science and religion

Did you know that you won the lottery?

We have always assumed that ‘we’ will be around forever; not only that but we wonder how long it will be before we can colonise other planets and solar systems. We conveniently ignore the fact that our being here in the first place may be nothing more that the fortutitous result of an incredible set of conincidences.

Do you believe that your existence is preordained?
I’m not sure what the postion of the mainstream religions is on this (or even if they have a position) but think about it;  when your mom and dad had sex nine months before you were born that one single ejaculation from your father (I do hope you’re not reading this over your morning cornflakes) contained probably two million healthy sperm – and only one of them got to combine with your mother’s egg.
(Apparently the total number of spermatozoa in the ejaculate should be at least 40 million, but it is quite surprising how many dead and abnormal sperm can be present in a ‘normal’ sample.)

And this combination lead to you. Now if any of those other two million sperm got there ahead of yours then it wouldn’t be you reading this right now – it would be a brother or sister – and you wouldn’t exist! So if your folks had decided to wait until Eastenders was over instead of rushing upstairs in a mad fit of passion then you would not be you – you would be your brother (or sister)! I’m telling you – this stuff is mad. Why had nobody told you this before?

So next time you rip up your lottery ticket and complain that you never win anything just think about this – you’ve already won the lottery, and it couldn’t have been a bigger prize!

I mention this every time I teach human reproduction and challenge students to find a flaw in the argument and if not they they are no longer allowed whine about how hard they have it. I was reminded of it recently when reading The Frog Blog’s recent post on putting the  wonder back into science education.
I have spoken about the concept of wonder before and mentioned that you don’t find wonder in science textbooks or syllabi and as a result it may not be found at all in the science classroom. For this to change those of us who believe it to important need first of all to develop a voice. Are we in a very small minority and if so should we just shut up, or are there others who believe that Science should be about more than merely learning off trivia, all of which could be found at the end of a smartphone in 30 seconds?  
How do we find out who’s with us?
Is twitter the way to go?
Which is more difficult – changing a political system in the Middle East or changing our system of education here in the West?

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Teaching ’bout evolution of the eye

Was at a very interesting lecture at the ISTA AGM in UCC over the weekend, where Dr Jeremy Pritchard gave a lecture entitled ‘The evolution of evolution’. He spoke about how the eye was a difficult subject for Darwin to explain.
While the audience was mostly Biology teachers, I got to thinking about how I could introduce evolution into my own teaching.
We do a little bit on short-sightedness and long-sightedness in the Leaving Cert Physics course (under the heading of Lenses), and this would be an ideal spot to open up a discussion.

Dissecting a cow’s eye used to be allowed, but no longer is, but there is a link to a nice video of it, plus some other useful links here although it can take a while to download.

There is also a movie clip of how the eye itself could have evolved here, and an animated version here

Every so often I notice that the school library receives a copy of a journal/magazine entitled (I think) creation science, or something similar. I must look into it to see why we get this.

The Applied Maths class and the religion class got together a couple of weeks ago to discuss/debate many of the issues that bring Science and Religion together and also which bring them into conflict. It went very well; hopefully we can build upon it and do something similar in the future.