Friday, February 13, 2009

200 Years of Survival

I wanted to mark Darwin's 200th, but got too busy yesterday. As a present to the old man, I'll put up an old example of artificial evolution that I wrote... oh my... 10 years ago?

It only seems to work on internet explorer, and I'll fix that later, but if you want to play around as a predator, or watch the fruits of pixel sex, switch to IE and take it for a test stroll:

Evolution Toy

If what is going on there is unclear, the instruction manual is here. I like putting the critters on asexual reproduction and automatic hunting and just watch the "genes" change as I radically alter their background... but enjoyment may vary.

I was listening to Dr. Neil Shubin on a podcast yesterday about his book Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body, and it really is an amazing thing, the theory developed by Darwin. Looking back it seems so obvious, as clear as arithmetic, but we're looking back with a good body of transitional fossils and knowledge of genes, and clear mechanisms of passing on this information that will be weeded through by nature, something Darwin did not have. The scope and predictive power of this theory has been remarkable since it's formalization, and it's hard to think of a theory with a similar record of success. Maybe, say, the standard model of subatomic particles' predicting the finding of Z bosons, or the theory of relativity's prediction of the shift in the apparent position of Mercury when viewed near the sun compare.

Lincoln and Darwin happened to have been born on the same day, and I also listened to a podcast yesterday about Lincoln's personal and political transitions on slavery and the rights of citizens with African ancestry (lab work allows for many podcasts :-)). In a way, both men made great discoveries about the human condition. Even if Lincoln wasn't the first to come to his theory (well, arguably, neither was Darwin), he did put in into action, and freed many men and women.

In a smaller and very different way, each big scientific discovery is a sort of emancipation. To avoid misunderstanding :-), I'm not saying freeing slaves is morally equivalent to discovering, say, a new subatomic particle. However, nothing more consistently holds a people from what's right and what they want than ignorance. False ideas about the way the world works, superstitions and such, can be every bit as oppressive as what people impose on each other. Misinterpreting, say, a volcano's natural rhythms as divine emotions can even get people killed. But each transistor shrunk, protein virtually folded, planet found, engine design improved, and fossil unearthed unhitches us a bit from a massive web of human ignorance and allows that much more freedom in ability through understanding. Not that I want to be a complete cheerleader for science, though... Sure, we have abilities and predictive powers today that would look like magic a couple thousand years ago, but there's still the matter of putting that freedom to good use.

Anyway, happy belated Birthday Darwin, and Abraham.

4 comments:

Queers United said...

There were so many things yesterday, freedom to marry, darwin, lincoln.

kevin said...

Man, you've missed out on a week's worth of crazy Daily Universe letters about how Darwinism = Satanism.

You know, I think that some people worry so much about what and where Satan is that they lose sight of what is important.

Anyways, Happy Birthday Charles and Abraham!

Scot said...

It was a busy day QU. They all seemed to have shared territory though.

Kevin, what I don't get is that I thought the LDS church has come out as neutral on evolution? The last statement I saw was quite cautious to not risk too much on young earth creationism, at the least.

Anyway, I recently heard the Vatican officially accepted evolution. It really is a smart move for any modern religion, one that I wish more would make.

kevin said...

Scot, You're right - the LDS church has no official policy for or against Darwinism. Bruce R. McConkie, in Mormon Doctrine, denounced it. Still, David O. McKay thought Darwinism was inspired.

At any rate, a lot of folks around here (students, not professors) believe it to be akin to worshiping Satan, and are very vocally in favor of Creationism. Which is funny, since Creationism, which says that God created the universe, life, and energy from nothing, isn't what the LDS church teaches about the creation of the earth.

Ah well.