Friday, July 29, 2011

Natural Selection and Population Growth

christmas island crabs
The yearly population explosion of crabs on Christmas Island was possibly due to the extinction of a native predator; the recent introduction of the yellow crazy ant has started bringing this population back down

By this point in our walkthrough of Dobzhansky’s biological classic, Genetics and the Origin of Species, we have seen how much raw phenotypic variation exists in the wild, and how this variation is generated by several different mechanisms, including mutations.  And we have discovered that some of this phenotypic variation, namely, genetic variation, is passed from parents to offspring.  Without heritable genetic variation, there can be no evolution.  But what drives evolution?  As we saw last week, evolution can be driven by mutation pressures and genetic drift.  But usually when we think of evolution, we are thinking of evolution by natural selection.  Dobzhansky devotes chapter six to this important topic. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Tuesday Morning Comics #4

Today's comic is classic, in the sense that several other comics feature a similar joke.  Here we have a teacher holding up the Bible and instructing the children to get out their 'schoolbook' Bibles to learn about the subject of Intelligent Design (ID).  Clearly, this is a critique about Intelligent Design being taught in the classroom, which was a big topic when the Dover Area schoolboard tried to read a statement about ID to their class a few years ago.  Their argument was that ID presented a non-religious alternative to evolution.  Indeed, the proponents of ID are adamant that ID is not the same thing as Creationism, that it disregards religious arguments, and that it focuses on the scientific evidence for design.  They argue that, once one has seen the evidence for design, they are free in their religious beliefs to attribute that design to their deity, but that step is not a necessary part of ID.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Evolution is Math is Fun!

Evolution is ultimately mathematical.  This is in part why I have taken so long to continue with Dobzhansky’s book, Genetics and the Origin of Species – we are now getting to the math.  But the math cannot be ignored – in the early 1900s, some brilliant mathematicians developed formulae that predicted what biologists would spend the next seventy-plus years confirming experimentally.  Darwinian evolution is a case in which number (largely) preceded biology.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Tuesday Morning Comics #3

Morning folks.  Here is one of my favourite comics.  From its unintentional racism, to its false dichotomy (evolution instead of Jesus, as if one precludes the other), this comic is firing on all cylinders.  It was penned by Jack Chick of the infamous Chick Publications, who has been creating hate-filled ultra-fundamentalist tracts since the 1960s.  This particular one is copyright 2004.  You can buy these tracts on their website for 16 cents a piece, if you want to make an interesting collection.  Chick has been widely criticized by Catholics and Protestants alike, but his 200+ different tracts have been published in 100 languages and have been widely disseminated.  I think this comic will speak for itself about Chick's extreme fundamentalist beliefs, and how he views evolutionists (hint: they are very angry and argumentative).  Look for a shout-out to Dr. Kent Hovind, the Young Earth Creationist I saw speak when I was only a lad, and who is now serving serious jail time for tax evasion.  What is so sad to me is the mixture of real Christian beliefs with outright lunacy; the one taints the other.  It certainly shows why Rob Bell felt the need to write Love Wins.

Best line: '[Evolution] was created by the devil to keep kids out of heaven.'

Monday, July 11, 2011

A Response from the Minister of Fisheries!

A few months ago I wrote a letter to the Minister of Fisheries addressing a few key issues concerning Canada's oceans, as part of the social action section for a course my friend was teaching on social justice.  The issues addressed included the implementation of the Precautionary Approach for protecting Canadian fish stocks; the appalling lack of information given to consumers about the fish they consume; the lack of regulation in marine protected areas, and the paucity of such areas; and the insanity of determining an stock's endangered status based on socioeconomic considerations.  Considering that it was election time, I did not really expect a response, and so I was delighted to find a three-page letter from Senior Assistant Deputy Minister David Balfour of Ecosystems and Fisheries Management waiting for me in my mail when I returned from my trip out east.

It was a surprisingly candid and lengthy response to each of the issues I brought up.  Since we are talking about the Canadian government, there is much emphasis on what has been done and little about the criticisms.  But at least I now know that they know that there is at least one concerned Canadian out there.  For me, the most surprising admission in the letter is towards the end, in reference to the classification of endangered species in Canada.  It is somewhat shocking - see if you can spot it!

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Tuesday Morning Comics #2

Today's comic is from the Young Earth organization Answers in Genesis.  This comic shows that Young Earth Creationists have a real concern for how Christians in general treat scripture.  Those that believe in an old earth and/or the theory of evolution do not turn to Genesis to find out how God created the word; they treat Genesis in a non-literal manner, whether as allegory or myth or poetry.  YEC are unsettled by this.  Genesis, to them, is the 'book of beginnings', a recorded history of the beginning of God's covenant with His people and the beginning of the world itself.  And this account of beginnings is a literal historical narrative.  Those outside of the Christian faith may find this comic illuminating because it reveals a divide in Christianity between those who treat Genesis' opening chapters 'literally' (although even the literalists tend to allegoricalize when convenient) versus those who do not.  Christianity is not a monolithic religion with each Christian believing the same thing.  There is an incredible amount of diversity, a diversity which Answers in Genesis finds disturbing.

This comic also questions what Christians take to be authoritative.  Is the only authority the Book of God's Word, or can we also turn to the Book of God's Works?  Is creation as authoritative as scripture?  Can a Christian, in good conscience, turn to the books of science to understand beginnings rather than the 'book of beginnings'?  For YEC, the answer is clearly no; for other Christians, the answer is not so clear.

Yes, I realize today is actually Wednesday, but I've been at camp in PEI all week with a bunch of grade 2 and 3 students, and I did not come to this realization until just now.  Deal with it.