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Darwin, ha ha

Darwin, ha ha By Graeme Stemp-Morlock "Charlie's Angels": students pose with a Darwin figure. Courtesy of Colin Purrington The evolution of every living organism on the planet—with all its social, religious, and scientific ramifications—might not seem like a laughing matter. But to many scientists, it is. One scientist who has given evolution something to sing about is Richard Milner. The author of "Darwin's Universe: Evolution

By | May 1, 2009

Darwin, ha ha

By Graeme Stemp-Morlock

"Charlie's Angels": students pose with a Darwin figure.
Courtesy of Colin Purrington

The evolution of every living organism on the planet—with all its social, religious, and scientific ramifications—might not seem like a laughing matter. But to many scientists, it is.

One scientist who has given evolution something to sing about is Richard Milner. The author of "Darwin's Universe: Evolution A to Z" and former editor of Natural History magazine at the American Museum of Natural History is also the creator of the one-man opera "Charles Darwin: Live & In Concert."

Over the past decade, Milner has sung about Darwin's discoveries, the Scopes Monkey trial, and even Stephen Jay Gould to audiences around the world. With the onset of the Year of Darwin (marked by his 200th birthday last February and the 150th anniversary of On the Origin of Species in November), Milner is busier than ever with bookings in New York City, London, Boston, Chicago, and Washington.

With musicals, stickers, and comic books, who needs textbooks?

Similarly, for the past five years, Colin Purrington, an associate professor of biology at Swarthmore College, Pa., has been using humor to teach evolution to non-science students.

In 2004, a Cobb County, Ga., evolution court case resulted in stickers placed in textbooks warning: "This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered." So Purrington decided to print mock textbook disclaimer stickers of his own. One of his favorite reads, "This book claims that evolution is not fully accepted by scientists because it is just a theory. The author hopes to confuse you into equating scientific theory with cockamamie theory."

After his Web site, with its mock textbook disclaimers, received over 3 million hits, he launched a sticker campaign called "Darwin has a Posse." The campaign was modeled after the "Andre the Giant has a Posse" design by Shepard Fairey, who also drew the "Hope" poster of Barack Obama used in 2008's presidential elections. Five years into the project, he's printed out a couple thousand stickers to send all over the country. To honor the 200th birthday of Darwin, Purrington has been working feverishly to produce "Tree of Life" tattoos and even giant cardboard cut-outs of Darwin that people can pose beside.

Another scientist who says evolution can be fun is Jay Hosler, an associate professor of biology at Juniata College in Huntington, Pa., who is also the cartoonist behind a Darwin comic book called The Sandwalk. As a self-professed "doodler," Hosler found a niche drawing biology-inspired comics for his campus newspaper during graduate studies. Upon reading On the Origin of Species, "the book immediately moved me in its simplicity and clarity, so I read a biography of Darwin and was doubly inspired by his life."

Hosler decided to write Sandwalk as an effort "to protect the image of the man and as a way of conveying to the world what a human individual he was." Sandwalk chronicles Darwin's daily stroll along his "thinking path," during which he starts to hear voices. He discovers that they are coming from follicle mites in his eyebrow, who have built up an entire mythology of creation with him as the creator.

The bulk of the book is a mixture of slapstick humor (there's a debate about why follicle mites don't have anuses), and serious discussions where Darwin tries to dispel the mite mythology and explain his theory of natural selection.

"He's replacing myths with the truth, or at least the truth as best we understand it," said Hosler, "and finding the beauty in nature."

The book is typically used in philosophical and biological discussions in college courses, but you can find a copy at your favorite bookstore or online book retailer. Initially, Hosler worried that his irreverent treatment of such a serious individual was inappropriate; however, his worries were assuaged by a letter from Darwin's great-great-grandson, Randal Keynes. Keynes said that his famous ancestor kept a copy of Mark Twain's "The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" on his nightstand because he was a fan of that type of humor, and probably would have enjoyed the comic.

Courtesy of Mahandra Rodriguez and Swarthmore College
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Comments

Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 2

May 6, 2009

While I admire The Scientist greatly for its education, news, and insights, I am usually at odds with the editorial leanings. Biology tries really hard, but in certain areas it will always be a soft science. Advocacy of evolution as the answer to an unknowable question, which can never be tested, is merely an attempt to bestow the imprimatur of a greater respectability. To the extent that the idea of evolution defies physical laws, and that its proponents engage in gainsaying and straw man arguments, rather than rational discussion, it is exposed as a faith system. Advances in biotechnology do not require any belief in a faith system. We need to be able to examine data dispassionately. Despite going toe-to-toe in a good natured bout with the Christian rock phenomenon as this article intimates, evolutionists today have become the modern inquisition, constantly grinding axes and showing anger towards their colleagues and towards the general public. Why? Is the legitimacy inherent in the physical sciences that alluring to them, or do they want to be recognized as the high priests of this one philosophy? My advice to those believers: if evolution is indisputably correct and it brings sense and order to all of the wonders in the natural world, then there is nothing to be ashamed of ? live and let live..
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 1

May 6, 2009

My comment goes in response to the previous one ?Religious wars?. I just want to say some things that might help the person that posted the comment to think in terms of a real science. First, it is so curious how you mention ?Biology (...) will always be a soft science?. I was just reading the Science magazine the other day when I realize that 70-80% of the articles were about biology (genetics, biochemistry, evolution, etc.). Of course I thought it was just this specific issue of the magazine. Guess what? I was wrong. Do you want another example? Check how many new scientific journals based on peer-review articles have been released in the last 10 years? I can guarantee that +/-80% of them are dedicated to some field of biology. So, if you want to talk about a ?soft science?, my friend, you will have to write about something else. Second, Darwinism, as the current most accepted evolutionary theory, is the concept that unifies the biological sciences. I really don?t know which ?unknowable question, which can never be tested? that you are talking about, but if you are talking about how Darwinism can never be tested with scientific methods, I have to say that you are very well uninformed. The Synthetic Theory of Evolution, which has Darwin?s idea as core, has been put through millions of scientific tests and hasn?t been rejected yet. If you want to use Popper?s philosophical concepts of testable and rejectable theories and hypothesis, Darwinism is one of the best examples. This is the evolutionist?s ?rational discussion? that you can?t see, obviously (either because of your personal beliefs or because you are about to publish a new scientific theory based on natural causes that defeats evolution). Third, how come you suggest that evolutionists should go ?toe-to-toe in a good nature? with Christianity, or any other religion, if these religious segments are not science? I really believe that your unfortunate comment here came from the fact that you don?t understand what?s going on. If evolutionists are ?constantly grinding axes and showing anger? is because someone is trying to say that a religious concept, such as the Creationism, is a real science, and worse it?s an alternative theory for Darwinism. Well, that both concepts are in opposite sides, there?s no doubt. However, using non-scientific explanations to create a theory that fits well to the Christian belief is absolutely unacceptable. Can you see the difference now? God is a matter of religion or personal belief, not of science. If you believe in the Creator, this is great, but don?t expect to find Him on science because so far the scientists haven?t found any evidence of His existence. In anyways, people are free to believe in Him or not, however, they cannot contradict a well-established scientific theory with another so-called ?theory? that invokes supernatural explanations. Creationism is not science and can?t ?go toe-to-toe in a good nature? with evolution as far as scientific theories go. This is the reason for the apprehension of the evolutionists. If you want to call it a ?religious war?, you can do it, but it?s obvious that you don?t see the nature of the problem.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 2

May 6, 2009

It is not obvious to me that Creationism and evolution are on opposite sides. This is just another straw man argument of which evolutionists are extremely fond. If evolutionists can ridicule creationism, in any form, often enough and loud enough, then the argument is won, right? Sorry, that is a fallacy of logic. I see evolution on par with religion; it is a faith system, and it is an encumbrance to true scientific advancement. Perhaps the shear volume of biology-related journal articles is a testament to the endless rework required to make up for false assumptions and conclusions brought about by the belief in evolution. And, to the extent that any person can rattle off the nuances of evolutionary scripture, only attests to one?s level of indoctrination.\n\nA true scientist would freely admit to not knowing, and by that admission would give room to the free flow of ideas and philosophies. Live and let live. Evolutionists instead, resort to ultra-defensive tactics, engaged with such fervor as to put any popular televangelist to shame. The belief in spontaneous manufacture, sustenance, and transformation of life seems to me to violate the physical law of entropy, just as much as any belief in a creator. Neither one of these beliefs can be proved right or wrong. To the extent that biologists want to mandate one belief system over another, simply to underpin their science stretches the boundaries of credulity. \n
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 2

May 15, 2009

Here in Europe, and in Italy, we always take science seriously, but I must admit I enjoyed the article and the video and, given the fact many people over there seem to have a very blurred idea of what science and religions are (see the comment "boundaries of credulity") it is really to welcome this way to popularize Darwin and Evolution.\nWe always wonder why religious people over there complain about the closed mindedness (at least that's what they seem to suppose) of science when their religions are always based on unchangeable and absolutely true dogmas. If they want to discuss evolution, well, let us discuss their dogmas too, with scientific evidence (too bad that way, with the scientific methods they are so keen to mention, mostly without understanding what it is, it would be very difficult to show the existence of even a single god).
Avatar of: john toeppen

john toeppen

Posts: 52

May 15, 2009

If the images from the Hubble have not impressed you, then you must not be paying attention. If the path of ongoing creation as manifested by evolution has not left you with the feeling that there is more than what we know, then you suffer from arrogance. The scale of the universe is so spacious and ancient that our human minds cannot grasp the reality in which we live. It must be fear and superstition that would compel people to accept as truths the mythologies of wandering and lost people when scientific data is getting better every day. \n\nI suppose that many people feel that science is pulling the rug out from the security that consensus and shared belief might offer. Many of us fell that the force of life itself is the closest thing to a ?God Force? that we will ever see. Our quest for truth does not offer the eternal ?get out of jail free card? that religious belief provides. But we do not have to wait to become one with the force of creation either, for it is within all life already.\n
Avatar of: Mike Brennan

Mike Brennan

Posts: 11

May 15, 2009

To the author of Boundaries of Credulity\nIf you look up a definition of Creationism, I think you will find that it expressly includes aspects that are opposed to the Theory of Evolution (TOE). (NOTE: the concept that God is not bound by a literal interpretation of Genesis, and could work His will through evolution is not counter to TOE, but is rejected by all self-identified Creationist I?ve talked to over the years). I find that the ridicule aimed at Creationism usually comes about because its adherents wish to have it presented as a scientifically sound theory, which it most manifestly is not (as has been determined in a number of court cases). \n\nYour contention that, "Perhaps the shear volume of biology-related journal articles is a testament to the endless rework required to make up for false assumptions and conclusions brought about by the belief in evolution." is rather interesting. By that same logic, the shear volume of Christianity-related writing, past and present, would be evidence of the false assumptions and conclusions of that belief system. I have to admit that I find your contention that "?, to the extent that any person can rattle off the nuances of evolutionary scripture, only attests to one?s level of indoctrination." is quite funny. I can am a nuclear engineer, and I am confident that my understanding of the nuances of my field greatly exceed yours, but I reject the implication that this means I am indoctrinated as opposed to educated and knowledgeable. \n \nAs for ?A true scientist would freely admit to not knowing, and by that admission would give room to the free flow of ideas and philosophies.?, I think you will find that those that argue the evolution side seldom claim to know everything; merely quite a lot and with good support. I think you will find that they are not against the free flow of ideas, but they are not always interested in re-hashing things that have been covered many, many times already. And they are especially not interested in accepting as equally valid concepts such as Young Earth Creationism that has been demonstrated to not fit all the observed facts.\n \nTOE stands as the current best model explaining the observed diversity of life on Earth. It states that the observed diversity can be explained by a process of reproduction with random modification acted upon by selective pressures. It is a robust theory that has been useful in placing observations in the field into context and predicting outcomes in controlled settings. \n\nIf you wish to mount a challenge to TOE, there is an established path: Find a theory that better fits the observations.\n
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 11

May 17, 2009

Citing scientific data and facts does not make one their owner, or their master. If one can be honest and objective, the more one knows, the more questions one should have. This is particularly true about evolution. Consider that the same people who tried to foist the trickery of alchemy on the world are now the same people who are promoting evolution. They were not the holy mollies of their day. They were hucksters of science, just as evolutionists are. It was not a big leap from the transmutation of metals to the transmutation of life. \n\nThe conceptions behind evolution predate Darwin. He was merely the one who made it sound intelligent enough for others to be fooled. Believe me, people want to be fooled. Witness the person who will not give up his faith in evolution without being presented with a different faith ? oops, theory. Listen to yourselves! Do you actually consider that you are smarter than any religion believer, because I can?t fathom a difference? \n\nTo someone who tells me that evolution is proved because the existence of god has never been proved, I say what do you not understand about logic? As a rule, evolutionists look down their noses at Creationists or other religion believing folk. Evolutionists want to tell them that it is okay to believe in their god, but you must also believe in evolution. Everyone knows that this is just more trickery, merely bait and switch. Evolutionists will be the first to declare that the proper way to observe the wonders of the universe is that god has never been proved to exist. Which of these groups is fixated on religion? \n\nThere is a fundamental reason why evolution will always face opposition, and it has nothing to do with the standard religious refrain that evolution offers no hope while religion does. Quite simply, science does not support evolution; it just does not make objective sense. Complexity never arises spontaneously, let alone bit by bit in a progressive fashion, to ever higher and more energetic states. \n\nEvery observation points to a universe in the process of racing towards its lowest energy state. It is a physical law. Life and its perpetuation on Earth is that island of opposites. It?s too obvious an observation. And through their god or gods, throughout time people are acknowledging that there is another force, which we have yet to fully learn about or explore, that has brought this crucible of wonder together for us. If our scientists would present the data without spin, it could be recognized only as an intelligent design.\n\nAn uneducated person might need the faith of evolution to help make sense of it. I feel sorry for those who do, just as I feel sorry for someone who insists to me that the universe is 6000 years old. However, these are both faith systems and as such, their adherents should learn to coexist. Live and let live.\n
Avatar of: john toeppen

john toeppen

Posts: 52

May 18, 2009

The nature of life is syntropy and not entropy. Life obviously works according to the laws of physics. Living things become more organized and complex at the expense of sunlight being converted to food, etc. And it is also clear that life begets life, that life forms have become more complex, and that the icing on the cake is that culture has formed, and this also grows and changes. This ongoing process of creation is intrinsic within the nature of life itself. I, personally consider this to be the god force. How it began is an interesting topic. but is a separate topic from the fact that this is what is happening now, and is revealed in the fossil records of life on our planet.\n\nRegarding how this might happen on its own is certainly not entirely clear. Not because this is impossible or improbable, but because there are many possible mechanisms. Dynamic equilibriums are the most likely common underlying mechanism. Heating and cooling cycles, wetting and drying, and ongoing mixing and cycling of a variety of amino acids that were generated by electrical discharges seem to be likely causes for the origins of life. We simply don?t know all of the answers to the questions that we have yet to clearly frame. This process of progressive revelation is part of the process of the creation of culture and science. We don?t know the whole truth; we are seeking it there is no final answer. One of my biggest complaints about beliefs is the presumption that we do not have to look any further because we are arrogant and think that we already have all of the answers, when we have even failed to ask the right questions.\n\nEntropy is a prevalent force in the mechanics of the universe. The Gibbs free energy equation is also an important part of thermodynamics. The Gibbs conditions rely on reversible processes, but not all processes reverse. Some materials may latch into stable states after repeated cycling over long periods of time. Amino acid soups dehydrating after splashing on rocks only to be wetted and dried again seems like a fine way for organic polar complexes to form. The fact that a handful of coins will organize into stacks after being shaken indicates that disorganized systems can become more organized after random energy has been imparted to the system. Before things can fall into place they first have to be shaken gently. Perhaps we should do that for each other as well.\n
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 11

May 19, 2009

I enjoy the new tone. It made me ask what all the fuss was about if some old school board somewhere tries to instill independent thought in its students by putting stickers on textbooks. The way any cockamamie idea takes root is by ensnaring the next generation at a very young age. Most modern evolutionists were not exposed to any different ideas in their youths, and are thus compelled to cling onto their delusions. It gets worse, because propagating these ideas is essential to validating their life choices. Think, how is this different from most religions?\n\nSyntropy sounds like entropy, but the two are unrelated. Syntropy is a design characteristic similar to the how it makes sense to a landscaper to line up groupings of shrubs in order around a house. Since the idea of evolution is born of chaos spawning a vast multitude of random possibilities, I tend to view syntropy as a defining pillar against evolution. As to the coins in a box idea, under what circumstance can we envision shaking a shoebox of ten quarters and finding that they have all lined up perfectly? It might be more likely than a natural process producing a bioactive amino acid.\n\nLife begets life. The correct observation, even from the fossil record, is that life begets life after its own kind. Nevertheless, the statement life begets life is a powerful one, and it is yet another argument against evolution. Where did life begin? Why it must have begun from life, not chemical soup. \n\nThere needs to be much more critical and independent thought. For that to happen, scientists of today need to shelve their allegiance to dogma and make room for other ideas. Sure it will get messy and there will be a multitude of dead ends. Sound familiar? Unlike the mythology surrounding random processes, we can harness our rational minds to a more honest appreciation, if not understanding, of the world around us. Live and let live.\n
Avatar of: Rama Dey-Rao

Rama Dey-Rao

Posts: 3

May 19, 2009

It was an unexpected treat to attend a display of original books, art work and paraphenalia from Darwin's work. In a little hall next to the Independence Hall this delightful display was a treasure!

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