Sunday, October 4, 2009

My UbD essential question of the day

The 150th anniversary of Darwin's On the Origin of Species is coming up November 29.

Do you believe in evolution?

Are you a Bible-thumpin', gun-totin' wingnut?
On most days, nope.

Do you think descent with modification goes a long, long way towards explaining the unity and diversity of life on Earth?

Are you a tree-huggin', granola totin' wingnut?
On most days, nope.

According to Darwin (or today's biologists) did humans come from chimpanzees?
Nope, no rational scientist in her right mind said this.

Am I related to the toe fungus growing on my Aunt Millie's foot?
Yep, I accept that we're (very) distant cousins.

So far no real controversy--I can hold on to a very strong theory that explains just about all we know in biology, I can dabble in the Gospels (and you might best run away if you see me walking around mumbling about Mark reasonably ending at 16:8), and anyone who spends time outside knows life is weird enough that everything that respires just might all be cousins.

Here's the big one, though, and one that cuts across the boundaries.
Were humans inevitable?
This is where hubris takes a hit.
This is part of why Darwin spent a lifetime trying to find cracks in his own work.
This is why teaching biology can change a student's world.

Any thoughts?


Tom Hoffman said...

That's a good one. The general form is a good one for essential questions. Was the United States inevitable? Was slavery inevitable? etc.

Doug Noon said...

Thinking about the language commonly used for talking/thinking about this: We say, "descendants," when we discuss kinship, and "descent with modification," in the context of evolution. Yet we also refer to humans as "higher order" beings. So I wonder, if human beings were inevitable, why don't we call our offspring our "ascendants?" Our language confuses us, I think. Confuses me, I know. We seem to be unable to escape modernist notions of human progress.

ertzeid said...

Ok, so my thoughts on this are very hard to explain...

As for the question, "were humans inevitable?", I'd say no, but with the size of the Universe and the fact that life itself exists in the way it does here (and I find this good evidence that it exists in similar ways elsewhere), I'd say that some kind of life intelligent enough to wonder these things was bound to happen somewhere.

So were we inevitable? It was accidental that we were the ones to end up here to ask that question. But here we are, and we have the kind of brains that wonder these things. I think, therefore I am. I am, therefore I think. We're here because we're here. It's simple enough to make perfect sense and no sense all at once. I think.

John Spencer said...

Am I a non-gun-toting, left-leaning, overly cynical, hypocritical Bible-thumper? Yep.

Do I think the deepest questions are shrouded in mystery? Yep.

Do I think your blog is always thought-provoking? Yep.

Have you rekindled in me a love for science that was stripped away by fill-in-the-blank worksheets and mindless dissection of animals? Perhaps.

Ms.G said...

This is a very good question-I think humans were inevitable-and lead us to an ever more mysterious question, "Does it matter?" I don't really think so. My faith in both science and spiritual matters can neither be proven or disproven by facts or lack thereof. I don't care if the scientists say that the body cannot differentiate between natural vitamin C, say from an orange or tangerine, and ascorbic acid; my body feels better, feels healthier when I eat the orange or tangerine. So, I don’t care if scientists say, “There is no god,” (which I don’t think is what Darwin was saying) I feel better holding onto my faith in the divine. On the other hand, I don’t care if the religious say, “It is a mystery,” I think all the questions of the universe are decodable if only we really a certain level of knowledge. Two thousand years ago it was a miracle for a virgin to conceive a child. Today all we need is a host, a donor, and a Petri dish-well, it is quite a bit more complicated than that, but you get my point. Mystery is just knowledge untapped and a miracle is just knowledge in the wrong context of time. I think there is room for many different points of view in both our lives and in our classrooms. I think we should post a sign on our doors saying, “All thoughts welcome here!”

momomom said...

I don't think we were inevitable. Nor do I think we are any more unique than other life forms. How could a real sci fi nut like me feel otherwise?

Alfred Kee said...

What do we mean by inevitable. One form of hubris in this area is the mistaken belief that evolution places humans at the top of the evolutionary ladder. It isn't a ladder, it is a tree and we're just sitting at one of the branches at the top, but there are plenty of others that are as farm from the root as we are.

doyle said...

Dear Tom,

I hadn't thought about the form, but you're right--I'm going to raise this at our next UbD meeting.

(Are UbD meetings inevitable?)

Dear Doug,

I spend a lot of time in my classes discussing language. Way back when I taught medical students and residents, I would not allow them to call a child a "diabetic" or a "sickler" or an "asthmatic", something I learned from a cranky attending when I was a student. Our words influence our thoughts.

It's the big reason I stick with Darwin's language, descent with modification.

Dear ertzeid,

We're here because we're here. It's simple enough to make perfect sense and no sense all at once. I think.

I tell my kids each year that I've done my job if they know less at the end of the year than they believed they knew at the beginning. You just earned an A+.

Dear John,

Thanks for the warm words. Try not to think of your love of science being stripped, it was more your hatred of something that pretended to be science. I think we all innately love science. But that's just a hunch, not science.

Dear Ms. G,

Interesting points about what matters.

As for "faith" in science, it requires little--and if by facts you mean replicable observations about and in the natural world, well, then, what scientists say about science (and we are all scientists when we use scientific thinking) matters. Science would be a whole lot easier to fake if we did not always have reality bumping in screwing up our hypotheses.

Dear momomom,

Hah! A heretic in our midst! And I agree, each life form has its own stamp on uniqueness. I need to go back to reading sci-fi.

Dear Alfred,

I'd even avoid the tree image--I think more of everything spreading out from an early core of life, branching into different parts, but each part equidistant from the core. All life on Earth has been "evolving" for the same period of time (unless life started multiple times, which may have been the case).