I pity thee, oh ignorant man

Bit of a facetious title today, but really I couldn’t help myself. I am of course using ‘man’ in it’s original sense of ‘adult person’, from the Old English word ‘mann’.

Let’s just clear something up so I don’t get accused of misogyny.

Prior to ‘mann’ losing the prefixes, wifmann meant a female adult human being – wif meaning female, probably derived from the word for one who weaves which was a skill traditionally practiced and mastered by women, thus wife and so leading to the modern English word woman. The male adult human being was wermann, wer meaning man, husband. Mann meant person. At some point in the last 1500 years wermann lost its prefix and was shortened to man.  So, when I use the word ‘man’, unless I’m referring to a specific male I’m probably using it as a synonym for adult human beings, as in ‘mankind’

This is not misogynist, it’s knowing the origins of words.  Neither the word nor I am responsible for the negative connotations you attach to it. Nor am I prepared to use the phrase ‘adult person’ when there’s a perfectly good simple word to do the job, just to salve other people’s feeling of exclusion, when I am not being exclusive.

If you have a problem with that go away, read a bit about the language and its origins, then come back when you’ve educated yourself.

And, back to the purpose of today’s post, since I got slightly side-tracked momentarily.

I am, as people who read this blog fairly regularly know, fond of the sciences. I like reading science news, science magazines, blog posts and websites. What I can’t stand is the scientific illiteracy I run into in my daily life and on the internet. It gets up my nose, on my nerves and it gets my goat (that was a terrible reference to an episode of the Ronnie Barker series ‘Porridge’. Sorry). While I’m no expert, I do have a basic understanding of a few areas. And I can usually point you in the direction of someone who knows more than I do. And that’s what I want to do today.

The two current top irritants are climate change deniers and creationists. Shouting ‘It’s all a hoax!’ (there’s a fine example of this argument in the comments to this blog post) repeatedly and loudly does not constitute evidence, nor does wilfully misunderstanding the scientific use of ‘theory’.

Lets start with climate change shall we, since it’s quite an important concept, and one of the greatest challenges facing the planet, and mankind at the moment. As always I’ll start with a personal story.

About twelve years ago, as a first year Earth Sciences student I had to write an essay about climate change. Being the contrary soul I am, and knowing that the rest of the class would, in all probability, write about the evidence for anthropogenic climate change, I decided to do the opposite. It was purely an intellectual exercise on my part. Sometimes it’s fun to play devil’s advocate and one should always see all sides of an argument, read/hear all the evidence. How would I learn the truth otherwise?

I had been given the basics of climate change in my science classes from the early nineties, so I thought it would be interesting to read the counter arguments. I don’t think I ever had done before. So, prepared to be convinced if the evidence was strong enough, I went to work.

I was not convinced. And, I continue to be not convinced to this day. Too many studies, by too many scientists agree on the human origins of the current climate change. The global average temperature is rising faster than at any time in the last 11,000 years. The cyclical variations in solar output do not account for it.

I said earlier that I can usually point people in the direction of someone who knows more than me, and in this case I want to suggest people have a look at the following link:

Climate change guide for the perplexed

New Scientist magazine has an entire topic section related to climate change, of which this guide is a major element. In their guide they have a series of articles discussing some of the climate change myths, the evidence for and against etc. The topic also has the latest climate science news stories. Contributors to this particular science magazine are experts in their fields, the articles are aimed at the intelligent layman and science/tech professional. They are a reliable source of information.

Edit: I found this interesting website from NASA that has quite a lot of details and graphs, as well as properly cited papers.

Now, on to the Creationists or the idiots who are too thick to understand evolution, as I like to mentally label them. If you follow the link above you’ll see them condemn themselves, but here’s my take in it. Creationists seem to believe that the biblical explanation of how the world came to be is the only one. Basically, God did it. They provide no objective evidence for this assertion. The bible doesn’t count, sorry.

Is it very obvious I have a problem with this particular group of scientific illiterates?

There are oh so very many reasons for that. The main ones are my objection to children being taught religious dogma in the science classroom, and my objections to fundamentalism of any kind.

I’m intolerant of intolerance, it’s very ironic but at least I admit it.

Let’s start at the beginning shall we? A few thousand years ago, somewhere in the middle east people were worshipping a group of gods. They eventually whittled those gods down to one God. People wrote down the stories they’d made up to explain the world around them. The many different stories and rules governing what that society considered accepted behaviour were collated, translated, transmitted and added to over the millennia. Some people take them literally.

The rest of us know that they’re allegorical narratives designed to instill laws and traditions in social group. This is true of every mythic system, even the ones that developed in a literate society.

Evolution on the other hand is a scientific theory. This means that the hypothesis Darwin put forward in ‘On the origin of species by means of natural selection’ has been poked, prodded, pulled apart, put back together, tested and retested, new evidence added (from genetics, geological calculations of the age of the earth, astronomical observation etc) and finally, when the scientific community has tried every way they can to disprove the hypothesis, they’ve finally given it up as a daft game, and agreed that evolution is the only sensible idea we’ve got and given it that holy of holies, the title of theory.

So no, the Earth’s not 6000 years old, evolution is not a conspiracy, there are plenty of fossils, and even if there weren’t there is plenty of other evidence.

The first time I met a creationist was in sixth form general studies class. We used to have them after school once a week because there wasn’t a suitable time slot during the school day. One evening the school’s new RE teacher and one of the biology teachers gave us both sides of the argument. The RE teacher was disturbingly fundermental, so a few students nipped out to the lockers and came back with their A level biology text books and read out relevant parts, and asked the teacher to defend herself, given the accepted evidence. She couldn’t.

We had the school inspectors in that class. One of them belonged to a ‘house church’, but luckily he didn’t hold our militant disbelief against us in the report.

So, on to the resources for this subject. You can’t go far wrong in gaining the basics if you borrow a secondary school biology book. Try your local library, if you don’t have any teenagers you can mug.

Again I’m being facetious. I’ll be serious now. For a really basic explanation, suitable for children, there’s the Natural History Museum website. For a bit more depth there’s always my beloved New Scientist, which, unsurprisingly has a topic section about evolution.

And that’s me done for the day. My new laptop has arrived and I want a play. I can’t do much with it until I get some software. I’ll be back up and running in a few days though, with any luck.

Bye.

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