One of the most challenging questions in basic biology and the history of evolution and life stems from the unknown origin of the first cells billions of years ago. Though many pieces of the puzzle have been put together, this origin story remains somewhat murky. But a team of researchers from the University of Cambridge believe they’ve accidentally stumbled on an answer, and a very compelling one at that.
Back in 2008, I read Neil Shubin’s book, “Your Inner Fish.” I posted on it here. PBS has worked with Shubin to present a documentary that covers and expands on Shubin’s work. What a great compliment to Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos. You won’t want to miss this. It’s a story about plasticity, about how your body is bursting with evidence of your animal ancestors. Another reason to watch this: Shubin’s enthusiasm is contagious.
At Slate, Mark Stern argues that creationism is dangerous:
Creationists reject not just evolution but most of the Enlightenment and pretty much all intellectual development since. Rather than celebrate the brilliance of the human mind, they disparage free thought as dangerous and sinful. Instead of extolling the virtues of creativity and imagination, they malign all unorthodox ideas as immoral and wicked. For all creationists’ insistence that evolution denigrates humanity, creationism is fundamentally anti-human, commanding us to spurn our own logic and cognition in favor of absurd sophism derived from a 3,000-year-old text. It turns our greatest ability—to reason—into our greatest enemy. Using our brains, according to creationism, will lead us to sin; only mindless piety can keep us on the track to salvation.
It’s easy to scoff at all this, to giggle at the vivid weirdness of young Earth creationism and then shrug it off as an isolated cult. But the 40 percent of Americans who reject evolution, as well as the tens of thousands of children or more who are being brainwashed with it in publicly funded classrooms, aren’t laughing
A friend of mind was raised as a fundamentalist, but he was also a relentless questioner. As an adult he questioned his beliefs until there were cracks in the foundation. He is now a free-thinker who describes his fundamentalist state of mind as follows: “I was taught to be afraid to question. It was like there was an electrified fence built around my religious beliefs, and I would be risking death to question those beliefs.” The man I’m speaking of is a ferociously smart man, but mere intelligence is not enough. It wasn’t logic that causes people to be fundamentalists, and therefore logic and facts will not undo the damage. That is certainly my experience.
I have much to say about religion and what it takes to communicate meaningfully with believers in my five-part series, “Mending Fences.”
First, there was the debate:
After Bill Nye’s debate with evidence-free Ken Ham, the Creationists lined up with their questions.
At Slate, Phil Plait provides the answers.
Plait offers links to two excellent resources for those who really care to learn more about evolution:
1. Understanding Evolution. This is a collaborative project of the University of California Museum of Paleontology and the National Center for Science Education.
2. FAQ’s for Creationists by TalkOrigins.
Talk.origins is a Usenet newsgroup devoted to the discussion and debate of biological and physical origins. Most discussions in the newsgroup center on the creation/evolution controversy, but other topics of discussion include the origin of life, geology, biology, catastrophism, cosmology and theology.
Plait ends his article with a link to another of his excellent articles, “Is Science Faith-Based.” Here’s why science is not faith-based:
The scientific method makes one assumption, and one assumption only: the Universe obeys a set of rules. That’s it. There is one corollary, and that is that if the Universe follows these rules, then those rules can be deduced by observing the way Universe behaves. This follows naturally; if it obeys the rules, then the rules must be revealed by that behavior . . . Science is not simply a database of knowledge. It’s a method, a way of finding this knowledge. Observe, hypothesize, predict, observe, revise. Science is provisional; it’s always open to improvement. Science is even subject to itself. If the method itself didn’t work, we’d see it. Our computers wouldn’t work (OK, bad example), our space probes wouldn’t get off the ground, our electronics wouldn’t work, our medicine wouldn’t work. Yet, all these things do in fact function, spectacularly well. Science is a check on itself, which is why it is such an astonishingly powerful way of understanding reality.