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Monday, December 7, 2015

Science, skepticism, and the wonders of the world (Opinion)

Hope that everyone enjoyed their Thanksgiving holiday, or if you're not in the U.S., your Thursday. As always, things have been a bit hectic here at the Skeptical Okie headquarters. We're hoping to begin the Red Dirt Skeptics podcast pretty soon. The first episodes should be coming out in January, though that is subject to change. Another bit of fun that's cropped up recently, and completely unrelated to this post, is the resurgence of a group that I was sure was dead and gone. This group is called "Oklahomans for Vaccine Choice" This is a blatantly anti-vax group, plain and simple. For several years, their website was basically dead. They recently did a show, and yes, I am using show instead of talk, at UCO. Luckily, Caleb Lack and the UCO Skeptics were there to try and have a discussion with them. I'm going to do an interview with Caleb later on this, so I'll try and keep you posted. I know I've done a couple of opinion pieces in a row, and I'm hoping to have another For the Beginning Skeptic article out soon. Now on to the main point of todays article.

Often, I hear people saying that science just wants to get rid of all the wonder in the world and replace it with facts and numbers. It's not just the pseudoscience crowd that says this, it's often just regular people that don't fall into either the skeptical or pseudoscience camps. I really feel that this does a great disservice to science and skepticism. Yes, science wants to know how and why things work, and be able to describe them in a quantitative manner. That doesn't mean that the wonder of the world would be destroyed. In all honesty, it increases it greatly. Look at it this way:

 Step outside and look at a flower. Then consider this: In order for you to see the flower, even if it's a simple dandelion, there so many things that had to happen first. The photon that bounces off of the flower and enters your eye started in the heart of our sun. It took up to a million years for the photon to leave the core of the sun and reach it's surface. Then it has to leave the sun, travel 91 million miles (at it's closest point) and reach Earth, which it does in 8 minutes. That single photon then travels through the atmosphere, avoiding hitting anything else, hit the petals of the flower and ricochet into your eye and then your eye and brain translate that into a visual image.
For that flower to deflect the photon, there has been million years of evolution, with the ancestors surviving various weather conditions, not being eaten, adapting to different environmental conditions, and finding a suitable partner to reproduce with. They have also had to be able to compete with other lifeforms for valuable resources, and this flower in particular had to germinate in a suitable location, survive insects and herbivores, lawnmowers and herbicides, and develop and grow a flower bloom. Also consider the very interesting fact that, in the case of the dandelion, the flower isn't actually yellow. It's every color except yellow. The way that color works is that the one you see is the one that is reflected back. All the other colors like red, green, blue, etc, are actually absorbed by the flower, and because yellow light isn't absorbed by the flower, it is the one that you see.
 In order for you to see the flower, once again there was millions of years of evolution, starting from single celled organisms, with your direct ancestors surviving multiple mass extinction events, changing and adapting to a wide range of climates. They also had to spread around the planet, develop senses to interpret the world around them, and in the case of humans, develop a brain capable of appreciating the environment around them. Then consider the fact that your parents, their parents, and so on and so on, had to meet, create a child, and that child grow to maturity and procreate themselves. If they had met a different person and had children with them, you might not exist. There are around 100 million sperm trying to reach an egg, and you are the one that won the race. And to up the odds of your existence even more, roughly 50% of all pregnancies end in miscarriages.
 Back to the single photon hitting your eye. You had to develop an optical system and brain capable of capturing the photon, and translating it into a visual image that is understandable. Then, you had to be in the correct place at the correct time for that individual photon to leave the sun, travel through space, get through the atmosphere, bounce off the flower and enter your eye. If you're a statistician, try figuring the odds on all that.
Science and skepticism aren't trying to destroy all the wonder in the world. They actually enhance and improve the wonder, especially when you consider the odds of anything actually happening. This is why I prefer science to bullshit. There are enough amazing things to see, learn, and experience in the world without making more up. You don't need spirits, monsters, magic powers, or mysterious magical medicine when there is physics, biology, science, and actual medicine to study and enjoy.

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