Sciency Words: Colony

Hello, friends!  Welcome to another episode of Sciency Words.  Normally on Sciency Words, we talk about those strange words scientists use, but today we’re going to talk about a word scientists—or at least some scientists—would prefer to stop using.  And that word is:


Mars is so eager for humans to come visit and maybe even stay permanently.  And plenty of humans are eager to do just that!  We’ll bring life to Mars.  Not only that, we’ll bring civilization and culture.  One might say it is humanity’s destiny to colonize Mars.

But is this language of “colonization” and “destiny” too evocative of European imperialism?  Some think so, and they would ask that we stop using such colonialist language when we talk about space exploration.

Now I want to be clear about where I’m coming from on this: I try my best to call people by the names and terms they prefer to be called, and if I find out that the language I use offends somebody, I’ll do may best to change.  Some would accuse me of being too P.C., but I think it’s just good manners.

And I have found that if you make an effort to be respectful and accommodating to others, others will make an effort to be respectful and accommodating to you, and in general they’ll be more willing to forgive you if/when you do slip up and say something unintentionally hurtful.

So a few years back, when I came across this article from National Geographic, I started reading it with an open mind and a willingness to change.  But by the end of the article, even I felt like this was an example of political correctness run amok.  The word “colony” is offensive.  So are the words “settlement” and “frontier.”  Okay.  What words should I use instead?  Even that National Geographic article seems to concede at one point that we don’t have many workable alternatives to these terms.

But this concern does seem to be coming up more and more.  Plenty of people in the scientific community are shying away from words like colony and colonization.  Bill Nye (the Science Guy) says he avoids the word colony, and this official glossary of SETI terminology warns that “settle” and “colonize” may have certain negative connotations for some people.

So at this point, I’m not sure what to think.  What about you?  Do you think this is much ado about nothing, or should we really start looking for alternatives to words like “colony” or “settlement” in our space exploration vocabularies?

Next time on Planet Pailly… I actually don’t have anything planned yet for my next blog post.  We’ll probably just talk about more space stuff.

Evolution vs. Creationism

I am going to say something that may shock you: I believe in God, I believe in Jesus Christ, and I believe in the Theory of Evolution.  And I see no contradiction there.  Despite what common knowledge and popular culture may insinuate about science versus religion, many churchgoing Christians have no objection to evolution or the Big Bang.  Many of us find meaning and value in the Bible without taking it 100% literally.  And many of us cringe when Christian fundamentalists start shoving their beliefs down everyone else’s throats.

This weekend, I sat down and watched the two and a half hour debate between Bill Nye the Science Guy and Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis.  The crux of the matter seems to be a question of authority.  Do we trust the authority of God as presented in the Bible (specifically the English translation of the Bible), or do we trust the authority of human beings like Charles Darwin?  At least this is the question Ham wants us to ask.

According to Ham, science is an effective tool for studying the world as it is today, but we cannot use it to study the past because in the past the laws of physics and nature might have been different.  For example, how old is the Earth?  We can’t use carbon dating to determine the age of our planet because the radioactive decay chain of carbon 14 might have been different a few thousand years ago.  We can’t ask astronomers to measure the age of the universe because the speed of light might have somehow changed.  According to Ham, we can’t even trust tree rings to tell us how old a tree is.

Science is apparently so unreliable that we can’t really know anything for certain, Ham tells us, so we should all just accept a literal interpretation of the Bible.  After all, the Bible is the infallible word of God.  We know this because it says so in the Bible!

If you have any doubt that creationism or intelligent design or whatever it’s called these days is not a subversive attempt to teach religion in science class, please watch this debate.  Take note of how difficult it is for Ham to stay on topic.  Notice how often he strays from the “science” of creationism into a diatribe on how Christ died for our sins, how gay marriage is wrong, and how God will reveal Himself only to His true believers.  Bill Nye showed up for a debate on science.  Ken Ham wanted to talk about other things.

As for Christians like myself who acknowledge evolution, Ham says that we “have a problem.”  I mentioned earlier that the crux of the matter is a question of authority.  Ham described the debate as a debate between the authority of God and the authority of Man, but that is not so.  This was a debate between the authority of Man—specifically one man named Ken Ham—and the authority of science.  And whenever one man claims to speak for God, claims to know God’s mind and understand His intentions—and whenever that man throws the Bible at anyone who would dare to disagree—yes, I “have a problem” with that.