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International Year of True History 
14th-Jan-2009 01:13 pm
earth, hhgttg
New LJfriend kajivar has informed me through some amazing posts, that 2009 is the International Year of Astronomy, organised by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation and the International Astronomical Union.

It's a shame that it has to be coincident with Darwin200, but that's all Chuck's fault for daring to be born exactly 200 years after Galileo began recording astronomical data with a telescope. Obviously, I'm an evolution geek,but I'm quite happy to share the year; let's call it International Year of Science is Awesome. Or maybe International Year of True History; if human history is just a fiddly insignificant epilogue to palaeontologists, then the history of life is just a fiddly insignificant epilogue to astronomers, after all.

By True History, of course, I mean the record we have of things that happened long before humans started writing things down: before humans even existed in some cases. It is, after all, why I love palaeontology: the ability to piece together events and unravel events to which we have no eyewitness other than the natural processes happening around them. A large part of astronomy is a similar thing of an even grander scale; observing large-scale processes that happened a long long time ago, which we can only begin to see because of the regrettably limited speed of light.

Or at least, that's what I find so fascinating about Astronomy and the related field of astrophysics. But on another level, it's an excuse to get your telescope out and look at pretty pictures. Which is nice, too.

There are of course, nearly as many parallels to be drawn between Charles Darwin and Galileo Galilei as there are comparisons that shouldn't be made: the obvious one of the former would be the famous controversies with the established church. The Catholic Church's problems with Galileo are well documented, as his studies contradicted the established dogma of geocentrism. Two hundred years later, Darwin and Wallace's Theory of speciation by means of natural selection was seized on by certain members of the clergy with similar ideas of what the new discovery might do to the established orthodoxy.

Creationism is enjoying a resurgence recently (religion has not been a constant opponent to evolution, despite what creationists would have you believe), and there are still geocentric movements out there as well. I'm never sure what the motivation of these more outlandish groups are, but the standard and obvious one is a need to control: if science can be proven wrong, the argument seems to go, then religion is right; specifically, the dominant, culturally controlling religion is right and there are no alternatives whatsoever, or something. The Discovery Institute's Wedge Strategy serves as an excellent example of how pseudoscience is used as a reliopolitical tool; if you can dislodge such a fundamental cornerstone to our understanding of the universe as the Galileo model or evolution, you can re-establish organised religion as a controlling power.

Faith has as little to do with the motivation behind these objectors as scientific challenges have to do with their argument. It's about organised religion as a tool of control, and we shouldn't forget that. On the other hand, the reduction of the geocentric groups to the loony fringe is definitely one to bring hope to anyone who wants a better science knowledge among people: someday Creationists will be reduced to the kind of ridicule you just gave to the Geocentric sites.

Don't deny it. I know you're shocked and appalled, and very very amused.

So, back to astronomy and this year: acording to the IYA2009 website, the major goals of the year are to:

  1. Increase scientific awareness.
  2. Promote widespread access to new knowledge and observing experiences.
  3. Empower astronomical communities in developing countries.
  4. Support and improve formal and informal science education.
  5. Provide a modern image of science and scientists.
  6. Facilitate new networks and strengthen existing ones.
  7. Improve the gender-balanced representation of scientists at all levels and promote greater involvement by underrepresented minorities in scientific and engineering careers.
  8. Facilitate the preservation and protection of the world's cultural and natural heritage of dark skies in places such as urban oases, national parks and astronomical sites.
These are, in my opinion, very worthy goals, and I'll be following the IYA with some interest. Meanwhile, check out their website on how to get involved, and if you're lucky enough not to live in a massive overpopulated urban area, look up after dark!
14th-Jan-2009 01:08 pm (UTC)
Stars! That is one thing I really do miss from where I grew up.
14th-Jan-2009 01:43 pm (UTC)

Edit this a bit to make it less LJ centred (ie change the first paragraph) and it'd be good elsewhere as well y'know--no idea how he'd want to format it.
14th-Jan-2009 01:53 pm (UTC)

Editing is no problem. What should I do with it?
(Deleted comment)
15th-Jan-2009 09:52 am (UTC)
Emailed, now I wait.

And that's something else he has in common with Darwin.
14th-Jan-2009 01:47 pm (UTC)
The people who insist on stickers being put on textbooks that "Evolution is JUST a theory!" drive me insane. It's a theory that fits the facts as we know them, not some sort of fanciful idea pulled out of the air. It's a theory that constantly evolves (heh) as we discover new things about the past.

...as opposed to picking and choosing passages from a book written 2000 years ago by some old white guys, passages which can be and are interpreted in different ways. And those interpretations have been proven way wrong in the past, though it takes the church 400 years to say "Ooops, our bad."

I'm glad you like the posts, though! :)
14th-Jan-2009 01:52 pm (UTC)
First thing anyone should learn in science these days is the difference between a scientific Theory, a workable Hypothesis, and a hunch some guy has. Seriously.
14th-Jan-2009 02:02 pm (UTC)
But it is. As is gravitation, germs causing disease, atoms being made of protons and neutrons, sex producing babies, David Blaine being a Git-Wizard and Coldplay being crap.
14th-Jan-2009 02:03 pm (UTC)
14th-Jan-2009 02:35 pm (UTC)
"David Blaine is a git wizard" is not a Theory. It is a dictionary definition.
14th-Jan-2009 02:07 pm (UTC)
I used to say "it's a theory", even though I believed it anyway. I'm not sure why. I think it was because I assumed scientifcially it was the proper term for it, and because another theory could come along and disprove it (certainly not talking about Creationism mind you.) But there's so much evidence for it, It may as well be referred to as fact. If nothing else, umming and ahhing about it gives the fundies reason to think they can convert you. Um, moreso.
14th-Jan-2009 02:31 pm (UTC)
Evolution is a fact and a theory- life has quite clearly changed over time. Natural selection (and I include sexual selection [also Darwin's idea], genetic drift, etc in this) is the theory that explains how it happens.
14th-Jan-2009 02:51 pm (UTC)
Old white guys? surely they were old Jewish and/or Middle Eastern guys?
14th-Jan-2009 03:32 pm (UTC)
My bad, I was thinking more of the various English versions of the Bible, like the King James, as that was written specifically to please him. I crossed my reference streams! ;)
14th-Jan-2009 03:39 pm (UTC)
"Don't cross the streams!!"


"It would be bad."
14th-Jan-2009 04:32 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I suppose Luther's translation was also biased by his desire to reform the church.
14th-Jan-2009 02:11 pm (UTC)
someday Creationists will be reduced to the kind of ridicule you just gave to the Geocentric sites.

I hope so, but I'm not entirely convinced. I think evolution will always be penalized among the great mass of people because it's complicated and nonintuitive. You can't reduce it to a metaphor without getting an absurdity, and those exact absurdities are what creationists use to ridicule it.

(Ie, you can't throw a lizard off a building and expect it to evolve wings!)

Heliocentrism is just as elegant and understandable as geocentricism; and if you have a little modern education on things like the size of the sun, it seems more elegant. And of course, technically, both the sun and the earth orbit around a center point... just one much much closer to the sun than the earth. Far more people know "the earth goes around the sun" than that. But there's no equivalent form of evolutionary theory, and I'm not sure how you could form one.

"Stuff evolves from other stuff," I guess, but that turns 'evolve' into a magic word people put their trust in, for the vast majority of people, whereas 'goes around' is more comprehensible.

Also, life origins blah blah blah anthropomorphic principles etc. I think creationism, like the poor, may be with us always, among the undereducated/people not paying attention in science classes.
14th-Jan-2009 02:12 pm (UTC)
...I meant anthropic principle, I think.
14th-Jan-2009 02:39 pm (UTC)
But the anthropic principle, while wrong, is still not contradictory to evolution. Many people believe in evolution as a road inevitably leading to H. sapiens.
14th-Jan-2009 02:41 pm (UTC)
Hm, very true. In fact, insofar as there is a popular-and-wrong formulation of evolution, it retains the anthropic principle part. Very good point.
14th-Jan-2009 04:18 pm (UTC)
In fact the anthropic principle requires evolution, albeit in a specific context. Under it, the universe exists in a form uniquely suitable for the development of humans via natural selection. It belongs to the trivial & unprovable 'what kicked off the Big Bang, and why?' school of creationism.
14th-Jan-2009 02:15 pm (UTC)
I would think it had less to do with not paying attention in class, and more to do with the fact that some societies systematically brainwash the way their kids think.

Whenever I've met an extremist IRL they always seem frightened in some way. Like God is going to strike them down for even thinking something that is not the exact word of the bible- and a lot of this fear comes from their parents and what their parents taught them.
14th-Jan-2009 02:20 pm (UTC)
This is going to be one of those 'with all due respect' comments. :)

With all due respect, I grew up in northern Indiana, in a small and highly religious community--the outlying community of a Bible college, actually, with more fundamentalist churches per capita than anywhere else in the State. And indeed, my father graduated from it, and was an ordained, fundamentalist minister for many years. I was raised in creationism and could still very easily go on at chapter length about it, although I'm aware these days that it's all a lot of garbage; I remember how the garbage goes, see?

Speaking from that context, I don't think you're right, at least on a global basis. (Will not try to guess about British fundamentalism.) Is it possible that people you're discussing this topic with feel/seem threatened by your disbelief, and you're reading that discomfort as fear of the kind you're describing? Because honestly, the mindset you're describing here--and it's one many, many LJ athiest impute to fundamentalists, in this and other discussions--is not the one I had when I was one, and doesn't sound like anyone I know.

What you have to get your head around is that I 'believed it' not because as an act of obedience because I was being threatened; I actually thought it was true.
14th-Jan-2009 02:30 pm (UTC)
Guess what? I was also raised in an enviornment where I had religion force-fed to me. Not by my parents, but by the Catholic school I had to go to.

I didn't grow up in Britain, I grew up in Central America where Catholicism was taken seriously by the majority of the population. When I was a teenager I was quite an awful person. One day my dad took me aside and had a long talk with me about religion. After that I was ashamed of myself. I had been a homophobic, selfish little shit who was terrified she was going to burn in hell and believed God created the universe.

I mean, doubtless there are cases where the person will rebel against what they were taught, and you and I seem to fit that mold, but fear seems to drive extremist views and a lot of people never stop being afraid.

I was raised in creationism and could still very easily go on at chapter length about it, although I'm aware these days that it's all a lot of garbage; I remember how the garbage goes, see?

You aren't the only one. With all due respect.
14th-Jan-2009 02:38 pm (UTC)
All I can say is, again, fear of what God might or might not do to me never played a role in what I believed was true or not; particularly on this topic.

Religious cultures in different countries differ, even when they're teaching the same data. Within mine, which I believe is pretty standard through out the rural US, I was never told 'believe this or God will punish you.' I was told 'believe this because it's the truth that God has revealed to us, and the secular world is trying to lie to you.'
14th-Jan-2009 02:41 pm (UTC)
Oh i'm not saying it's universal, but in my experience fear played a large part, specifically, If you do not follow this path you are going to hell.

Pretty heavy stuff for anyone, much less a kid.

believe this because it's the truth that God has revealed to us, and the secular world is trying to lie to you

To me that ties in with the fear because I then thought I was under a constant test. *shrugs* Just voicing my experience and what I have observed in others. Not saying it has to apply to you specifically.
14th-Jan-2009 02:39 pm (UTC)
--or, very often, just 'believe this because it's the truth,' with no qualification, since we lived in a fundamentalist echo chamber.
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