically observed and tested natural phenomenon poses some challenges to some beliefs of some currently accepted religious paradigms. Evolutionary biology has implications for the origin of mankind, for example, that may seem to challenge certain interpretations of the Christian (not to mention Jewish and Muslim and Hindu and Buddhist) creation stories.
As I mentioned above, however, science is all about the understanding of the causal relationships between and among natural phenomena. Religion is about the understanding of the supernatural. There is no conflict here. Science has nothing to say about the supernatural. If it's supernatural, it's outside the rules of science, eh wot? QED.
There are some people, however, who are so offended by the potential implications of scientific principles that they want to curtail how science is taught. Like the Inquisition's earlier edict to Galileo that he label his findings as "hypothesis" devoid of any "real" implications, so some in the religious community want science textbooks to label the principle of evolution "just a theory, and open to debate". Or, like the Inquisition later determined with regard to Galileo, want to ban the teaching of certain scientific principles altogether.
But now there's another kind of attack. Some want the teaching of science to include the teaching of a philosophical, neo-theological concept called "Intelligent design". There is nothing in the concept of Intelligent Design that is observable, testable, reproducible, or predictable -- ie, it is not scientific. It is an assertion about the supernatural.
[Intelligent design, if I understand correctly, is summed up by the idea that if you were walking along in a forest and stumbled upon a gold watch, you would not assume that the watch grew there with the trees and the mosquitos. Rather, you'd assume it was designed by some deliberate creator. We are to think likewise of mankind amidst the barrenness of space.]
What is so galling here is not the philosophical precept of an intelligent designer, so much as the notion that it should be taught within a science curriculum. It is the height of ignorant arrogance to insist that supernatural what-ifs be taught as a scientific theory that has any kind of legitimate standing against a truly scientific vetted principle such as evolutionary biology.
Teach intelligent design as theology, if you must teach it at all, or even philosophy (if you want to insist that this isn't about the Christian story of the origin of man). In fact, let's debate it there, as I'm certain there's much to debate even on those grounds. But don't insert this into the science classroom. It doesn't belong there.
Why doesn't it belong there? What could be so harmful about teaching it there?
First, intelligent design requires us to disregard so much that we have already demonstrated to be true about the life sciences, paleontology, geology, cosmology, astronomy, and physics. It is, in essence, anti-science. Without evidence, it nonetheless refutes that for which we do have evidence.
Second, it is not a valid scientific precept in any conceivable fashion. How do you measure it? Test it? Observe it? Reproduce it? Predict it?
Third, it pits legitimate science against religion and philosophy, where no such conflict should exist. Science is about the natural, religion is about the supernatural, and philosophy is about ideas. The only place these disciplines intersect is in the realm of ethics and morality (where what can be done must be weighed against what ought to be done and what is right to do).
Fourth, we do our children and ourselves a great disservice by muddling the distinctions between the natural and the supernatural. Yes, I want the doctor who treats me to "do the right thing", but I also want the doctor who treats me to do the thing right.
October 12, 2005
One of the most amazing things that I am noticing about our boys is that they are always growing. A little taller here, a little more facial definition there, a little better coordination the next. All the time.
Lately, the big thing for both Nolan and Alexander has been how much taller they've been getting lately, and how much their cognitive abilities are shaping up.
Monday marked Nolan's six month birthday, and Wednesday he gets his check-up at the pediatrician's office. We had intended to give him his first taste of "solid" food (rice cereal, oh that's solid, ho, ho) on Monday, but the pace at Casa Rousselle has been way too hectic for us to introduce this radical change into our lives. What's that, you say? How radical is letting the kid slurp a few spoonfuls of powdered rice in milk? Feeding him in a high chair, while new for Nolan, wouldn't be the problem. Dealing with the changes at the other end of his digestive tract is another matter.
But while we have staved off Nolan's encounters with new and exciting cuisine, his life is no less full of change. He has begun to not only roll over, but roll over and over and over in both directions. He pivots. He's gotten into crawling position just a couple of days ago, and we won't be surprised if he begins crawling at a much younger age than Alexander had.
At six months, Alex's hair was thin, but it looked like he might end up with possibly red or possibly brown hair. Of course, he's about as blond as blond can be these days. Nolan's hair is just now starting to come in, and very early indications are that he looks very blond. We'll see how that works out. Paulette says that his hair will probably darken as he gets older, even if he does start out a blond. She may be right (it happened to my maternal grandmother in her late teens, and even to me to a lesser extent), but then again, maybe she just doesn't want to be stuck in a house full of blonds.
Nolan remains a very pleasant fellow, with generally little to complain about and plenty of coy smiles and coos to go around. He enjoys studying his toys, and likes to sit at the dinner table with us even though we haven't introduced him to steak, yet.
It should come as no surprise that he's a social kid. He loves to hang out with his parents and with his big brother. He particularly loves to watch Alex dance and sing and run around, and big brother is all to happy to ham it up for his young, captive audience.
I've mentioned how hectic things are around the house lately. Paulette's work situation and my job situation and Alex starting a pre-school program have all been combining to create a bit of a scheduling burden. We still mostly manage to have a family dinner toward the end of the day, but usually I don't get much other time with the kids during the weekdays (although I do have a routine putting Alexander to bed, which is nice). The fact that job and certain volunteer activities and family life are all tugging at my calendar leaves no time for other worthwhile pursuits (like exercising, writing, or sleeping). I guess this is part of the current American situation: working more to make more but enjoying it less. Bust butts to afford the bigger house in the suburbs, then spend hardly any time there, etc., etc. Weh, weh, weh, and all that.
But I will say that all of this frenetic activity forces one to prioritize and get clear on what's important. And for me, it's obvious not only that family has to rank number one, but it has to assume some *urgency* on the priority list. Our children are growing up so fast! I need to be with them as much as I can manage now, because their childhood won't come this way again.
October 13, 2005
I love playing with the English language. Here are some words I made up for various things I've written:
- abusual: dangerously atypical
- bootishly: the way people walk indoors in Buffalo, NY in the winter
- misanthropomorphic: to hate animated Disney animals
- posteriority complex: obsessed with the quest for the callipygian ideal
- pyronecrobestiapedophilia: an alternative lifestyle even PETA wouldn't approve
- therapologist: someone who defends psychiatric counseling
I'll post others as I remember them.
October 21, 2005
I know I don't usually use my personal online journal to talk about such things, but...
Are any of my faithful readers handy with writing VB or .NET applications? My employer might have use for your skills (probably on a freelance basis). Drop me a line at my e-mail address at the bottom of the page.
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