Dr. Jerry Stinner / Dean, College of Science and Mathematics
As Dean of the College I get to have your attention for the next four minutes. It’s an honor for me to be here and to share with you this very special day.
You chose a great year to graduate in. It’s the 50th anniversary for CSUN. “50 years of life changing opportunity”!
2009 is also a special year for astronomy. It’s the International Year of Astronomy. Thousands of astronomers are gathering to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s discoveries. In 1609 he turned his telescope to the sky. What he saw was remarkable and unexpected!
THe saw craters and mountains on the Moon! So the Moon wasn’t a perfectly smooth sphere. Apparently the universe wasn’t a perfectly made place.
He saw phases of the planet Venus, just like the phases of the Moon. It must be that Venus rotates around the sun, just like the Moon rotates around the earth. So, not everything in the universe revolves around the earth.
He saw moons circling Jupiter. And since it was known that Jupiter is in motion, it must be dragging its moons along with it. So there’s no reason to think that the earth, with its moon, can’t be in motion and dragging its moon along with it.
With these simple observations, Galileo demolished the two thousand year old geocentric view of the universe. The earth is not the center of the universe, and it isn’t nestled in a cozy universe of crystalline spheres carrying perfect orbs.
The geocentric universe seems ridiculous and quaint to us today—a comforting fairy tale. But Galileo was tried by the Inquisition. He was forced, under threat of torture, to recant and was sentenced to life imprisonment. It wasn’t until 1992 that Galileo was absolved of being a heretic.
We now know that the universe consists of a hundred billion galaxies each with 100 billion suns. We also know that the universe is 13.7 billion years old and is still forming today.
2009 is also the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s book On the Origin of Species. And it is Darwin’s 200th birthday. Scientists everywhere are celebrating.
Like Galileo, Darwin shattered ancient and cherished myths. He showed us that species change over time and evolve into new species. Fixity of species is an illusion, just as a stationary earth is an illusion.
Darwin also explained the mechanism for how this change comes about—it’s called natural selection. Species, including humans, are not special acts of creation.
Darwin’s book sent shock waves through Europe and he was quickly labeled by theologians as the most dangerous man in England.
We now know that the earth is 4.6 billion years old, which is plenty of time for evolution to occur. And we understand the molecular basis for genetic mutations and inheritance. We have an astonishingly complete fossil record. Evolution by natural selection is now one of the most secure facts in all of science.
The fields of Science and Mathematics are creating the greatest narrative ever told. It is an epic tale far exceeding anything ever dreamed of before.
It is my hope that you will carry this narrative with you wherever you go. If you are a teacher, teach it in the classroom. If you are a parent, teach it to your children. Insist upon evidence and don’t be afraid to be skeptical where there is none.
You should be just as appalled as I am that one in six high school biology teachers in America teach creationism. Only 40% of adults in this country accept evolution. It is certainly not that way in other developed countries. In a survey of 34 countries, the U.S. ranked second to the bottom in accepting evolution. Good grief—In England a portrait of Charles Darwin is on the 10 pound note!
The narrative of Science and Mathematics is humanity’s greatest treasure.
And you, the class of 2009, are our greatest hope for the future!