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Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Light-years ahead of his time!

Via Lynn Sislo, I've just read one of the most jaw-droppingly ignorant articles on science that I've ever encountered. It's so ignorant that I can only wonder just how this writer manages to get his pants on in the morning, and how he manages to type his columns given that his fingers must be in constant pain, what with the constant dragging of his knuckles across the floor. You can read the whole thing, but here are a couple of morsels to chew on:

According to Bryson, the first recorded attempt to date the creation of heaven and Earth was made in 1650, by James Ussher, archbishop of the Church of Ireland. Hardly wishy-washy, Ussher pegged the exact time and date: noon on Oct. 23, 4004 B.C.

By what may be no coincidence at all, the family Bible that my grandmother inscribed to me almost three centuries after Ussher includes a time line, dating the creation of heaven and Earth in Genesis to 4004 B.C. Ussher's calculation is considered a joke in the scientific community, but seems to be gospel truth, according to standard Bibles.

Hmmmmm. None of the three Bibles I own include this timeline, probably because everyone has now realized that Ussher was full of it.

Even the Big Bang theory doesn't explain how life began because the gasses required for the Big Whatever-it-was don't include elements required to form and sustain life.

Yeah. The more complex elements were formed later on. Scientists know how this happened.

As another cosmic example, take black holes, which are formed of matter so dense that even light can't escape. That's why we can't see them, and the fact that they're invisible is the proof that they exist.

Because, of course, the only way to tell something exists is to see it.

Even though we really don't know who wrote the Bible, that gospel has stayed pretty much the same through many translations. But the gospel according to science seems to change almost every day.

Is this guy suggesting that maybe there exists a language such that, were the Gospels to be translated into that tongue, then in those translated Gospels, Jesus would escape the Crucifixion and move to Rome or something? What an absurd thing to say.

And here's the single best line from this article:

How long, exactly, is a light-year? The columns of this newspaper aren't wide enough to accommodate all the zeros required for one light-year in calendar years.

Oh, holy shit. I mean, really: Holy Shit with a Cherry On Top.

This guy's whole "argument" is basically that science is hard to understand, while religion isn't. He keeps coming back to the notion that the numbers science deals with are fantastically huge! Science is too hard for him, apparently -- but just from reading this article, his problem isn't that it's too hard for him, since anything is too hard if you don't know a thing about it.

When I was in college, there was a course called "Foundations of Science" that was required of every student. The course's intent was to simply give a very basic level of scientific literacy: what scientific method is, a bit of history and philosophy of science, a bit of simple lab work to see how experimentation is done, and so on. The course was team-taught by ten or so professors from the various science departments, and each week there would be one main lecture for everyone in the course followed by two or three meetings a week of smaller "discussion classes" that were each monitored by a single one of the professors.

I actually found the course mainly enjoyable, but a lot of my fellow students didn't like it on the "Why should we know about this" grounds, and I even heard that one professor who was teaching the course actually said to her students, "I don't like this course because there's no reason why you kids should have to know the philosophy of science. It has nothing to do with your lives or the careers you'll be pursuing, unless you're going to be scientists."

I couldn't believe that a professor of science would say such a thing. It has long scared the hell out of me that our scientific literacy is sinking at a time when our civilization is becoming more and more dependent on science to function. At the very least, a scientifically-literate populace wouldn't elect a bunch of creationists to a state school board, as Kansas did.

It scares me to think that people can know so little about science that they can write articles like this one, get them published, and influence others with them. We're a society that is slowly taking to the stars, communicates through a giant network of computers, faces some potentially severe problems with our energy sources -- and gives newspaper space to a guy who thinks a light-year is a unit of time.


Andrew said...

My. God. I am totally flabbergasted that someone could get something so ridiculous published. I am staggered. It's hard even to find the point of what this loony is driving at. That a "newspaper" would print it is almost beyond belief.

Just out of interest have you tried leaving a comment on the site - maybe if you posted your blog post as a comment (leaving out the rude, yet justified, words)?

Anonymous said...

I wonder how many people who read his column are actually nodding their heads and laughing.

"Really? Scientists say that the proof that a black hole exists is that they can't see it? Scientists are out of control! Down with sciencology!"

At least his comments all seem to lean in the, "I can't believe you just said that" direction. Presumably the readers who agree with him don't believe in computers, either. Gigawhatsit? Terrahowmany? How many zeros is that supposed to be??