October 11, 2007 | David F. Coppedge

Dust Became Knowledge

The Stupid Evolution Quote of the Week award goes to an Associated Press article reporting on a finding from the Spitzer Space Telescope.  It began in a very matter-of-fact manner, claiming that the one of the biggest questions of philosophy is being answered by dust.

  Astronomers have taken a baby step in trying to answer the cosmic question of where we come from.
    Planets and much on them, including humans, come from dust — mostly from dying stars.  But where did the dust that helped form those early stars come from?
    A NASA telescope may have spotted one of the answers.  It’s in the wind bursting out of super-massive black holes.

Some humans may not take kindly to the assertion that they came from a black hole breaking wind.  But one astronomer added just as confidently, “In the end, everything comes from space dust.  It’s putting all the pieces of the puzzle together to figure out where we came from.”
    Surely there must be some observational evidence to support such a monumental claim that we came from dust in the wind.  The Spitzer team detected dust around one quasar 8 billion light-years away.  This, the story goes, shows that dust is a building block of us: “Dust is important in the cooling process to make stars, which are predominantly gas.  The leftover dust tends to clump together to make planets, comets and asteroids,” the article explained.  The claim that we are leftovers does not seem to be helping our self-esteem after the prior insult.
    Another astronomer claimed that the discovery is “an important step in answering a fundamental mystery of the early universe.”  The original press release from the Spitzer Team said a pretty face is like a melody: “The hit song that proclaimed, ‘All we are is dust in the wind,’ may have some cosmic truth to it.”

Let’s ponder this profound display of wisdom.  Babies make baby steps, it is true, but do they know where they are going?  Do they make a straight line toward knowledge?  or even an indirect line?  Babies don’t ask fundamental questions, nor do they presume to have the answers before taking their baby steps.  One moment after stepping toward daddy, they may do an about face toward mommy, or make a right-angle turn, or collapse in a heap on the rug.
    If this analogy represents the kind of steps science is making in its pursuit of knowledge about “where we came from,” is it not possible that numerous about-faces and collapses could occur before they answer the question?  And if so, might not the final answer be completely different, that we did not come from space dust?
    The presumptuousness of scientists these days knows no bounds.  Here they are just starting to take baby steps, and they already know the answer to the biggest question that has occupied the greatest minds for thousands of years.  If knowledge is defined as a justified true belief, then it is hard to call knowledge anything that originates in dust blowing in the wind.

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