Why Science Deserves Its Popularity

Merriam-Webster saw a major uptick in people searching for the word. What we choose to look up says a lot about what's important to us

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A friend of mine told me this fantastic joke recently: Werner Heisenberg is driving down the highway and a police officer stops him. “Sir, do you know you’re going 82 m.p.h.?” the officer asks. “Thanks a lot!” Heisenberg snaps. “Now I’m lost.”

So, um, get it? Because Heisenberg was the legendary German physicist? The one who concluded that you can know either the momentum of a particle or its location, but not both — at least not precisely? I know, I know, it’s a good one. You’re welcome.

All right, so maybe Werner Heisenberg jokes won’t be the best icebreaker the next time you go out, but here’s the thing: you’d probably have a slightly easier time getting a laugh this year than you would last, because physics jokes are funny only if you grasp a little bit about physics — and science in general — in the first place. Which brings us back to the happy announcement from the folks at Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary that its word of the year for 2013 is, yes, science, based on the increase in look-ups it registered on the dictionary’s website, a cool 176% more than in 2012.

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That matters — a lot. The words the people of any culture seek to understand are powerful measures of what’s important to them at that moment. It’s unlikely many folks looked up tritium this year, but back in the early days of the nuclear age, the stuff could spell life or death. Something similar was true for temperance in the 1920s or fascism in the 1930s — especially since one of those ideas soon led to the disaster that was Prohibition and the other to a global war.

This makes the fact that science scored so high in 2013 a hopeful sign. It’s a word that implies a certain rigor, an intellectual discipline, a systemized accumulation of facts that can have a wonderful binary quality to them. If I say a virus causes a cold and you say it’s an imbalance of the body’s humors, well, I’m right and you’re wrong. Period. A similar absoluteness applied a long time ago to the round-vs.-flat earth debate and to the question of whether the earth — regardless of its shape — sat at the center of the universe. (Hint: it doesn’t.)

And the same, today, is true of the direct cause and effect between greenhouse gasses and global climate change. The science is real even if you call it a hoax, even if you scream about it on cable TV, even if you buy political ads saying otherwise. Science doesn’t care about any of that. Science can’t care. It’s a set of physical, chemical, thermal and other laws that play out over and over, predictably and consistently. You can’t argue with gravity. You can’t change fire’s mind.

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In recent years, however, a lot of people with very particular interests have sought to muddy the meaning of science — to make facts elastic, certainty doubtful. It’s not just the obtuseness of the climate-change deniers. It’s the know-nothingism of the vaccines-cause-autism camp. It’s the deadly cynicism of the tobacco industry, whose representatives continue to call smoking simply an adult choice, and who for years spoke of an imaginary “cigarette controversy,” as if anyone doubted that setting fire to a product that contains 600 additives and produces 4,000 compounds and then inhaling the smoke wouldn’t, you know, make you sick.

It’s easy enough to turn science’s own empirical absoluteness against it. Hey, it’s 3 degrees outside, and the past several years actually warmed more slowly than the ones before them. Where’s your climate change now? But establishing a scientific fact, like the indisputable truth that CO2 captures atmospheric heat, is not the same as saying you understand the billion moving parts in any climate system — anymore than knowing with certainty that HIV causes AIDS is the same as developing a vaccine or cure. Those things take time.

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Earlier in the year, well before Merriam-Webster’s announcement, there was a media firestorm over a Politico article that nicely captured the beating the concept of science has been taking of late. The Politico post revolved around leaked e-mails in which a Wall Street Journal sports editor was discussing a possible story called “In Defense of Football,” which would question whether people were overreacting to the risk of concussions in the sport. It’s not a wholly specious argument — humans do tend toward hysteria — though concussion science is awfully solid. Then, however, the Journal editor wrote this: “Another thing [the writer] might mention is this absurd concussion lobby, which consists of these researchers in Boston and other assorted grant-grubbing academics and worry warts who are all trying hard to push this nanny-state narrative.”

Well, no. Concussions are real. The chronic traumatic encephalopathy that comes from them is tragically so — and the dementia, violence and suicides that it can lead to have caused too much suffering already. Those “researchers in Boston” and the “other assorted grant-grubbing academics and worry warts” are doing good, dogged, important work. Calling them names and wanting them to be wrong is not the same as their actually being wrong. And if by “grant-grubbing” you mean “seeking the necessary funding to understand and treat a serious problem,” well, then say so, because to describe it any other way is to fail to grasp how science works and more important, what it is. If you truly don’t understand that, well, look it up.

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3 comments
robcaze13
robcaze13

Babu, nice attempt at bringing God into the conversation.  Science hasn't been able to disprove or prove the existence of God or unicorns.  And since I would sacrifice myself for the safety of my children, then I am more compassionate, brave, kind and caring than any God you might pretend exists.

BabuG.Ranganathan
BabuG.Ranganathan

NATURAL LIMITS TO EVOLUTION: Only micro-evolution, or evolution within biological "kinds," is genetically possible (such as the varieties of dogs, cats, horses, cows, etc.), but not macro-evolution, or evolution across biological "kinds," (such as from sea sponge to human). All real evolution in nature is simply the expression, over time, of already existing genes or variations of already existing genes. For example, we have breeds of dogs today that we didn’t have a few hundred years ago. The genes for these breeds had always existed in the dog population but never had opportunity before to be expressed. Only limited evolution or adaptation, variations of already existing genes and traits, is possible.

The genes (chemical instructions or code) must first exist or otherwise the evolution cannot occur. Genes instruct the body to build our tissues and organs.  Nature is mindless and has no ability to design and program entirely new genes for entirely new traits. Nature can only work with the genetic ability already existing in species. Nature cannot perform the genetic engineering necessary to increase that genetic ability.

Many people have wrong ideas of how evolution is supposed to work. Physical traits and characteristics are determined and passed on by genes - not by what happens to our body parts. For example, if a woman were to lose her finger this wouldn't affect how many fingers her baby will have. Changing the color and texture of your hair will not affect the color and texture of your children's hair. So, even if an ape's muscles and bones changed so that it could walk upright it still would not be able to pass on this trait to its offspring. Only changes or mutations that occur in the genetic code of reproductive cells (i.e. sperm and egg) can be passed on to offspring. 

Modern evolutionists believe and hope that over, supposedly millions of years, random genetic mutations in the genes of reproductive cells caused by environmental radiation will generate entirely new genes. This is total blind and irrational faith on the part of evolutionists. It's much like believing that randomly changing the sequence of letters in a romance novel, over millions of years, will turn it into a book on astronomy! That's the kind of blind faith macro-evolutionists have.

When evolutionary scientists teach that random genetic mutations in species over, supposedly, millions of years caused by random environmental agents such as radiation, produced entirely new genes (i.e. genetic code or genetic information) leading to entirely new forms of life, they are not teaching science but simply a faith, a belief!

What about natural selection? Natural selection doesn't produce biological traits or variations. It can only "select" from biological variations that are possible and which have survival value. The term "natural selection" is a figure of speech. Nature doesn't do any conscious selecting. If a variation occurs in a species (i.e. change in skin color) that helps the species survive then that survival is called being “selected." That's all it is. Natural selection is a passive process in nature, not a creative process.

How could species have survived if their vital tissues, organs, reproductive systems, etc. were still evolving? A partially evolved trait or organ that is not complete and fully functioning from the start would be a liability to a species, not a survival asset. Plants and animals in the process of macro-evolution would be unfit for survival. For example, “if a leg of a reptile were to evolve (over supposedly millions of years) into a wing of a bird, it would become a bad leg long before it became a good wing” (Dr. Walt Brown, scientist and creationist). Survival of the fittest actually would have prevented evolution across biological kinds! Read my Internet article: WAR AMONG EVOLUTIONISTS! (2nd Edition).

All species of plants and animals in the fossil record are found complete, fully-formed, and fully functional. This is powerful evidence that species did not come into existence gradually by any macro-evolutionary process but, rather, came into existence as complete and ready-to-go from the very beginning, which is possible only by special creation.

All the fossils that have been used to support human evolution have been found to be either hoaxes, non-human, or human, but not non-human and human (i.e. Neanderthal Man was discovered later to be fully human). Textbooks and museums still continue to display examples and illustrations supporting human evolution which most evolutionists have rejected and no longer support. Many diagrams of ape-man creatures over the years were reconstructed according to evolutionary interpretations from disputable bones that have now been discredited but still being taught in school textbooks.

What about genetic and biological similarities between species? Genetic information, like other forms of information, cannot happen by chance, so it is more logical to believe that genetic and biological similarities between all forms of life are due to a common Designer who designed similar functions for similar purposes. It doesn't mean all forms of life are biologically related!

Also, so-called "Junk DNA" isn't junk. Although these "non-coding" segments of DNA don't code for proteins, they have recently been found to be vital in regulating gene expression (i.e. when, where, and how genes are expressed, so they're not "junk"). Read my popular Internet article: HOW FORENSIC SCIENCE REFUTES ATHEISM

The real issue is what biological variations are possible, not natural selection.

Visit my latest Internet site: THE SCIENCE SUPPORTING CREATION . 

I discuss: Punctuated Equilibria, "Junk DNA," genetics, mutations, natural selection, fossils, dinosaur “feathers,” the genetic and biological similarities between various species, etc., etc.

Sincerely,
Babu G. Ranganathan*
(B.A. theology/biology)

Author of popular Internet article, TRADITIONAL DOCTRINE OF HELL EVOLVED FROM GREEK ROOTS

*I have had the privilege of being recognized in the 24th edition of Marquis "Who's Who In The East" for my writings on religion and science. I have given successful lectures (with question and answer period afterward) before evolutionist science faculty and students at various colleges/universities.