FALL, 2003

Coming to Grips with Evolution ... and its Significance (and Reductionism and ITS Significance)

Name:  Flicka
Subject:  Creationism vs. Evolution
Date:  2003-10-06 13:36:44
Message Id:  6810
I've been thinking a lot the past week about creation vs. evolution and which one I believe. I think the problem for me was that I felt like I had to either believe one or the other, and this was hard because I wanted to know which one was right. However, after today's class, I feel like I have resolved the issue with myself. I realize now that I don't have to believe in one or the other and I don't even have to believe in any of them if I don't wish to. Like somebody said in class (I think it was Brianna but I'm not sure) people look for truth in religion but not necessarily in science. And I believe that. I understand that evolution is just another theory and that it might change as time progresses. But religion is something that we have written down in a Bible and therefore we can not make new observations about it. So, I have come to the conclusion that for me, I beleive that creationism is the way in which man came into being, but I can also accept evolution as a theory based on scientific observations we have now. That way, I don't have to say that one is "true", but i can accept both as being possible theories. Some people may not be able to look at it this way based on how religious or non-religious they are, but it all depends on the person. As long as you're not searching for the "truth", you can believe whatever you want to believe.
Name:  Ramatu Kallon
Subject:  A new insight on life
Date:  2003-10-06 17:14:43
Message Id:  6811
I am really enjoying this course. It forces me to think of life and existence in a new way. Although, I have to admit it is at times mind boggling and scary, I have learned that scientists and people in general are not always right in their discoveries and observation; this I can now accept.
Name:  Manuela
Username:  mceballo@bmc
Subject:  Toothless and hairless
Date:  2003-10-06 19:54:13
Message Id:  6813
I've been thinking... although I know that evolutionary changes work veeeeery slowly, I was wondering how humans will look in the future due to the environment we have created for ourselves. We don't have to tear flesh, so will our teeth be smaller or will they be there at all? A big function that the hair on our heads and bodies had in the past, to keep us warm, has been replaced by clothes and artificial heat, so how much of that will we keep if any at all? If anything of the sort EVER happens, I guess things such as toothless and hairless will become part of our ideal of beauty!
Name:  spoon
Username:  spoon@hc
Subject:  a clarification
Date:  2003-10-06 20:40:34
Message Id:  6814

"PS: ... I still find it difficult to think of the here & now as part of a process" - my earlier post

Just to clarify, I didn't mean that I don't think of the present as part of a process, only that it often trips up my train of thought when tackling ideas about evolution, particularly trends in the future, as with that thread on superorganisms. I find it comes more naturally to me to think of individualism as the pinnacle of human achievement, as a trait that will not evolve, and it is only when I force the thought beyond this limited frame of reference that I can begin thinking about humans as parts of a larger entity, how evolution in that respect is still possible (even probable?) in terms of survival of the species.
Name:  spoon
Username:  spoon@hc
Subject:  Religion
Date:  2003-10-06 21:15:55
Message Id:  6815

I found the class discussion about religion a very provocative one - thanks!

One of the most interesting things that strikes me relates centrally to the Bible. It is clear that a lot of people invest a lot into interpreting what the Bible says, to make sense of the observations collected there. One such example would be the reinterpretation of what is meant by "7 days", how long a day is, and so on.
This suggests to me that we view the Bible as a set of observations to be interpreted. I wonder how it would change our discussion in class if we instead held the view that the Bible is itself already an interpretation. What it interprets are the observations that were available to its observers during the time that it was written.

What I'm inclined to do then, personally, is not to attempt to reinterpret what the Bible says to align perfectly with the observations from this (vastly different) day & age, but rather to use what still 'fits' and to incorporate those aspects into a new and on-going story.

I found Prof. Grobstein's quote particularly helpful in this respect: "I don't 'believe' in stories, wherever they come from. I listen to them, learn from them, and make use of them when I find them useful. To 'believe' in a story is, for me, to end the ongoing process of discovery, of 'getting it less wrong', and that's not something I'm inclined to do. I'd rather go on changing/evolving/emerging."

Just for the record, I do believe in God, but my next question relates to what I feel are more grounded matters: Is religion allowed to change? Does it evolve?
Name:  Nomi
Date:  2003-10-07 20:24:46
Message Id:  6837
Sure, I think religion is evolving. People are increasingly apt to "interpret" the Bible in non-literal ways so as to better apply it to present times. Some religious people would go so far as to reject or disagree with some notions espoused by the Bible (such as the subservience of women); others are more conservative. Same goes for other religions and religious texts. There are even non-traditional subdivisions of religions that do not believe in any god. I don't think we can define religion by such seemingly-obvious, concrete ideas as "the presence of a god" or "adherance to traditions." Religion, like science and like life, crosses many boundaries; it is very difficult (maybe impossible!) to pin down under a definite set of criteria. There will always be exceptions.

What does unite the group of practices we term "religious"? I don't know! But there is something consistent in all of humanity that causes all people to seek meaning in comparable ways. Similarly, there is something consistent throughout time that allows ancient texts -- such as the Bible -- to remain relevant to us across the ages -- relevant, regardless of how we interpret them. I'm not sure what I'm getting at here. I just think there is something constant, something universal, that unites all human beings and -- maybe -- all life. Is it shared genes? a common ancestor?

P.S. I want to acknowledge that it is difficult for me to judge what I write about religion coming from such a non-religious background. Though educated as to the facts of religion, I never felt compelled to really "believe" in it or even take it seriously. This makes it hard for me to really engage in / be a part of the huge evolution-vs.-creationism dilemma. I really hope I haven't upset anyone by dismissing, misinterpreting or mistating religious ideas. I know these conversations can get complicated.

P.P.S. About something Lindsay said a while back ... yes, I think studying evolution does affect our present-day decisions. For instance, knowing the natural process of extinction certainly influenced our attitude toward currently-disappearing species. Understanding how old, and how durable, our planet is has diminished our fears that we "all-powerful humans" are going to destroy the Earth in the imminent future. Among other things, the study of the past assures us that we are not as powerful -- or as deadly -- a force as we think (at least, not in the long run).

On the other hand, I understand the need to deal with present issues and conflicts rather than devote all of one's resources to the past ... this is where the sciences of the past (evolution, paleo-anthropology, geology) and the sciences of the present (medicine, social work, psychology) inevitably clash. However, note that even medicine and psychology depend on past discoveries to function in the present. Everyone knows the immediate past, at least, is important. The question then becomes: how far back can you dig and still have your findings be relevant to the here and now? Perhaps the answer is: infinitely.

Name:  Sarah Kim
Subject:  Creationism
Date:  2003-10-08 00:40:45
Message Id:  6840
A girl made the comment in class the other day that she'd rather think of herself as being created by a higher being than by having evolved from a smelly monkey. I thought yeah, that does kind of make sense, being created by a higher being makes it sound as if you're special, instead of just a step up from a monkey. So maybe part of the reason that creationism has survived for so long is because people DO want to believe that of themselves. Perhaps people have a certain narcissism within themselves that pushes them to believe that they're special and were created by a higher being, rather than that they came from some smelly monkeys. I'm not trying to offend anybody or anything, I'm just saying maybe that's part of the reason why it's such an enduring story in our history. It reflects on society as a whole, past and present, that maybe we're just a little...well, full of ourselves!
Name:  Brittany
Username:  Anonymous
Date:  2003-10-08 23:48:36
Message Id:  6854
Forgive me for straying into the realm of physics, but this is interesting:

It's about quarks. They're supposedly these little things that make up the subatomic particles. They come in two flavors: Up and Down. Two Ups and a Down make a proton, apparently. How, I wonder, do these little things dictate the charge of atoms? What exactly *are* they? How do they make neutrons, and do they make electrons? If not, what are electrons made out of? Oh yes, and there are antiquarks. Is this a different flavor, or something else altogether?

It's rather frustrating to me that these things occur in two different types. I believe that, if you go small enough, eventually we're all composed of the same type of particle, just in different arrangements. The fact that quarks are *not* that particle frustrates me because it means that the basal "thing" is still out there.

What, then, IS the basis of all matter? Will we ever find it, learn how to manipulate it? Could we really turn Professor Grobstein into an elephant or a rock if we knew how to manipulate these particles?

...and how big of an explosion could we make if we managed to split one? Because that's probably what we'd try to do...

Name:  Julia Wise
Subject:  Selection
Date:  2003-10-09 15:48:02
Message Id:  6865
In response to Manuela's message on how we were evolving to become weaker, balder, and more toothless - Hey, can you think of any other species that shaves? Human beauty standards seem to want to keep hair confined to the places we had it when we were all nine years old, which isn't quite what evolution seems to have had in mind for adults. So yeah, fragility seems to be the way we're steering ourselves as a species, rather toughness...

There was a pretty interesting conversation in my C-Sem about sexual selection and how it's changed evolution. It's funny to think about what traits we're breeding into the species by our choices, too, not just how the environment is acting on us.

Name:  spoon
Username:  spoon@hc
Subject:  shaving (hee heee...)
Date:  2003-10-09 18:16:55
Message Id:  6868

Julia's point on shaving and the evolution of a hairless human race is an interesting one... I'm trying to research a paper on Lamarckian vs Darwinian evolution right now, and there's a point that this discussion brings to mind. This is completely tangential so I apologize, but it's a silly kind of thought and it's almost fall break.

Let's take to the extreme the assertion that beauty demands hairlessness, and imagine that hairlessness is an important trait for attracting mates. When we talk about future populations being hairless as a result of this desire for beauty, it reflects a Lamarckian school of thought, whereby the organism can affect what its offspring look like by desire or use/disuse (in this case, the shaving/'disuse' of hair). Darwinians, on the other hand, would understand the evolution of hairlessness as a result of the genes that cause this phenomena being reproduced with greater success, with no causal input from the individual.

Shaving is a way for 'hairy' people to get around their 'obstructive' genes by allowing them to change the expression of this beauty trait. So these genes are, all things being equal, being reproduced with the same success as hairlessness genes. When you think about it this way, what shaving is actually doing is ensuring that the population doesn't become hairless.

So the fact that beauty standards are unattainable says a lot about the point of them. :/
Name:  Shafiqah Berry
Subject:  Wow!
Date:  2003-10-09 20:33:13
Message Id:  6870
Okay, so was everybody like um completely amazed when we discussed actual science on wednesday. i myself looked up from an extremely engrossing crossword puzzle, to find Professor Grobstein discussing atoms and elements and my favorite thing; the periodic table. well, favorite thing as far as science goes. i loved it, isotopes and protons isn't it incredible that there is so much diversity in the world that it took about 50,000 years for the human race to pull it together in a single chart, and there may be more out there too! imagine about a hundred elements making up the whole world. whooooa.... one three hour lab per week about 88*3 bucks ( according to Professor Cookson), one crossword a day, free in the metro newspaper, but learning that i have gold in my body PRICELESS!!
Name:  Maria
Date:  2003-10-09 22:39:22
Message Id:  6873
I guess one of the strange issues about human evolution is that in all other species the better situated and adapted an organism is the more it reproduces. This isn't the case with humans. Those who have education, health care, who are financially stable and who are 'best equipped'to have thier offspring flourish (please don't think I mean that those who have education are at any level INHERANTLY better, just that their situation is better in terms of keeping a kid healthy and giving them the education etc to do well) often have fewer children. Being a responsible person now for many people includes only having as many kids as you can care for. I mean, in terms of sending out offspring who will thrive and flourish it would make more sense for doctors and lawyers and bankers in America to have more kids than a destitute HIV positive woman in Sub-Saharan Africa, but it seems like the opposite is what occurs. I mean, when my ancestor people came over from Ireland back in the day they all had like 10 kids apiece but as each generation was able to get a better education and to have more "successful" lives in terms of employment and quality of life, the number of offspring they had dropped. Okay, that isn't a great example becasue each generation also became less devoutly Catholic which probably had quite an effect...but still, the principle holds true..
Name:  spoon
Username:  spoon@hc
Subject:  Against Nature
Date:  2003-10-10 08:05:45
Message Id:  6875

Maria, an article that may interest you, and anyone interested by the idea of altruism and other behaviors that don't appear to help the individual:

Pinker, Steven. (Oct 1997). "Against Nature". Discover v18 n10 p92(4).

The full text is available online from Tripod - search Discover under Journal Title. Good, short article, might generate one of those "Eureka" moments.
Name:  Justine
Date:  2003-10-10 08:10:13
Message Id:  6876
I just find it interesting that everything is made up of the same things. I guess I always realized this but if differences just come about because of structural organization is it possible that if we could figure out how to control the organziation we can create life? Does the creation of life only come from the organization of certain molecules and atoms? I know we discussed life essence and how it really does not exist but it just seems weird to me that if you stack enought objects you'll get a dog and that there is nothing that makes it a dog. I think its weird that you can just as well have a dog as to not?:
Name:  Katy McMahon
Subject:  imposed hierarchy
Date:  2003-10-10 16:15:35
Message Id:  6879
I'd like to post in response to Maria's comment, which got me thinking about species being "better" than other species. Isn't strange that we consider ourselves such an improvement on apes and the like because we walk and talk? We go around acting like we have evolved beyond them, forgetting too that they went through their own evolutionary processes to arrive at where they are. If anything we are so much more poorly adapted to our environment because we have had to manufacture all of these other things (not just cars, heating, and air conditioning but even just basic houses and clothing) in order to survive. Of course, if we considered these things extensions of ourselves, we really aren't so poorly adapted after all...
Name:  Nomi
Username:  nkaim@brynmawr
Date:  2003-10-13 17:22:48
Message Id:  6894
Katy McMahon's comment started me thinking about human toughness vs. vulnerability. How evolutionarily "fit" are we?

When I was a child, my mother explained to me that people had to perform more frequent and thorough hygeine than other animals because our bodies had forgotten how to clean themselves. Long ago, people had discovered how to bathe and groom themselves -- and so their bodies' natural self-cleaning mechanisms had given way to conscious, social hygeine. I remember feeling extremely irritated with these human ancestors because of whose prissy perfectionism I was now obligated to bathe and brush my teeth every day, whether or not I cared to. If only those people hadn't been so hygeing-conscious -- I could be rolling around and drinking muddy water along with my dog.

I think my mom has a point in that human beings' development of techniques for bathing, brushing teeth, purifying water and food, and removing waste products probably corresponded with a decrease in the strength of their bodies' natural immune systems. Following the flow of evolution, this may have occurred because imunologically-deficient offspring who would normally have died survived, in conditions of increased sanitation, and produced similarly deficient offspring. Or, aspects of the immune system that were no longer in use -- no longer needed, due to increaed hygeine -- may ceased to replicate or become vestigial though new generations. (I don't know how this would work, but I know it does work -- somehow. Body parts that are not used eventually stop functioning. Hence, the human vomeronasal organ -- the "sixth sense organ" -- is, at best, pretty darn weak.)

But however it came about, my feeling is this: We human beings are environmental wimps! I agree with Katy that gorillas are much more suited to live in the natural world than we are. So are all other living things! No living creature, other than a human, depends on heat or air conditioning or cars or computers -- not to mention beautifully purified food and water and daily bathing resources! No other life form requires such a narrow temperature range in which to live, depends so heavily, for its health, upon both fire and ice. Only human beings could stick themselves out in the wild -- with some "basic" human inventions, no less -- and call it "Survivor." Other organisms call it "Life."

It is true that other organisms don't always survive the "Life" game. The very nature of evolution depends on some of them dying. Human beings have, in a way, "outsmarted" or "evaded" the game of life by developing methods of hygeine and medicine that raise our survival rate far above what earth's processes of evolution meant for it to be. Hence the glories of overpopulation and diminishing resources ... but I digress. My point is, we human beings may be surviving in greater percentages than chimps (and we may not -- I'm not sure), but if you took away all of our wonderful human inventions, we'd be dead in a second. All of us! We simply couldn't survive on raw, dirty food. Our bodies can't handle that anymore.

In my anthropology class we discussed the use of tools as (possibly) unique to primates. Humans use the most tools; we depend on them for everything! It occurs to me, though, that while tools allow people to accomplish more, at the same time they gradually, over time, diminish our bodies' natural capabilities. For example, primitive man stopped cracking nuts open with his teeth when he discovered how to smash them with rocks. Brilliant! Now he could open more nuts faster, and could get those thick-shelled speciments that were formerly inacessible. Now that they could get more food in less time, our ancestors could focus on developing other tools ... but their descendents' teeth, having never had to crack nuts, were not as strong. And the teeth of their descendents' descendents were even weaker ... and so on. Now, we have to brush our teeth and can't bite into hard objects without fearing major dental work. We have to fill in our molars with shiny white sealant. What of "nature's" sealant? It is not good enough for us anymore.

And so the story continues ... until today. By protecting ourselves and making life easier and more convenient, we are, essentially, grinding down the tougher fibers of our beings.

So, what's going to happen when we take one of our hairless descendents and stick him back out in the snow?

Name:  megan williams
Username:  Anonymous
Subject:  "better" species
Date:  2003-10-18 21:53:56
Message Id:  6916
Considering that humans are on an extinction tract and the fact that there is little variation in humans as a species in whole, i dont really understand either why we consider ourselves to be better adapted. If we were left out in the world how it was truly evolved before man-made changes, who would survive better, a modern ape or a modern man? Humans exist in the world which we have created, the buildings, cars, food, etc. Apes, as well as other animals, exist in the world which they have been given, the trees, ground, foraging for food. We are only better adapted to the world as we have changed it, not to its original form.

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