Science Love Letters

IMG_2944Dear Science, I want to tell you how much I love caves. This shield formation here, for example, in Lehman Caves of Great Basin National Park. They say the caves in Great Basin began forming 600 million years ago, when the surrounding area was an inland sea. This is why I love you, Science. Because you have no opinions, only facts, and all the glory the world will ever need.

This past Saturday I had the pleasure of preparing and presenting a talk on submitting to literary magazines to a group of people very dear to me: former and current mentees in the Loft mentorship program. It was a lovely morning in which I met and was reacquainted with many smart and talented writers. One such woman, E.A. Farro, introduced me to her website, Science Love Letters. Here is another page, describing what Science Love Letters is about.

The notion of writing a love letter to science so excited and invited me, I kind of lost the soulful narrative and visual art components, not to mention the beautiful reciprocity, that are present in Farro’s (and her writing partner, Natalie Vestin’s) concept. So before I further mess up their premise, defined so adroitly on the site,

This website is a way of writing letters to the science we already love and falling in love with the science we newly encounter,

add Farro’s and Vestin’s to your Bloglovin’ feed today. Then consider how any science-lover could resist the site’s subtitle: Being a scientist is like writing a love letter in daily life. The opening to E.A. Farro’s post on ferns will take your breath away:

Not just things themselves, but the shadows of things. The way it becomes dark when you enter the woods, wind held back in winter, sun blocked in July, everything holding its breath. The crushed bracken’s warm oxygenated gasp.

Or how about these beautiful words, from a post titled “Evolution” by Natalie Vestin?

I look at what I love: bacteria. Blochmannia, Wolbachia, residing in the ants’ ovaries. Are they parasites or inextricable helpers, or both, or always changing? They merged – bacteria to ovarian cells – 30 to 40 million years ago. The Trichogamma wasp can reproduce without a male…but with the help of Wolbachia!

I believe I’ve found my people!

I, too, am a lover of all things scientific. My college degrees are in biology and physical therapy. I thought my initial (because I’d love to write more) love letter to science would be physiological in nature, since that is one aspect of science I love most. But what came to mind first, instead, was a tour of Lehman Caves we took recently in Great Basin National Park. From a website called Earth Science Picture of the Day,

As sediment layers built up on the bottom of this [Great Basin National Park inland] sea, limestone was formed from the silt, sand and skeletal remains of sea life. The limestone was greatly compressed as a result of the pressure of the many layers of sediment. As the eons passed, groundwater in the area absorbed carbon dioxide from the air and decaying vegetation in the soil, creating carbonic acid. This acidic water was able to trickle down through bedrock and dissolve the limestone. Cavities were formed, and as the sea level dropped, hollow “passageways” were left behind. Since then, the seeping water has continued to modify the caves, though at a much slower rate.

Scientific research indicates all of this started 600 million years ago.

I have had the privilege of visiting other national park caves: Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, for example, and Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. As I recall, Carlsbad is so huge visitors just wander around without a tour. There was definitely a tour at Mammoth Cave, however, and one which disappointed me greatly. Please note: I believe this was the only time I’ve been disappointed by anything in a national park.

The reason for my disappointment may be difficult for you, dear science lover, to believe, but it’s the truth: the ranger was a creationist. The park ranger. A creationist. Of course, anyone can be a creationist; it’s generally no skin off my nose. But when that world-view is applied to a person’s secular/scientific work, I take issue.

For those of you not familiar with creationism, here is a definition:

The belief that the universe and living organisms originate from specific acts of divine creation, as in the biblical account, rather than by natural processes such as evolution.

This national park website indicates Mammoth Cave is about 10 million years old. In the course of our Mammoth Cave tour, references to the age of the cave and its formations naturally arose. But whenever our particular ranger spoke of the age of formations, or fossils, or the cave itself, he referred to a number more like 5,000 years than 10 million. Either that, or (I swear this is true) he’d state the scientifically acceptable number and wink.

According to Wikipedia, 

Young Earth creationism (YEC) is the religious belief that the Universe, Earth and all life on Earth were created by direct acts of God between 5,700 and 10,000 years ago.

All those people on the tour heard the same awful, unscientific opinions. A few (in fact, as I recall, most) were families that, remarkably, appeared to agree with the ranger’s interpretation. The best I can hope is that we got mixed into a creationist-specialty tour. But I’m afraid it isn’t that simple.

The thing is, science is simple. It’s just facts. Truly glorious facts, in my opinion. Facts that, if they were simply appreciated for the miraculous processes they represent, would more than fulfill anyone’s notion of glory, perhaps even of God.

People can believe whatever they want about the creation of earth but there’s only one science. I still can’t believe a national park guide would defy such beauty, such wonder, as science represents.


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