Implicit Acceptance of Evolution as Fact

Hulu recently made Carl Sagan‘s famous PBS documentary series Cosmos available for free viewing online.  If you’ve never seen it, I highly recommend watching it.  It is the best documentary series I’ve ever seen, and for me, it was a complete life changer.  There is a moment in the last episode of the series that completely shattered some cognitive dissonance that had been building up for months: the amount of evidence for evolution, versus my dogmatic rejection of it.  The moment is just a simple statement:  “[we] accepted the products of science, but not it’s methods.”  The intensity I felt in that moment has been rarely replicated.  It perfectly described my actions in a way that was undeniable, but also provided the solution: drop my dogmatic beliefs in favor of evidence based knowledge.

Since that time, I sometimes forget what it’s like for people who reject evolution.  Sometimes, as hard as it is to believe, I forget that anyone actually rejects evolution.  It’s so obvious to me now, that I forge that there are other perspectives out there.  There are probably many causes for this, but there is one that I want to focus on for this post:  Nearly everyone benefitting from modern technology has implicitly accepted evolution.

The theory of evolution was a breakthrough of truly monumental proportions, and today, it’s applications have extended well beyond just academic biology.  For example, it’s used in forensic science to help solve crimes.  How many people accept DNA evidence, but don’t realize that without the theory of evolution, we wouldn’t be able to analyze DNA?  How many people use materials everyday that were designed using principals derived from the theory of evolution?

How many people wouldn’t be alive today if it wasn’t for the theory of evolution?  Modern medicine depends on an understanding of evolution.  If the theory of evolution didn’t accurately reflect reality, modern medicine would not be successful at all.  Instead, we see life expectancy growing at an exponential rate.

Shouldn’t someone who truly believes evolution wrong and even evil, reject all these things? If they’re truly dedicated to their beliefs, they should.  Instead, we see their rational side appear when they need it.  If they’re sick, they ignore the man behind the curtain, and implicitly accept the benefits of evidence-based knowledge.  Next time I’m pulled back down to earth by someone who doesn’t believe in evolution, I just want to ask them this:  then why do you accept it’s products?

Chlorophyll Extraction

I tried another experiment last night. I had heard somewhere that if you boil green leaves, you can extract the chlorophyll from them when can then be excited by exposure to light, making the solution ‘glow’ as electrons move around. So I dutifully went out, gathered several leaves and put them in a beaker, which I heated over my Bunsen burner.

Note to self: Get new Bunsen Burner. After heating it for about 20 minutes and it still hadn’t boiled, I decided a new tactic was necessary.

Note to self: Buy more Denatured Alcohol.

I poured some of the liquid into a test tube, and added some of the leaves. Now the water started boiling pretty quickly. The water wasn’t getting any greener, though. After observing it boil for a while, I decided it was as good as it was going to get, and cut the flame. Then I removed the leaves, and exposed the final solution to a light source.

I was underwhelmed, to say the least.

There are several possibilities I have thought of as to what went wrong:

  1. Boiling leaves is not an efficient method of chlorophyll extraction. Can be fixed by discovering a more efficient method.
  2. I didn’t allow the leaves to boil long enough and need to be more patient.
  3. My light source (a flashlight) was either not powerful enough, or did not give out light in the right part of the electro-magnetic spectrum.
  4. My original hypothesis, that extracted chlorophyll will glow when exposed to a light source, is wrong.
  5. Yet to be discovered.

A cursory search on google and I discovered that my original hypothesis appears to be correct, but my methods are lacking. At least I know I’m on the right track.

I’m purposely avoiding looking at how other people have done this in the past. I want to work it out on my own. Who knows what I might figure out along the way?

First, I’m going to try to find a better method of chlorophyll extraction. Alcohol might be a better choice than water, or perhaps an acid or base. I’ll also try boiling leaves in water for a longer period of time.

Second, I’ll find different light sources, perhaps a UV light source, like a black light, and an IR light source (a remote control perhaps?).

I think I’ll also try to locate some thicker leaves than the ones I’m using. Perhaps elm’s just aren’t a good source.

If I’m only changing one variable at a time, I’ll be busy for a while!

Planet Earth (BBC)

Well, I’ve wrapped up my viewing of the Planet Earth series from the BBC, narrated by David Attenborough. Only one word is needed to describe the experience: WOW! If you have not seen this yet, you will not be disappointed. And for only $55 at amazon, there is no excuse not to have it as a part of your DVD collection.

The series is marked by the footage of things that have never been captured on film before (and in some cases, never even seen before), incredible camera work to capture the scenery, and jaw-dropping scale. The first time I saw the footage of Angel Falls was nearly overwhelming.

One thing the film really brings to my attention, and something I’ve been loath to think about in the past, is the knife edge we are now walking in reference to our global environment. Some of the things they caught on film is likely to never be seen again; the animals will be gone. After seeing these on screen, the disaster that would be their loss is really driven home. Sadly, in some cases, it might be too late.

So check it out! As I said, you won’t be disappointed.