A long time before I even knew about evolutionary theory, I’ve been an avid history-fan. I used to read history books for kicks and joyfully play historical-themed computer games. Back when I was 12 years old or so, I used to play this game, Civilization II (I still play Civ4 today!). Civ2 had this widget called “Civilopedia”, which gave a textual reference to everything in the game.
I remember spending hours just reading the extra info about “the wonders of the world”, the various kinds of technologies and historical events depicted in the game, and so on.
To be honest, as a biogeek, I took it somewhat for granted that the earth is old and that radiometric dating works just fine and dandy. I took it somewhat for granted, yes, but I was always fascinated with how is it that we know how long it’s been since this or that had occurred or this or that of an organism had gone extinct.
Lately, to make up for this, I went on to read books that dealt specifically with this topic. So, I read “Bones, Rocks and Stars”, “Guns, Germs and Steel” and “How to Build a Dinosaur” – all books that deal, either primarily or superfluously, with deep time, and how we investigate it.
After reading about the topic, the only thing I know for sure is why it’s so easy for creationists to distort scientific facts and to fool people into believing that science just makes shit up about the earth being old, and that the earth isn’t really that old.
Radiocarbon dating, Dendrochronology, Amino-acid dating, ice-core dating, radiometric dating (that is, radioisotopes that aren’t carbon used for radiometric dating), etc. – these all are methods that require certain assumptions to be made. When I first read about the assumptions specified in radiometric dating, I thought to myself “well, gee, fuck that! That’s a LOT of “ifs” you got there, Doc!”. And then I went on reading about the topic, and became aware that innumerable radiometric datings come up the same dates, and those same dates are reached by radiocarbon dating and even historical accounts! (cf. Renee et al 1997 with Mt. Vesuvius). The different dating methods confirm each other, radiometric datings are the same as those attained by dendrochronology, ice-core dating, astronomical extrapolations etc.
So, to summarize, I’ve come to grips with two very strong facts:
A. A great number of dating methods exists, and they rely on completely different assumptions and are backed up by so many samples – and they all uncover an earth that is extremely old. Furthermore, all dating methods always corroborate the fossil record as evolutionary theory predicts it – which further reaffirms the common descent of all biological organisms that live today.
B. The more you delve into science, the more you realize that you’re tap-dancing on quicksand if you presume to know anything at all, and that freaks me out. When I first got into biology, I actually considered mythological alternatives to evolution as being true should evolution fail because that’s how little I knew back then. I don’t do that anymore, but now that I’ve seen how many times science has been mistaken on its way to being more and more approximately correct, I can’t help but shudder when I think of the next scientific breakthrough in how we consider the universe, time, and life on this planet.
The biggest impression that science has imprinted on me is not that we know nothing, but that we know so much, and experience has shown that nevertheless, there is so much more to know. Nothing is going to replace what we know, but what’s going to augment it, this unknown body of knowledge that presumably is forthcoming – scares me shitless.
In these hard times of suicide attempts and deep depression, such ideas and concepts keep me going. I want to hang on to life just so I would be around when we come up with the next titillating breakthrough.
I am excited about what our species is doing with science, about the fact that certain members of said species are out there, feeding their curiosity with information, slowly building up the probability that we will find something new, something no one’s ever known before.
There’s such great a story yet to be told, and oh, how I wish to be part of it. I imagine that as a biologist, this means endless lab hours and endless collection of seemingly (or truly) meaningless, useless facts,
but sometime, eventually, our species’ collaborative endeavor to know more about our universe is going to disclose yet another amazing tale about the nature of our universe.
Oh, I wish to stay alive long enough,
to be a part, as infinitesimal as it may be – of the process of telling this story to our species.
After all I’ve been through, after all the many addenda I’ve added to what I hold as inconsequential –
This I yet hold as noble, and how I wish to be a part of that noblest of efforts.
Let me be a cog in this giant contrivance that is science and exploration. There is so much more to know.