I haven’t historically been a big TV watcher. It is a vortex through which potentially productive citizens are eternally lost. However, if used correctly and with moderation, it can be a source of leisurely entertainment and even education. Last night was one of those occasions.
I happened to catch the Discovery channel’s special on “Ardi” – the latest in hominid paleontological discoveries. It was actually discovered a decade ago, but it has taken this long to piece together the evidence and figure out just exactly what they had found and what it meant. Ardi is 4.4 million years old, trumping the previous title holder for oldest human fossil – Lucy – by a million years! But the fossil isn’t quite what scientists expected to find in a specimen of that seniority. She walked upright, had grasping feet, and lived in Woodlands, where she would often walk on all fours amongst the tree limbs– palms down.
For years, since Darwin wrote The Origin of Species, scientists have declared that humans evolved from knuckle-walking apes. The theory has been taught in every public school as hard fact. The image of the monkey growing into a man is probably racing through your mind as you read this. Anyone who has stopped short of accepting the theory has been ridiculed as an enemy of science – dogmatic mercenaries of faith and fairy-tales who refuse to bend under the irrefutable evidence of evolution. Yet, today we are told by the leading scientists who have been studying Ardi that everything we previously suspected is… wrong.
This story isn’t so shocking to all of us who have held that there is something more to truth than what we can conclude through limited empirical evidence. It’s not that our faith was so stubborn, or that our intelligence was a hindrance to our ability to reason. No – our problem was, in fact, a lack of faith – a lack of confidence in men and women in lab coats, who tell us that their conclusions are definite and conclusive, as if all the possibilities in the universe had been counted, measured and catalogued. We know there is so much more to learn and understand, and we would not be so arrogant to think that our senses are so honest, that our calculations are so absolute or that our physical laws and principles are necessarily universal.
The point is this: science is a journey – a search for truth which must remain objective in order to find it. Too often people have made premature conclusions out of assumptions, preventing an honest understanding of our world. They want so badly to solve the puzzle –especially if they are trying to prove their own version – that they will insert fictitious placeholders to make the necessary connections. What we end up with is a story with reasonable believability, but lacking in hard-proof, becoming the status-quo of scientific dogma. It becomes an even greater danger when these stories are used to discredit, marginalize and attack members of society who don’t buy in.
I’m very interested to see how this translates into our education system. What I learned in biology and history has effectively been wiped off the chalkboard. They’ll have to rewrite whole chapters of the text books. Does this weaken the case against the teaching of Intelligent Design theory in school, considering that the main reason was that is wasn’t credible enough? Turns out, credibility isn’t what it lacks – just acceptance as an equal player.