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Adaptations (aka: Happy Birthday, Evolution!)

Today is the 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin's "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection", and I for one am feeling a little celebratory. The importance of Darwin's work cannot be understated. Last year, I took a couple of semesters worth of biology classes, and natural selection could be seen at work throughout those two very entertaining semesters, chapter after chapter, after chapter.

Evolution's important shit, man!

That Darwin concluded what he did before modern genetics science existed, is a testament to his genius. That evolution can be called into question as "just a theory" by noted scholars such as George W. Bush, and that this stance is perceived as acceptable to any rationally thinking human being, is testament to the gullibility of the American Religious Confused.

And yet the Confused are organized, and powerful, and manipulative, and their members are looking for something to believe, so here we are, with fully 44% of Americans in a Gallup Poll indicating that they believe God created the Earth and everything on it about 10,000 years ago. Today, 44% of Americans believe this. This is the greatest advertising campaign ever. And like cigarettes, it's a product the advertisers should be ashamed they are promoting. What I find ironic is that the creationists are borrowing heavily from Darwin's work in the promotion of their agenda. Let me explain.

In evolutionary science, there is the concept of adaptation. This is both a process and a feature. Viewed long-term, adaptation is the process (over generations) where a species, uh, adapts to its environment in a way that increases its chances of continued survival. Viewed more in terms of output, an adaptation is a new or changed feature in a species -- say, better eyesight, or faster-twitch muscle fibers, or changed color or markings on your fur, or any one of a billion changes that could randomly come about through genetic mutation, that somehow increases your fitness, your chances of surviving predation and passing on those genetic bits to the next generation.

Now, what's happening over there, in church? Well, for a while the Book of Genesis worked, but this pesky "theory" of evolution started gaining traction because it was all sciency and stuff. One dude having an incredibly productive week just doesn't stand up to the scientific method, and so we're sorry, we simply will not teach that in public school (because, for starters, it is absolutely ridiculous). And so what has come along is a "scientific" alternative to evolution, so-called intelligent design, the whimsical notion that nature is so complex that there simply has to be a "designer" behind it all.

Intelligent design has been packaged as an alternative scientific reasoning, which of course is as oxymoronic as "military intelligence". But you have to admit it's clever marketing of a really dumb idea, so clever it appears as rigorously researched and defended science. Genesis was never gonna fly in a biology textbook, but ID just might, and that, my friends, is an adaptation!

So yes, even stupidity can evolve. This concept was brilliantly (and hysterically) extrapolated in the movie "Idiocracy", and scarily is playing out in real-time right here in real-life, in 2009.

Our friends in the midst of a God delusion will never admit it, but the very formulation of ID is proof of Darwin's work. Hopefully someday everyone will see the real truth and allow reason and rational thought to pervade everyday life, and relegate religion to the fiction aisle at the bookstore where it belongs. But appreciating the timescales involved in real evolutionary change, I know I won't see it in my lifetime.

So today I'm going to resolve to enjoy the incredible evolutionary jackpot I was born into for as long as I can, and continue to be a Good Guy, and yes, smugly enjoy the fact that I don't need a book or a congregation or a pile of dogma to tell me how to do that, or why I should.

Salut, Charles.

below is a photo I snapped while wandering atound MIT's campus last month; apparently one of the greatest scientific institutions in the world feels old Chuck is engravement-worthy (I agree!).