|My style of dress has evolved since my days of playing Gertie the Garbologist at an outdoor school.|
Evolution is a process of continuous branching and diversification from common trunks. This pattern of irreversible separation gives life's history its basic directionality. —Stephen Jay Gould
By Bob Ferris
During the break between finishing my undergraduate degree in biology and attending graduate school, I took a little time to finish my thesis for my second degree in environmental studies and consider my options. Part of how I occupied this time was teaching at a residential outdoor school for two seasons (see above photo). Basically this was sixth-grade camp, though we did have some students who came earlier or from middle schools. The first season went well, but during the second the rains came.
Not quite forty days and forty nights worth, but enough so that we had to move our school from its traditional location to another one that the district rented from a local Christian organization. The site served but also came complete with a reproduction of Noah's Ark which was essentially a large classroom element. In the shadow of this structure is where I generally taught evolution to the visiting students.
Since 1950, developments in molecular biology have had a growing influence on the theory of evolution. —NatureI think about this now as I watch with rapt amazement the rapid development of our understanding of human evolution, in particular, the stories told us by genetics and physical evidence surrounding the Neanderthals (see John Hawks lecture video above) and the Denisovans. This process includes near constant adjustment of our grander family trees and long-held concepts such as when DNA analyses indicated that the so-called Cheddar Man from Britain's distance past had blue eyes, but black curly hair and dark skin. Cool.
In Darwinian evolution, the basic mechanism is genetic mutation, followed by selection of the organisms most likely to survive. —Pamela WeintraubIt is hard to reconcile these impressive developments with those thoughts shouted by forces discrediting evolution by attempting to characterize it as only a theory or something weakened by these discoveries. The theory of evolution (a process) is not threatened by new knowledge or changes in the family tree of man, on the contrary. This faulty line of reasoning would be similar to arguing that the discovery of a new ancestor or relative through research compromises the idea of genealogy or even reproduction. These are, of course, silly notions. But...
In addition to characterizing Mel Gibson as the pinnacle of human evolution and incorrectly describing evolutionary progression as linear rather than branched or blended (see Gould quote), Mike Pence makes both the specious "theory" claim and presents the notion that new knowledge weakens rather than strengthens understanding. He does all this while embracing and forwarding teachings that have remained largely unchanged for two millennia and seem absolutely immune to new knowledge and evidence.
|Cavities and other tooth ailments were attributed to worms of even demons in the 18th century as these carvings from the period attest.|
Moreover, Pence's Founding Fathers comment seems to argue that if it was good enough for these founders it should be good enough for us. This fails to acknowledge the vast body of scientific discoveries since that time. Mr. Pence should also remember that blood-letting, Phrenology, and any number of torturous treatments for mental illness were also accepted at this time. And that electrons (1897), photons (1905), and DNA (1953) were unknown during this period. So it appears he is asking us to step backwards in our knowledge and understanding.
I understand that not everyone will have the interest or background to enjoy an hour-long lecture on Neanderthals by John Hawks or be engaged enough in this topic to take his free on-line course on Coursera. But I would ask people to watch the question and answer portion of Dr. Hawks' talk and compare it to this short interchange with Mike Pence above. One represents the free exchange of ideas in an evolving and exciting landscape and the other is an example of avoiding answering honestly and stonewalling at every turn. This is more than one being a likable and knowledgable individual you would want to invite to dinner and the other more like your rigid relative who gives you heartburn at every meal, it is really about how we see the world and the future. I would select a future of knowledge, honestly addressing what we know and do not know and seeking answers where gaps exist. But too many for comfort, exemplified by Pence, would have us drift back to an earlier time when science was ignored, because it serves them economically...for now.
|Who knows what was running through Ben Franklin's mind. But I suspect his thoughts were not about the present, but rather about an enhanced future he was trying to create.|
There is a certain and obvious irony in me teaching evolution in the shadow of a building shaped like an ark. But that phenomenon also exists with those wanting to curtail the scientific revolution embraced by a number of our Founding Fathers. For we would have no one shouting "but her e-mails" had some scientists not first discovered and then harnessed the power inherent in electrons.