Intelligently Designing Science


Let’s go ahead and open a can of worms on a geek-oriented website. For a while now I’ve been toying with my thoughts on intelligent design, where do I really stand? Since I was 16, and madly in love with Cmdr. William Riker of the Starship Enterprise, I have been a believer and advocate of intelligent design. To be precise, of a young Earth, the 7 days of creation kind of intelligent design. I also enjoy looking at the science behind things, the patterns, the developments, the growth. So 14 years later, raising a curious son in America instead of England, and working in the school system, I often find myself asking my 16 year old self some questions. It seems a young man called Aidan Dwyer in New York state has given me another way to get to grips with my own thoughts on the subject, though not necessarily a new one. Using an oak tree as his model, he designed a solar installation based on the Fibonacci sequence, he found this sequence helped the Oak tree achieve it’s growth. He won a 2011 Young Naturalist Award from the American Museum of Natural History. One of my English G+ friends posted this article under the heading “God got there first again,” which got me thinking again.

I know a lot of people scoff at my beliefs, I scoff at quite a few of theirs, but hopefully we can all respect each other’s opinions and persons enough not to get rude about it. Hmm, what world do I live in? Ah yes, the 24th Century! Quite honestly, I think that the writers of The West Wing put it best in the show’s final season. Using the presidential campaign to broach the subject, the democratic nominee, played by the dashing Jimmy Smitts quipped “I believe in God, and I’d like to think he is intelligent” as a way to broach this tricky subject. Later, in a classroom setting, he was asked to talk more about his position and I think the show’s creators handled this ticking time bomb of a subject with remarkable aplomb. They put forward the notion that science is science, it is based on things we can touch and calculate and is therefore taught in school as an academic subject. Scientific theory is debated and discussed in the classroom. Intelligent design on the other hand is a system of thought based on belief and faith, not on things that can be calculated. It has no place being taught alongside scientific theory. It is something that is taught in the home, at ones place of worship, it is based on a system of beliefs and should not be taught in schools. Or as Jimmy puts it, “can’t we agree that the inclusion of non-scientific explanations into the science curriculum of our schools misrepresents the nature of science?” This episode aired as part of the show’s seventh season, in October 2005.

I will admit that my view is slightly skewed, I come from a country where Religious Studies is/was a mandated class up to the age of 14. I would leave RST and go straight to Biology or History class. We learned about Judaism, Islam, the many different shades of Christianity to name just the big three. I was taught by a Jew, a Quaker and an atheist. I visited mosques and cathedrals. I was exposed to all religions as academic subjects, as part of our history. Life application was not taught, that I had to pick up outside of school and didn’t until I was 16. Personally I think knowledge leads to more tolerance and it’s a shame we can’t teach these things to our children in the US, I already lament it in Toby’s public education.

I have often heard it said that there is a fine line between Freedom of Religion and Freedom from Religion. Can of worms? Certainly, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue to raise the level of debate in this country.

Review: The Real State of America Atlas

geography, stats, graphics, america, united statesI received a package of books for review several weeks ago, courtesy of Penguin Books. My eighteen-year-old, Brad, immediately picked up The Real State of America Atlas: Mapping the Truths of the United States by Cynthia Enloe and Joni Seager and thumbed through it. “This is going to be a good book,” he announced.

Filled from cover to cover with graphics covering topics such as the economy, immigration, education, and religion, the book is one that’s easy to pick up and peruse in small increments of time. Each double page spread includes a brief overview of the topic covered. Near the beginning of the book, the Who We Are section tells us that

“…the “typical American” is a White woman born in the United States of German ancestry. She is in her late thirties, living in a household with one or more family members (most likely she’s married).”

Maps of the USA break down statistics state by state in many cases and various sections compare the United States to the rest of the world. As a resident of oft-ignored Hawaii, I was happy that the authors include both Hawaii and Alaska in most of their maps of the nation. Pet peeve averted!

“Check this out,” Brad says, poring over the pages. “In 1992 42% of America knew someone who was gay or lesbian. In 2010, 70% did.”

We discussed the fact that this is probably not because there are more gay and lesbian people in the world, but rather as attitudes (slowly) change, gay and lesbian people are being more openly themselves.

When my sixteen-year-old had a chance to read through the book, he too found it fascinating and read tidbits out loud to me. This is one of those books that sits on the kitchen table ready for the next person to sit down for a snack or lunch to thumb through it. It is really very fascinating and because of the graphic format, even elementary aged kids would be able to pull out interesting tidbits. For instance:

  • 64% of US newspapers shrank the space they devoted to international news, 2007-2009.
  • From 1960-2010, Americans with no religious identity rose from 3% to 16%.
  • 11% of students in kindergarten through grade 12 are in private schools.

A book that intrigues both of my kids (not to mention my husband and me) and starts interesting discussions? That gets high marks around here.

Science in Short: (dis)Prove It!

Some days it seems like no matter where you go on the internet, friends and foes of science are arguing about whether or not evolution should be taught in public schools. Lately, the squabble has been making new rounds on YouTube (I’m not sure it ever stops or starts, but bear with me) and today the internet bestowed an important and valuable reminder upon us: What science is.

When it comes to science, creationists seem to love the word ‘theory.’ It doesn’t trouble science-lovers; we know it just means there’s more science to be done, and like GLaDOS, we never want to stop testing. Theories, that is. But where science does its best work in the presence of the currently identified limits of human understanding, the creation camp seems bent on harping about doubt. The conversation often wanders into this strange frontier before the comments go up in flames: “If a thing can’t be proved, then it must be taken on faith. The theory of evolution and others like it make science no more valid than any religion. If anything, theories make science less valid because, unlike religion, they aren’t written in stone. What kind of belief system evolves every time it finds something new?”

There is a fundamental problem with that line of reasoning. Well, there are a few problems with it, but for starters, science isn’t a system of beliefs. Science is a system of study. I could go about this on at length, but I think Ross Exton explains it very elegantly in his video, below: What Is Science?

Geek Has The Irrational Nonsense Blues

“Mom, is Santa Claus real?” No, it’s just a fun thing to pretend. “Good.”

Soon: “Mom, magic isn’t real, right?” Right. “Just checking.”

Later: “Mom, what’s a god?” Something like an imaginary friend who hogs all the good stuff and bosses you around, then gets mad whenever you do something they don’t like. “Why would anyone make-believe that?!”

Best question ever! But of course I feel that way; I’m an atheist.

I had a religious upbringing, but what I actually believed growing-up was that everyone in town got together on Sundays for a big game of pretend. We listened to fairy tales and sang songs about magical things, just like in Disney movies. Church was fun until someone broke me the bad news: In a community of true-believers, I was the only one pretending.

My son will obviously never have quite the same experience with religion that I had growing up, but atheists are still in the minority. Truly secular parenting resources are scanty compared to the faith-based alternative, so whenever I come across something supportive of science-based living, I am delighted. Especially when that support takes the form of a music video I can add to an online playlist for my son to sing along with whenever he’s not in the mood for magical things.

For skeptics and others with a good sense of humor about faith, I give you the Irrational Nonsense Blues, by Ross Exton:

Religious Ninja Seeks Girl in Distress THE MOVIE

When I go to a movie, I expect to be entertained and not be subjected to a social commentary of today’s society. If I want deeper meaning, I’ll watch a documentary. That being said, I was excited to see Priest after reading a couple of reviews that promised me such an experience.

The story is basic and predictable. Priest breaks away from church to save a girl who has been kidnapped by vampires (that were supposedly wiped out or imprisoned during a ‘great war’). Church sends more priests to take down the one who has “dishonored the church, and therefore, dishonored God.” Totally awesome ninja western booty-kicking ensues. Paul Bettany, in my opinion, has been type cast again as a brooding holy man. He has done this role often enough that he has almost perfected it. Every time I see Karl Urban in a new role, I respect him more as an actor (my favorite roll of his is still “Bones” McCoy in the new Star Trek though). The ninja western booty-kicking experience outweighs the predictable and simple story. The only thing that sort of rubbed me the wrong way (as a Catholic) is that the church is a bad guy, yet again.

The vampires are obviously CG. As someone who studied production in college, I can say the effects in the movie are better than average. They probably won’t win any awards, but they’re not as bad as other movies that have come out recently.

As a mom I would not let my children watch this movie until they are at least 10, possibly older. This movie is PG-13 for good reason. The language is not out of control, but the F-bomb is dropped once. There is not a lot of blood, but there is death and killing. It is not a scary movie, but there are suspenseful moments that make you jump.

I saw this movie in something called 2D. Why? Mainly because I don’t feel like buying the equivalent of two tickets to wear two pair of glasses at the same time (no contacts here, folks) and give myself a headache (while trying to focus on something the movie makers don’t want me to focus on), and motion sickness. I like the classic experience.

Priest is based on a graphic novel written by Min-Woo Hyung. The Priest graphic novels are available on Amazon. I know I have added them to my wishlist knowing that the movie leaves open the possibility of a sequel, which I would gladly watch after this satisfying, yet simple, adventure.