Sunday, August 1, 2010

Where to begin?

I began this blog as a means of discussing science, both old and accepted as well as new and open for question. In reality all science can be viewed as open for question.  Without questioning things rarely change, because they have no reason to.  When we accept something as fact and without question, we essentially end any discussion of an alternative.  Just as in the past, today is no exception in that we have people against this idea of questioning.  Take for instance evolution, one unnecessarily hot topic.

Evolution began as an idea originally postulated by two men: Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace.  Previously the work of a Catholic monk, Mendel, had suggested the basic mechanism of evolution.  These former two men suggested that nature selects who moves on to pass on their genes, and who does not and thus disappears.  This simplistic explanation belies the true science behind evolution, but let me try to explain it:

An offspring is born with various mutations, most of which go unnoticed throughout his lifetime.  However, sometimes the environment of that offspring changes, thus making the mutation useful.  In this instance he thus has an advantage over those around him, and therefore has a greater likelihood of passing on his genes.  Each of his offspring inherits the advantageous gene, and so on.  Overtime a population develops to survive their environment, and adapts through this genetic process to survive changes in the future.

To put an example to it: an individual is born with a mutation that affects his immune system, making it lack a certain biochemical marker.  Because the immune system has numerous pathways this individual notices no difference in health compared to others around him.  However, a new and unknown virus breaks out in the population, which requires that specific biochemical marker in which to enter cells.  Some survive by chance, but most perish.  Meanwhile this individual survives not by chance but by merit of this mutation.  He then mates and passes on this gene.  In the future when the virus reappears in the population his children will have an advantage over those without this trait, and over time their genes will come to dominate the gene pool.  Similarly other mutations will be selected for as the environment changes.  Some will select for physical characteristics, others for biochemical, and so on; surviving disease, getting food, attracting mates---these characteristics serve a purpose to increase the likelihood of survivability.  Thus with time the population evolves, adapting to its environment through changes to its gene pool.  For some species this can take as little as days, where as for others it can take hundreds of thousands of years.  Nonetheless enough research has backed this science that it has reached the level of theory, something not easily attained in the world of science.

This theory, however, has come under attack from those who wish to adhere to the Biblical story of creation. The stories of Adam & Eve romanticize the origin of humanity, promoting the belief that a deity created humans.  This group of people uses the term theory loosely, referring to their story of creation as a theory in its own right.  While it lacks the protocols requisite of a scientific theory, they insist it has as much merit as evolution.  But why?  Why does the idea of evolution create so much fear and hostility with this group?  I do not know, but to drop evolutionary science would set science back.  In fact, to disregard it outright would essentially deny any importance to genetics.

I do not wish to come off as anti-Bible.  In fact, I hold a strong belief in God.  But to understand science and to watch it grow, we need to put aside our firmly held beliefs in order to question.  This all brings me back to my original question: where to begin?  Let's begin with approaching science with a clean slate, and later justifying any realities discovered along the way.

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