Thursday, May 3, 2012

I don't believe in gravity, either

I may have more trouble with those who "believe in" evolution than I do with Creationists. At least the Creationists are upfront about their deliberate ignorance of the empirical.

If you think that the poster is an effective argument for evolution, then you may not quite grasp the profundity of gravity either. That things fall is obvious. That all things made of stuff are attracted to all other things made of stuff, not so much.

That there is a predictable relationship between all matter in our universe is a bigger deal than many who "believe in" gravity grasp.

There may be some confusion about religion, too, a confusion exacerbated by those who would distinguish spiritual from religious.

Natural selection, by itself, is obvious. Living things have heritable differences. Some living things are more likely to reproduce than others, partly because of these difference. Those that reproduce pass their qualities on to the next generation.

You need time for complexity to evolve, and time we have.

But complexity is not the "goal." We are not headed towards a higher being, just a different one, possibly more complex, possibly not.

When a child gets this, do not be surprised if she goes into a trance for a day or a week. A child who gets this will feel her universe shift under her feet, her place redefined, her sophomoric cynicism squashed by awe.

Some folk call that a religious feeling, and it is. 

Grasping evolution changes our relationships with the living world around us.

Darwin's reasoning does not need to supplant God, and for many it does not. The theory of evolution does, however, supplant the need for a superior consciousness (or any other sort of consciousness) to guide the development of the beasts we call human.

It takes more than a class or two for a kid to get this, but there's no mistaking when one does. She's the one who's gone silent, stunned.

Natural selection is deceptively easy to grasp. It's not the concept that most of us resist. It's the implications. Evolution has no goal.

We're no more evolved than the earthworm, the mushroom, or the E. coli in our guts.

The jumping lamb is from Life is Physics Not Mathematics.
It's all good--we're all a part of this universe thing, and that's just awesome!


Jeffrey Michals-Brown said...

The business about "believing in" evolution is a reaction to the ramapnt skepticism. No--wrong word: the irrational disbelief in evolution. I commented to a colleague recently that evolution is the only biology topic we teach in which half the time is spent simply detailing the evidence that it exists! To this day I get a little flustered when asked whether I believe in evolution--I first have to decide which issue (the particular theory, the nature of sciece, or the philosophy of knowledge--I should tackle first. I really ought to think it all out ahead and come up with a cogent reply. I WILL get the question again, after all!

A news item showed up on my homepage a day or two ago (can't find it now) on the blue eye color being the result of a single mutation that occurred relatively recently (in anatomically modern humans). The first few sentences were to the effect that if you and hour spouse both had blue eyes, you had married a RELATIVE! Ewww! Never occurred to the writer that we're all related anyway, much less that the most recent common ancestor of all humans lived considerably more recently than that.

Good book for you--just finished re-reading it: Richard Dawkins' The Ancestor's Tale, which follows evolution backwards from modern humans all the way back to the earliest life. It's his way of getting around the problem of making it appear that we are the "goal" of evolution when we follow the history of life forward and end (self-centeredly) with humans.

I, too, live for those moments that a student realizes that he (even his whole species) isn't the center of the universe.

Unknown said...

I was forbidden to accept science and still believe in the lyrical poetry, the song that pushes the dance of cosmology or the story of descent with modification -- first by the science teacher and then by the church.

The false dichotomy and binary options forced me to choose between two worldviews, two identities and two communities. I heard things like, "You can't deny the Bible" (I never did. Really.) Then I heard, "You seem to smart to believe in God." (Backhanded compliment.)

I never chose between the two and, on some level, I've never felt at home in either world.

Joe Henderson said...

Amen to that! By the way, I used to talk about the difference between "belief" and "accepting evidence" when teaching evolution. One is about the natural, the other about the supernatural. That seemed to diffuse a lot of the false science vs. religion rhetoric that tends to shut everything down.

This Brazen Teacher said...

"Natural selection is deceptively easy to grasp. It's not the concept that most of us resist. It's the implications. Evolution has no goal. We're no more evolved than the earthworm, the mushroom, or the E. coli in our guts."


I wrote a post in one my former brazen incarnations about Natalie... a four year old in my first class teaching Pre K. During story time a centipede crawled out from under a playhouse. I squashed it. Paper toweled it up. Kiddy distraction died down. All was well.

As the story continued I heard sniffling. "Natalie what's wrong?"

She literally began to sob. "Thats... one of... God's... creatures... toooo!"

I was stunned.

Her place on the issue was that all living things were deserving of equal reverence. She changed my life that day.

I've killed many bugs since... but never again on purpose. Well, okay, I killed a cockroach in my kitchen the other day. I mean, but do they count?

And how is that Natalie understood something in 4 years of life that I barely grasp even after reading this post?

hOMESCHOOLING 2020 COVID-19 said...

evolution is science. science is just us figuring out stuff. for some God did it all, so for them science might be us just figuring out what He has done.
As a teacher I am still trying to figure out how we learned all of the stuff so that we can teach others...I think that might be true of teachers of God...

on a completely different tangent...when I get the chance to show this in a class I get to visit we watch this in the background...
In the language of science...observe and wonder. In the language of God...observe and wonder.

same stuff.

doyle said...

Dear Jeffrey,

I need to grab Dawkins' book. I love his writing, but he does have a knack for annoying folks publicly.

I think every teacher lives for the moment a student realizes he's not the center of the universe. For many, it never happens.

Dear John,

I gone done lifted your words for my blog again. =)

Dear Joe,

That's it in a nutshell--I have a leprechaun living in my classroom named Kevin. He helps the kids make the distinction.

Dear Brazen,

Natalie is the Buddhist I aspire to be.

And be careful--I have 3 pet cockroaches. (Well, the class does, anyway.) And they hiss.

And I may be stealing you words next--"in the words of God--observe and wonder." Come to think of it, I kind of did already.

Dear Malcolm,

Art is also "figuring out stuff," I think. I try to limit the supernatural in my classroom to Kevin the Leprechaun.

Thanks for the video link!

Jeffrey Michals-Brown said...

Doyle, did you steal my leprachaun? When I started out as a middle (then, jr.high) school teacher, paranormal stuff was all the rage, and I was regularly asked about the latest UFO sighting. I would remind them that the acronym stands for unidentified flying object, and that it is a Very Big Stretch to go from "I don't know what it is" to "they're space aliens!" Then we would apply the leprachaun test: if we see something mysterious, we should remind ourselves that leprechauns were a more local (hence more likely) cause, and probably better attested by evidence.

doyle said...

Dear Jeffrey,

I don't think I stole the idea, but I do borrow a lot, so it's not impossible.

Kevin the Leprechaun represents everything unfalsifiable, the nebulous non-empirical. On rare days, he represents what a lamb or two conceive as the Creator--not my intention, but I can understand the confusion.

Evidence matters in science, but not in most of my life. And that matters as well.

The distinction is important, perhaps critical to rational thought.

When I think about rational thought in this country, though, I inevitably need a walk on the beach.

Mr. David M. Beyer said...

"It takes more than a class or two for a kid to get this, but there's no mistaking when one does. She's the one who's gone silent, stunned."
So what does one do when he hears from parents, peers, and administrators that science is a belief, not a process? When the self-discoveries students make turn into questioning authority, and the aforementioned admonish me for undercutting their authority? 'Cuz I think I've been conscious of respecting religion in my science classroom, but am getting worn down by dogmatic criticisms from every angle. I'm looking for advice, and "stick with it" is already the plan...returning to the private sector and leaving public education is an easy option, but not the preferred one.

doyle said...

Dear David,

I spend the whole year, from day one, emphasizing that science is a process, a way of modeling/"storytelling" the natural world.

I introduce Kevin the Leprechaun on day one, challenging the students to "prove" he does not exist. By the end of the year, Kevin is truly part of the class--not sure that's a result I want, but a result nonetheless. And science poses no threat to him.

The evidence for evolution is, of course, overwhelming. The concept, when fully grasped, stunning.

I'm not so worried about parents and peers--I'm very careful not to introduce or comment on anything supernatural in class (except Kevin). I teach science.

I am, however, concerned that any public school administrator in charge of instruction maintains that science is a "belief"--that person needs a bit more education himself.

Chris said...

This post has gotten me lost in thought more than once this week.

Evolution, like gravity, reveals the grace of natural patterns. The emergence of homo sapiens as this planet's keystone species is not unlike the formation of stars from the spiraling-together of dust in space.

It's all connected. Not just physically, but ontologically. This is grace.

doyle said...

Dear Chris,

We may be the anti-keystone species by the time we're through.

I'm not sure our consciousness imbues us with anything particularly special, not sure it doesn't.

It certainly hasn't graced us with more sense.

Thanks for the beautiful analogy.