William Matheson (nova_one) wrote,
William Matheson

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Was William Wrong?

This is kind of late in coming, but...

The November 2004 issue of National Geographic has an excellent article on the reality of evolution. If you find yourself skeptical of evolution (and you have every right to be, in the sense that you have a right to be skeptical of anything), I suggest reading this article. It's also good to read if you ever engage in dead-end debates with creationists, as I have several times. I can remember walking down the streets of Grande Praire, seeing posters that advertised seminars by leading creation "scientists."

Honestly, though, I read the headline on the cover, "Was Darwin Wrong?" and for a minute I wasn't sure what the answer would be. Maybe there was some new explanation for how one species could possibly be descended from another. Well, I was wrong, to put it mildly. (Of course, the article does give examples of things Darwin was quite wrong about - however, he did seem to be on to something concerning evolution by natural selection.)

The evidence available in this article is too pervasive and too eloquent to offer very much room for doubt. Here's an easy one - how about the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria? Even if you apply an antibiotic that kills 99.99% of a given bacterium in a specified environment, some will survive. By some enivronmental or genetic happenstance, they survived, and if they reproduce, you're then confronted with resistant bacteria. They didn't even have to DO anything! Penecillin was introduced in 1943, and the first penecillin-resistant microbial strains appeared in 1947.

Another piece of the puzzle is the phenomenon of convergent evolution:

"Its short legs suited for clinging to narrow branches, the Jamaican twig anole strikingly resembles the Puerto Rican twig anole and the Hispaniolan twig anole. Yet DNA-based studies by Jonathan Losos of Washington University in St. Louis, and his colleagues, reveal a deeper reality: that such adaptations have evolved independently on the separate islands. The Jamaican twig anole is more closely related to other Jamacian anoles - such as the Jamaican giant anole - than to the similar twig anoles on other islands. Specialized anoles native to Hispaniola and to Jamaica are likewise not closely related to parallel specialists on other islands. The lesson: Although variations occur randomly, similar ecological circumstances sometimes yield uncannily similar adaptations."

(The article also has nice colour pictures.)

Frankly, I think that the leading reason for public doubt regarding evolution is the dearth of reliable information in the public schools. Even when I was in elementary school in Prince Edward Island, science was a joke taught with late-1960's textbooks. We had 1970's textbooks when I took my Grades VIII and IX at Sandy Lake Seventh-Day Adventist Academy, but you can probably guess how reliable the science was there*. Among other things, most of Earth's geologic phenomena was dismissed as things that happened in fifteen minutes during the Flood.

Still, it was my responsibility to educate myself using other sources, and I wish I had realized the importance of this. I'm not blaming others for any lack of education in myself or anyone else, but I think there is room for improvement in the schools of this continent. We don't necessairily need more "scientists," but we do need more independent thinkers.

Speaking of thought, another important, albeit "preachy" article is Paul Lutus' "The Levels of Human Experience." I (dare I say?) think that he has a point about how beliefs provide a basis on which someone can intellectually coast through life. I myself have been guilty of this on countless occaisions.

(My Great Great Great Grandfather, Alexander Graham Bell, is noted for (among many other things) a) helping found the National Geographic Society and b) making the top 10 in Greatest Canadian. I was pleased to see this from my room in Edmonton House Suite Hotel on a CBC Newsworld rerun two weeks ago, but it did leave me wondering: What ought I to do to achieve similar success? And, more to the point, am I putting my genetic kinship to good use? Maybe I'll start by cleaning up my room. Then I should learn calculus. It'll be a miracle if I ever sit down and do that, but it is on my radar at the moment.)

* - So, why was I there? I was barely even a Christian, let alone Seventh-Day Adventist. Well, the alternatives were Bedford Junior High (a zoo - I may not have even survived... "League of Peaceful Schools?!" I wish they had that when I was there!), and Armbrae Academy (an expensive zoo with uniforms). SLA was also within walking distance, an important point in deciding on schools.

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