Aug 30, 2005

Eventually Sex Would Be Used to Fill Gaps in Evolution!

Education Can Provide The Key To Success & Understanding
If most people believe in something, does it make it a fact? I mean, yes, the belief is very real, but does it represent the truth? Another question is how do people believe things, and, most importantly, how open are people to revising their beliefs. Unfortunately, many persons often pick a set of beliefs once and for all, without allowing for the possibility of of further inquiry and amendment. It's like picking a sports team, mostly on emotional grounds.

I think a lot has to do with how people perceive things, how they process information, and whether they lead an examined life. Education can hone an individual's critical skills. A person's personality make-up obviously affects his politics. When we have to order a pizza, there is a great probability that we are going to disagree about the toppings. So, politics is the tool we have to reach a compromise, make a decision and get the pizza delivered. And, while at it, politics determines how big of a slice a person gets. In a democracy, majority rules. It can be argued that, collectively, we get what we deserve. In this light, politics does make a big difference and it depends on the quality of the people involved in the process.

Now, if many members of our group believe that pizza is the creation of the fat-inducing devil who's hell bent on making Americans obese, then pizza can be banned. Darn, I love pizza so I hope this never happens! But, seriously, let's assume that most Americans believed in creationism, as they do, should it be taught in the schools as science? How about a flat-earth theory? Or, that human sacrifice to the Sun god is necessary. Or, that the
story of Christmas is true (despite the fact that it was Washington Irwing's influence that Americans adopted this holiday in the ..18th century). Studying history is good for it adds to our understanding of our past and of the human condition through the ages, and take the attacks on science as an attempt to dumb down our society. I think there is something wrong here when more Americans believe in Satan's existence (68%) than in evolution (28%)!

Our leaders, including the president--who holds the biggest megaphone--should be more careful when they attack science. Many of them are still alive today because of science. When president Bush endorsed the pseudo-scientific theory of ID and said that ID is a "credible alternative theory" he either professes ignorance or plays a bad political game. Perhaps his "jury is still out" but science's jury was "in" even before Bush was born.

Surely, there are gaps in our knowledge; who can seriously suggest that we know all there is to know? The quest for new discoveries is exhilarating just as much as actually finding something that enriches our existence. Yet, we cannot fill in those gaps with "alternative theories" that have no basis in reality and they cannot be put to the test. Or, can we? Take for example the theory of evolution and the attacks against science from a sizeable chunks of Americans--who have no doubt that revealed knowledge is superior to acquired knowledge. OK, you want alternative theories to explain something biologists haven't figured out yet? Let's talk about sex and orgasm--the latter being uniquely a human trait. You see, biologists can explain the use for the male orgasm, but there isn't a consensus about the use of the female orgasm. Since the Bible doesn't explain this phenomenon, we could seek alternative theories to fill in the gap. I could suggest that God is a ..female, so she gave the gift of pleasure to women! Does this fit the concept of intelligent design (ID)? If school boards want alternative theories to biology, I'm sure we can supply them with lots. Besides, these theories, like ID, don't have to be exposed to the rigors of the scientific method, though I imagine researching orgasm might be need further exploration, in the name of science of course.

Evolutionists argue that life developed through natural selection over billions of years. Yet, they cannot explain for sure why homosexuals exist today, since homosexuals don't procreate. Is God, in addition to being female, is a homosexual too? [If I don't show up tomorrow, you'll know that I was stricken by Zeus's thunderbolts] If you care to read more about an interesting examination of the female orgasm, read Elizabeth Lloy'ds book, The Case For The Female Orgasm.

Education is not just about committing facts to memory, but it should be the key to opening one's mind. It can serve as a tool of understanding the world around us, the past and the future. Why place artificial limits to our mind and our intelligence? From the origins of Earth and ours, to the glimpses of the universe, we have a lot more to learn. Keep searching and keep supporting education.

Aug 22, 2005

I Have Lots of Questions. Zeus Can Give Me the Answers (I Hope)

It's hard work to look for answers, isn't it?
Ever since I was a little kid, I've always had lots of questions about everything. I have to admit that I didn't like all the answers I got, either because the reply was, "I don't know" or, "that's the way it is!" I also didn't care for the answers that revealed something unpleasant, like having to eat my fruits & vegetables for a healthy life! And, speaking of life, the sad thing is that we die. I didn't like this at all. Of course, when you're a kid they supply you with myths to cope with difficult concepts, fears, expectations, and when there aren't any answers to your questions. At some point, though, a person has to grow up and face his fears and the unknown, and accept that although an answer is not available as yet, there shouldn't be a reason to stop investigating the world around us.

Now, how do we come to a conclusion of what a fact is? Well, we have a tool for understanding the physical world, and it's called the scientific method. Like any tool, it may not be used correctly, but its great advantage over all other methods is that it's a self-correcting tool! That is, all of its conclusions are tentative and subject to revision. This may not sit well with those who want the absolute, or prefer to live in a static universe infused with divine (not acquired) knowledge! It may be counter-intuitive at first, but a strong theory is one that can be disproved. Weak theories are the ones that are accepted as true without allowing the possibility of revision. In other words, no external facts or even questions are allowed.

In every step of our inquiry we should always ask, "how do we know this?" I have to confess, Zeus hasn't given me all the answers I want, and I'm highly suspicious of texts or people that speak of divine inspiration, because I'm a skeptic; an open-minded one, but a skeptic nevertheless. Even the Oracle at Delphi was smoking the ganja of the day before channeling the gods' edicts. So, since I cannot possibly know if something is truly divine, or the last word on the issue by the master of the universe, I'm left with the scientific method and empirical observation to make sense of it all.

So, science is something very specific, it denotes a process of acquiring knowledge, but because it's amenable it does not mean that any argument can dismiss a scientific theory, and a "complete" story of Humpty Dumpty, or the Earth resting on a turtle, are adequate explanations and good alternative scientific theories. And, this is the crux of the matter: What science do we teach our children in school? I think there is only one science. Any theory, any opinion about the physical world should be able to pass muster under the rigorous tests of the scientific method. Otherwise, it's not a scientific theory. Period.

There is a movement by conservative Christian groups to challenge evolution in schools and either replace it or teach intelligent design (ID) as an alternative theory. At least 19 states are considering including ID in their school curricula. There is no debate in the scientific community about the validity of evolution; the actual debate in trying to fill the gaps of the theory of evolution is within this theory! The few scientists who are quoted by the ID proponents basically argue that the complexity of evolution may not have happened accidentally or by natural selection, therefore, a "designer" was necessary for the evolution process to take place. Of course, they are not able to provide further evidence of such a divine hand of intervention.

No serious scientist can suggest that it was the Christian god who did this. I'd take great offense if they did so. My personal preference (or bias if you like) is of the Hellenistic view that says the gods didn't create the universe, but the other way around. Before there were gods, heaven and earth had been formed. These were the first parents. The Titans were their children, and the gods were their grandchildren. This makes sense to me. Otherwise, how would one explain the emergence out of nowhere of an absolutely complex entity (god) that jump-started evolution and other very complex structures?!
All this discussion can indeed take place in the classroom, but the currency of understanding should be reason, and not quoting ad-nauseam from a "holy text" or claiming revealed "knowledge." Perhaps creation, IE, Biblical texts, or any other mythology [I personally prefer the Hellenistic mythology for its focus on humanity as the measure of the universe] can be discussed in classes other than science; where the students can learn about the myths and cultures of people around the globe. These topics simply cannot be in a science class because they are not science! Like any weak theories, they cannot be exposed to same scrutiny ID proponents want for the theory of evolution. They're take-it-or-leave-it propositions; it's what we call faith!

"Finding the occasional straw of truth awash in a great ocean of confusion requires intelligence, vigilance, dedication, and courage. But if we don't practice these tough habits of thought, we cannot hope to solve the truly serious problems that face us---and we risk becoming a nation of suckers, up for grabs by the next charlatan who comes along." Carl Sagan

Aug 14, 2005

A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste. But, What to Put in It?

Devolution is a possibility too!
In a few weeks I'll be heading back to the classroom, so what's more appropriate than to ponder some questions about education. What is this education thingy? What do we consider "worthwhile learning" and why is it necessary to amass knowledge beyond what's needed for everyday living? Perhaps more importantly, what kind of education should society give its citizens? Education, in my opinion, is not indoctrination, but rather the freeing of the mind: giving it the tools to reason, opening it up to new experiences and understanding. A disciplined mind doesn't necessarily mean a closed one, but one that can apply the tools of reason, knowledge and personal creativity.

Education should be an equalizing force--that is, give the individual the means to upward mobility--in a society, especially in the US where the gap between the classes is growing especially fast under the Bush administration. Actually, the
mobility myth is just that. The rules of the game are being fixed in favor of the established elites, and it's getting harder for Americans to move up the socio-economic ladder. There is another phenomenon today that's creating another gap: between those who have access to information and those who don't. Education and information are empowering, therefore, access to them is imperative especially for those who don't have a panoply of means.

In the face of technological marvels at our disposal a rich country like ours should grasp the chance to move forward by leaps and bounds. However, there is an attempt of dumbing down our society. When other countries have settled on modernity and for a greater equality in the distribution of their national wealth, we are still arguing whether to teach science in our schools! We are not producing enough engineers, scientists, and we don't want to fund programs in the creative arts and sciences. International talent, once drawn to our shores, is now looking elsewhere for more hospitable environment.

The quality of our life, the quality of the education we provide our people, and the quality of our democracy are all closely related. I plan to ask my students about their expectations and aspirations of the future. The future belongs to them. Yet, if they are to improve their chances at success they must be thinking, informed and engaged citizens, and thus be able to change their country for the better.

Editor's note: This is the first of several essays on education.