Archive for category science

Childlike Thinking

I saw this cartoon today that depicts two little girls standing next to a scale. One warns the other, “Don’t step on it. . .  It makes you cry.” It’s also here: http://roses-are-read.blogspot.com/2008/06/don-step-on-itit-makes-you-cry.html

It started me thinking about how children often view the world differently from the way adults do. I thought of a similar cartoon one could make with more of a political lesson. Imagine Barack Obama delivering a speech where two ittle boys are in the audience. One says to the other, “I think people don’t like him because his ears are too big.”

The irony is that the truth is more bizarre than this cute fiction. Why do people really hate Obama? Because he’s a Muslim intent on remaking the U.S. as an Islamic theocracy? Because he’s a socialist who wants to destroy every business? Because he wasn’t actually born in this country so he doesn’t deserve to be its president? Because he wants to drive every medical doctor into the poorhouse? Because he’s not white enough? Because he’s not black enough? Now stop and reflect on the ideas you have just considered. Are these ideas objectively better than hating a person because he has big ears? At least the assertion that he has big ears can likely be verified as true. I think it’s worse to hate someone for something that he isn’t than to hate him for something he is.

So many people in the punditocracy are so set in their ways that it seems they haven’t changed their ideas about ANYTHING in the last 15 years. And that scares me. It should scare more of us. Especially when you realize that fifteen years ago it was 1996. If you wore a shirt from 1996, people would snicker. If you carried around a cell phone from 1996, people would really start laughing. Why do we give people a pass for spouting ideas from 1996?

I guess I’m a liberal although the more I listen to Lewis Black the more I think I should get my head examined if I even dream of identifying with either the left or the right. But being a liberal, if that’s what I am, doesn’t mean I believe change is always good. Certainly there are ideas that can stand the test of time. For instance, the idea that a woman should get a college education. Or the idea that no one should be turned away from a hospital because he cannot pay the bill.

Often we assume that people are maturing when really they are just aging. Aging is certain. You cannot avoid becoming older. But maturing implies growth and development. And honestly, when I listen to what some people are saying or what some writers are typing, I see a marked lack of growth.

To bring this post back to where it started, I think I need to take young children as my role models. Not the tantrums or the lack of impulse control, but the freshness of perspective and the flexibility to learn. I love that a 5-year old girl will tell me what she dreamed about last night. I love that a child can repeat a foreign word with pitch-perfect accuracy. I cherish the spirit of the Kindergartener who can embrace a new friend  with total trust and a complete lack of suspicion. And that is childlike thinking.

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Some Thoughts on the Evolution of Life

Today I read a Newsweek article discussing “18 Dumb Things Americans Believe.” It probably comes as little surprise that Number 1 is the belief that President Barack Obama is a Muslim. Number 2 is the idea that Darwin’s Theory of Evolution is untrue. I felt angry that the author, David Graham, put disbelief in evolution in the same category as the idea that Obama is a Muslim. There’s about as much objective evidence to believe President Obama is a Muslim as there is evidence to belief that Pope Benedict is not a Catholic. However, several credible scientists, distinguished with Ph.D’s and published research, reject the Darwinian Theory of Evolution.

My ideas about evolution have developed over the years in response to what I have read, what I have seen, and what I have heard. While I am by no means a professor of biology, I am in a better position to discuss the topic than many who express passionate opinions about it. I have a Bachelor’s of Science in Biology from the University of Illinois at Chicago. I have read a number of books on the subject. I have discussed it with many people and I have even taught the subject at the high school level.

As a result of my study of biology, my position on evolution is complex and nuanced. Yet if I were to summarize it in a sound-bite I would say, evolution is a useful framework but it leaves several significant questions unanswered.

Discussions of evolution suffer, primarily because of the emotional investment clouding reason, but also because of a lack of a universal definition of evolution.

One paradigm suggests that mutation + selection = evolution. Under this paradigm, an organism experiences a genetic change, natural forces in the environment favor or disfavor that change and then the progeny of the organism differ from its ancestors – and we call this process evolution.

Another paradigm suggests that at some point in time, a non-sentient monkey mutated and became a sentient human, genetically identical to a modern human – and we call this concept evolution.

A third paradigm suggests that evolution is a broad term that encompasses various ideas about the history of life on Earth. This model says the theory of evolution is itself evolving. Fundamentally, this model is about gradual change in life over time. The theory does not require a Creator but neither does it reject the existence of one.

The first paradigm is what Evolutionists believe. The second paradigm is the version of evolution that Creationists reject. The third paradigm is more or less what I believe.

There are several significant challenges to evolution, and not just to Darwinian theory but even the modern version of the theory espoused in scientific journals in the 21st century. For the sake of brevity, I will treat only three challenges.

One – how did the eukaryotic cell originate? The eukaryotic or “true nucleus” cell is the cell of multi-cellular organisms. It is exquisite in complexity and profoundly well-organized. Evolutionists have yet to fully explain the origins of the cell.

Two – why are all organic amino acids left-handed? This may seem like a minor issue, but it is actually quite significant. It is hard to convey this issue to lay readers, but I will try. Proteins are made up of chemical components called amino acids. In nature, one can find plentiful amounts of two kinds of amino acids – left and right. However the twenty amino acids found in organisms are all of the left variety. The likelihood of this happening by chance are equivalent to flipping a fair coin heads twenty times in a row. It does not make sense and the attempts to answer the conundrum are unsatisfying.

Three – how did the system by which DNA codes for protein emerge from a trial-and-error process? The central dogma (yes, they really call it that) of biology says that organisms use DNA as a template for RNA which codes for protein. It is a sophisticated system for storing vast amounts of information that has been likened to human language but is several orders more complex. Numerous experiments have tried to show how this process might have began but the puzzle remains largely unsolved. Unlike many aspects of biology that exist in several different forms throughout the spectrum of life, the central dogma is universal and really has no intermediate forms. It is as if life always operated this way and never any other way.

Those are some of my thoughts. They may strike you as intelligent, they may strike you as stupid. I would like to know how you feel either way. But please, let’s keep this civil and focus on arguments and evidence, not slander and propaganda.

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