OK, people, this is too cruel. I was gone all day yesterday, traveling to the Twin Cities for this Darwin Day event, and the site gets 37,000 visits. Are you all trying to tell me it’s better when I’m not around to clutter it up? If I take off for a week will traffic climb to Daily Kos-like proportions? (There was a link from fark that might actually explain the sudden surge.)
Anyway, I’ll give a quick summary of what I was up to yesterday.
I started with a 3 hour drive to Minneapolis, which was very exciting. High winds, blowing snow, near whiteout conditions. The weather was bad enough that they canceled public schools in the area.
When I got there, we set up in the Bell Museum auditorium. We had about 50 or 60 people show up.
The first talk was by Mark Borrello, a historian of biology, who gave a very good overview of Darwin’s life.
I’ve put a copy of my talk online (pardon the bloated format: blame Microsoft). Since I don’t use much text in my powerpoint presentations, I’ll give a rough overview of the content here. In my introduction, I pointed out a creationist accusation—that we’re “Darwinian fundamentalists” or “Darwinists”—and a claim—that there is no evidence for evolution. The point of my talk was to show that, much as we respect and admire Darwin as a founding father of an important scientific discipline, his theory has been expanded upon in ways he couldn’t even imagine, and that the addition of new information is an ongoing pursuit. There are major themes in evolutionary research—genetics, molecular biology, bioinformatics, genomics, evo-devo—that simply weren’t even on the horizon in Darwin’s day.
I gave a lightning quick, superficial overview of examples of new developments in evolution.
- New fossils, new transitional forms in whale and human evolution.
- Fry et al.‘s work on venom evolution as an example of integrating molecular systematics, analysis of gene expression, and morphology to produce 3 overlapping lines of evidence that support an evolutionary story.
- Suzuki and Nijhout’s work on laboratory selection in Manduca as an example of observed evolution.
- Okabe and Graham’s study of parathyroid origins: combining the use of molecular markers and comparative embryology to demonstrate homology of an organ system.
- Resolving core differences in the body plans of arthropods and chordates, and showing common descent by the shared patterns of Hox gene expression.
My conclusion was to show a pretty squid picture as an example of exotic beauty in nature, and explain that evolution is currently the only explanation that simultaneously explains the diversity and unity of life, and that it is the only explanation we have that is soundly based on the evidence.
The session closed with very short overviews of current research by three biologists in the ecology and evolutionary biology department: R. Ford Denison, Peter Tiffin, and Cynthia Weinig. They were very good, but I think the format was a bit much—after over two hours of talks, it was probably a mistake to put the most technically challenging talks at the very end, when the audience was exhausted.
Finally, I had a short planning discussion about Cafe Scientifique with the Bell Museum organizer, got in my car, cussed out rush hour traffic, got to western Minnesota to discover the roads were still invisible with blowing snow, and got home after a few exciting slides and twirls on powder-covered streets.
Today I’m planning to take it easy, read a bit, and attend the Prairie Home Companion show which will be broadcast live from UMM. You can find out more on the Prairie Home page, listen to it on your local station, and if you’ve got the real audio player, you can listen to it live between 5 and 7 pm Central time today. I doubt very much that he’ll say anything about evolutionary biology or science, but he may poke fun at my university, which is always entertaining.
David Mazel says
You spoke before 50-60 people? Big whoop–according to a story in this morning’s LA Times, Ken Ham has got you beat more than forty-fold, addressing children by the thousands and teaching them to ask raving evilutionist liars like you, “Were you there?”
I didn’t think so, smartypants! But I know who WAS there–God! And God knows everything! So who am I supposed to trust, you or the one who knows everything?
I’d write more, but I’ve got to run off to Bible study.
Check out the LATimes story at http://www.latimes.com/news/science/la-na-creation11feb11,0,1110748.story?coll=la-home-headlines
I note that among the recommended readings is Kirschner & Gerhart. Back in early January you suggested you’d review it as soon as you finished it. How’s that coming along? (poke nudge)
Nice fluff piece. Did Mr. Ham pay the LA Times off to print that? It reads like it was copied out of a brochure. Frankly Mr. Mazel, your mental cowardice is palpable.
I am a Roman Catholic, raised on 12 years of private Catholic education. I DO NOT tolerate the blatant disregard for good science, and the scientists that have spent their lives achieving solutions that have positively helped millions of people all over the world. Likewise I WILL NOT allow you to print your false version of reality and go unchallenged. You cannot mix religion and science, and creationism has no place even challenging evolution.
Your hero Mr. Ham seems to except everything at face value, and is unwilling to scratch the surface and question things. He certainly asks questions, but only to satisfy his own need to have things the way they were, or to enforce his reality (or that of his small group of peers) on others by confusing the real facts. To me, that sounds more like a moral superiority complex than one that challenges preconcieved notions in order to better society.
And you must answer this question: what does questioning evolution really accomplish on a moral level? Only to offer up that life came about by some other means? How does that solve problems here in reality? You are using a religious argument against a scientific one. They are not compatible, and thus not directly comparable.
But let’s get to the real issue: you obviously have no faith in God. For, if you did, you would not feel so vain as to think you are indeed the one that must defend Him. If your version of God is so powerful, he will reveal truths on his teachings alone, and not the machinations of one of his sinning creatures. God’s teachings are great for how wwe treat each other; They do not however provide any guidance on how to conduct scientific research.
I believe it would be safe to assume you vote red, Mr. Mazel. I find this sadly, tragicly ironic, because the religious right has adopted the very social darwinism you (and I) fear, and attempts to sell it as a benign system, using the old mantra: everything is your personal responsibility. Whether you are wise enough to consider it or not, the religious right and its support for this ethos WILL be the downfall of this nation. We are (supposedly) fighting religious absolution, intolerance and ignorance overseas. It would be a tragic irony if it took hold here. Such would be a victory for the terrorism we all seek to eliminate.
I have never heard one democrat, or even one progressive republican, make the case that Darwin’s ideas be integrated into the fabric of society. On the other hand however, the very real, present problems with the republican party – those of unquestioned money, corporate influence, privilege, corruption, power and willful ignorance – will be the end of the US as the world’s righteous, moral, ethical force.
On top of that, your reckless disregard, and frankly allergic, reaction to science is what is forcing our best minds, and our best technologies and opportunites for continued success, overseas. Nothing wrecks a nation faster than a lack of innovation by great minds. All the misplaced religion in the world will not give us better medicine and opportunities to save lives.
In closing, I wholly support PZ Myers and other scientists using the brain God gave them to uncover the real truths about reality. That same brain helps scientists develop the medicines that protect us all and keep us healthy. To me, that sounds like a great use of God’s gifts to us.
You can consider me among the numbers of self-religious, God-fearing and loving people that is not afraid to challenge the religious establishment on its blind use of moral superiority to quash good, sound ideas that are meant to help others and help us understand ourselves. I, and others like me who are increasingly turned off by religious hubris, will continue to challenge you publicly. Your pychological forbears have a history of being wrong – violently so – and I have faith you will be shown to be such as truth marches forward.
Have a good Sunday.
PZ Myers says
It’s awkward. It’s going to be a mixed review.
Wow, David, that’s a fine example of Christian love and kindness your showing us. Jesus would be proud of you.
Ken Ham’s “Were you there?” rhetoric only works with people who worship the Bible as infallible, so save your breath. Were you there when the Bible was written? No. So you have no idea if Genesis was “written by God” or by some lonely scribe half-remembering tales his grandfather told him when he was a little kid.
Perhaps God was “there”, but if he was he left a much more accurate record of events in the ground than he did in a musty set of scrolls.
PZ Myers says
Ummm, I assumed Mazel was being ironic/sarcastic. It’s a little over-the-top insane, don’t you think?
I ventured that thought before I posted, but I felt the Saturday morning need to vent righteous anger in support of truth, *SHOULD* Mazel not have been in the sarcastic vein.
David Mazel says
You got it, P.Z. I might not be a model human being, but at least I’m not a creationist troll. I mean, since when do real creationist trolls call their opponents “smartypants”?
I guess the fact that “over-the-top insane” cannot be distinguished from real creationist rhetoric just shows how bad the situation is.
This only just occurred to me: calling scientists who work on evolution “Darwinists” makes about as much sense as referring to geneticists as “Mendelians.”
LOL Mazel has gotten me. :)
My green colors on this forum show brightly! I wasn’t sure what to think of “smartypants”. I guess I figured the “ignorant” Mazel was being a good Christian by not cursing.
You got me!
But you’re right – there is nothing over-the-top about what you wrote. Just read the talk.origins feedback any month of the year.
Blueindependant: “God’s teachings are great for how wwe treat each other; They do not however provide any guidance on how to conduct scientific research.”
Wow. That’s a pretty strong statement. So, what does provide guidance on “how to conduct scientific research”? Were Dr. Josef Mengle’s actions entirely justified because they were for the “sake of science”?
when confronted in real life with a stupid question like Mazel’s “How do you know? Were you there?” I always turn it around and ask the creationist the same thing and then add, “How do YOU KNOW the authors of the bible were inspired by god instead of being inspired by mind-altering herbs? How do you know these biblical authors weren’t trying to promote a hoax on their really rich enemies, a hoax that has been perpetuated throughout the centuries and become completely out of control? HOW DO YOU KNOW? WERE YOU THERE?”
i didn’t think so.
(yes, i know Mazel was joking).
Godwin’s law in only 12 posts. Congratulations!
Dr. Free-Ride says
I take it that, for believers anyway, the teachings on how to treat others need to be seen as a constraint on scientific research. Doing dirt to other human beings — no matter what the context — is right out.
However, the scriptures don’t lay out guidelines for setting up controlled experiments, doing statistical analyses of the results, etc.
Dr. Free-Ride says
Wonky block quote tags — that “Wow” paragraph is Patrick’s.
The sad thing is that millions of people are being preached every week by messages like those given by Ken Ham. And preachers don’t have Q&A sessions after their sermons where they can be challenged on what they said. Not that it would matter, since the more fundamentalist the congregation, the less critical they are of their church leaders.
What’s even sadder is that the fundamentalist preachers simply ignore the science. They don’t even attempt to refute the evidence. They don’t need to, since no one is going to challenge them. The vast majority of these churches still teach the same YEC nonsense being taught 30, 50, 100 years ago.
For all the efforts being put in by PZ, Panda’s Thumb and Talk Origins to lay out the scientific evidence in meticulous detail, nothing will change until the fundamentalist doctrine of Biblical literalism is overcome.
And that’s not going to be easy since, to these people, if you prove that Genesis didn’t happen, then nothing in the Bible is true and you have just destroyed their faith. That’s what they’ve been told every Sunday since they were kids.
I’m listening for Garrison Keillor to trounce PZ Myers.
Too much music; at this rate we’ll never get to PZ.
When I say God’s teachings don’t provide any guidance on how to conduct scientific research, I mean exactly that. Obviously ethics are still involved, such as with cloning. But that starts getting into the social impacts, i.e. how we treat others.
C’mon – PZ Myers teaches Sunday School at Lake Woebegone High School – is that too hard? Tsk. Keillor has lost his local color touch.
PZ Myers says
And so much religious music! I was gnashing my teeth through much of it.
God I love the Fry et al work on venom/snakes/lizards. It seriously blew me Out. Of. The. Water. The amount of work that went into it must have been phenomenal!
Happy Darwin Day from NZ!
I knew you must have been. I was cringing every time.
ivy privy says
Since i work on crystal structures of biomolecules, I guess I’m a Bragg-art and a Perutzian.
Friday I went to a forum about Evolutionary Biology. I tried to recruit a couple new Steves for Project Steve. I went to a showing of Inherit the Wind. Last night I went to a birthday party for Charles Darwin. Tonight I’ll be attending a showing of A Flock of Dodos
ivy privy says
Yup, the blockquote tag only accepts the first paragraph, unless you do something to fill the ‘blank’ line in between.