Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Please allow me to introduce myself...

I think it's worth explaining where I got the title for this blog. Something, historically, that scientists have not done well is making what we do cool. We're just not that good at explaining what we do to the proportion of the population that doesn't read scientific journals every day. It's hard for us to connect with the layman and explain to them why what we do is interesting, and perhaps more importantly, why it's important.

One of the great exceptions to that rule is the late, dearly missed, Carl Sagan. Sagan was one of the great popularizers of science. He had a gift to reach out to audiences of all faiths and backgrounds and talk about the wonder he felt when he looked at the universe.

One of my favorite quotes of his is this one:

How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, 'This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant?' Instead they say, 'No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way'

As he did so often, Sagan summarized what I have always felt about the way creationists approach the universe in one two sentences. Worse than that, creationists seem to feel that because I accept the theory of evolution I either view mankind as a worthless animal, or I view life as meaningless.

Respectfully, if people truly believe that that's what evolution says, they're full of shit.

The number of individual beings which could be standing here in your place vastly outnumber all the grains of sand, on all the beaches, in all the world. You're the inheritor of a genetic legacy which stretches back 3.8 billion years through the eons, and which has circled the center of our galaxy about 20 times. You're the endpoint of billions of generations of births, competitions, wars and deaths, the only possible sequence of hereditary combinations that can possibly result in you. Your forbears have survived arguably the single greatest ecological catastrophe ever to hit the planet, when the earliest plants started poisoning the atmosphere with oxygen. Yet, your ancestors learned to use this poisonous gas to produce energy in a way that had never been attempted before; an evolutionary triumph which paved the way for the first multicellular life. Your genetic line has survived floods, freezes and meteor impacts from the skies themselves, preserving this single genetic line through the eons to lend ultimately to you. This is a legacy you share with every living thing on earth, from the largest creature ever to have lived; the blue whale, to the lowlies prion. You share this legacy with the blades of grass between your toes and the trees that gave you shade. You are a thread in a huge, amazing, incredibly diverse tapestry of living things; some of whom have clawed their way our of the seas to survive on land, some of whom remained in the ocean and a few of whom stood on land for a few million years, ultimately said "well, screw this" and marched back into the sea. Once we add cosmology into the mix, not only does this legacy stretch to everything living, but to the non living as well. You share your origins with the stars and planets. The asteroids which hang in space, all the way down to the loneliest hydrogen atom in deep space. All the parts that make you stretch back through the eons and have borne witness to the very birth of the universe. They have seen the birth and death of stars, supernovae, black holes and pulsars. They've seen planets torn to pieces and solar systems form. They've seen galaxies coalesce and skies darken.

The universe is much more grand, more amazing, more beautiful, more elegant and more subtle than has ever been written in any holy book, and you are here, against nigh-incalculable odds to see it all. Just consider that for a moment.

If acceptance of the theory of evolution, or of cosmology, is a sign of low self-esteem, what the hell are the standards for a high one!?

1 comment:

Cafeeine Addicted said...

Good bloggin' mate!

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