Understanding Evolution

Evolution is simple, but often misunderstood.

First, a quick note about religion. Creationists have become a loud voice in social media and elsewhere. So much so, that some Christians assume their own denomination opposes evolution, even if it does not. “..of Americans in the 12 largest Christian denominations, 89.6% belong to churches that support evolution education”1 and yet some members of those faiths aren’t aware of this. Perhaps it’s because church leaders who support evolution don’t realize it’s unclear, and don’t think to inform their congregations about their views on science. Of course everyone has their personal view on the topic, but if the views of your church concern you and you have questions, talk to your minister. You may be surprised.

What is evolution? It is a natural consequence when organisms live in an environment. Individuals who do best at coping with their environment are more apt to reproduce, making the genes of those best at surviving more common. There is no goal to evolution. An individual may die before reproducing, due to poor adaptation or just chance, but statistically those who are better at surviving and reproducing will be more apt to pass on their genes. Over short periods of time, this can cause subtle changes in the population. Over extremely long periods of time, it can cause the entire variety of life we see on earth.

Long eared puppyPeople understand a dog breeder can breed hounds with long ears, until they get puppies with even longer ears. This is evolution through artificial selection, not unlike evolution through natural selection. But some people have more trouble picturing the evolutionary transition between species. One stumbling block is our conception of time. As an individual, we’re lucky if we live 100 years. So trying to comprehend over 3,000,000,000 years of evolution on our planet boggles the mind. Over that amount of time, organisms can develop massive changes, far more than a puppy with really long ears.

Another stumbling block is our concept of a species. As human language developed, we named organisms in our environment, particularly species there were helpful or harmful. When early man spoke of a bear, or an apple, he wanted his family to know what he meant. Each particular species seemed unchanging to them, and in many ways it still does to us. But upon further study, we find that populations flow and change, and defining a species is somewhat arbitrary. Some people believe evolution takes place only within a kind, not between different kinds–but the flow of genes is continuous. There’s no exact point where one kind ends and another begins, through time, or even in current populations.

In the June 2008 Scientific American article “What Is A Species?” 2 Carl Zimmer talks about how populations of gray wolves and red wolves have been collectively classified as one, two, three or more species. Some wolves are also interbreeding with coyotes, bringing their genes into the wolf population, as well. Using Latin taxonomic names like “Canis lupus” may make it seem species identification is set in stone, but even today, naming a particular population is still largely a matter of language and convenience. With the wolves, it became an issue because “endangered species” are protected under our laws. We’re just trying to define the species, so we can follow our own laws. Nature doesn’t recognize these species boundaries, they are artificial.

Manatee image from Kyle Kyle McBurnie, SD Expeditions http://sdexpeditions.com/

Manatee image by Kyle McBurnie,
SD Expeditions http://sdexpeditions.com/

Whether or not those wolves have evolved into different species, you may be thinking they are still all dogs, all one kind (not unlike our puppy with long ears). Perhaps it’s harder to see, for example, how manatees and elephants have a common ancestor. But is it really that hard? Their are toenails on a manatee’s flipper that look like the toenails of an elephant, and other morphological similarities. Their common ancestor probably looked something like the hippopotamus, which is semi-aquatic, although hippos are in a different genetic line.

But we don’t have to rely just on morphology, the fossil record, and speculation to determine how closely different species are related. Today we have the tools to map DNA. We use DNA evidence to solve crimes, to determine who fathered a baby, and to determine how closely different species are related. The more genes are shared, between individuals or between populations, the more closely they are related. All of the life on our planet is interwoven in this way, a diverse and wonderful mosaic.

1. National Center for Science Education: What do Christians REALLY Believe about Evolution?
2. What Is A Species?

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Happy Chinese New Year!

chineseny03 On the Chinese calendar the year is 4712, leaving our little western second millennium in the dust! This is the Year of the Sheep, Goat, or Ram. Although considered unlucky by some, people born in the Year of the Goat have many good qualities.

Some people born in the Year of Goat include Steven Wright, George Harrison, Joe Frazier, Leonard Nimoy, Ethan Phillips, Mel Gibson, Gary Sinise, Steve Jobs, Mikhail Gorbachev, John Grisham, Jimmy Page, Barbara Walters, Willem Dafoe, Geena Davis, John Denver, Fabian, Sandra Bernhard, Joni Mitchell, Lynn Redgrave, Jimmy Smits and Boxcar Willie.

Knock on Wood

Are you superstitious? Does superstition fit in with your religious views? Do you actually “believe” your superstitions, or do you feel they are not true but do them anyway?

I’m not religious or superstitious, but there is one superstition I do religiously. Whenever I talk about something that has been going well, and I want it to continue to go well, I knock on wood. I feel even more compelled to do it when things are bad (like a serious illness in the family). If it’s something important, just thinking about it may make me knock wood, even though I didn’t say it out loud. I’m an atheist, I don’t have any religious views that support this practice. I don’t honestly believe it will do any good, but it makes me feel better. I knock on wood because my mother did. She was a devout Catholic, a religion that does not condone superstition.

My husband does consider himself superstitious. He says “rabbit, rabbit” at the beginning of the month, and he doesn’t like me to move certain items in the house when his sports team is doing well. He likes to carry a lucky item. For a while he carried a crystal blessed by a witch, even though he doesn’t believe in that religion, he’s an atheist.

It’s funny, though.. My husband does think you can jinx yourself, but he’d never heard of knocking on wood before. He hasn’t picked it up from me, either. So he’ll talk about something that’s going well say when we’re in the car, and then laugh at me because there is nothing made of wood in the car for me to knock on. He told me he’ll start knocking on wood, when I start saying “Rabbit, rabbit.” /(=∵=)\

E-Cigarettes: An alternative for those who really can’t quit..?

I’ve seen some news stories on the dangers of e-cigarettes. I can’t help but wonder if all the “dangers of ecigs” study funding is from the tobacco companies. Who else would be funding these studies, who else would care?

Sure, if you don’t smoke already, I’m certainly not suggesting you go use ecigs. But for those people who really can’t quit smoking, the ecig alternative seems less dangerous.

My elderly brother had many, many health problems. He started using these, and even though he made this change late in his life, I’m still sure ecigs added months or even a years to his life. His lungs could not take any more damage, he was on oxygen (and before he started using the ecigs, he would still take off his oxygen and smoke on the porch, not often but he did it).

If you smoke, by all means, try every way to stop! But if you still keep going back, and really can’t stop, at least consider using ecigs. I think this alternative could lengthen lives and improve quality of life, and it’s not getting any good press. And I’ve even seen some people post that ecigs helped them quit entirely.

Media/Politics

The U.S. media is shit, which is why you have to listen to others like BBC, Al Jazeera, and smaller sources like blogs. The Daily Show is more trusted than our news channels, and it should be because you are more likely to get the truth. The worst crime isn’t even the lack of information to the public, it’s the fact that reporters have the job of holding government accountable–and they’re steered away from that task, by the huge conglomerates that control our news now. This complicity is as much to blame for the rampant corruption in Washington as the corporate money in politics.

You can get news on the internet, but it doesn’t have the clout of the major news outlets that once helped keep our politicians accountable (particularly the old newspapers). Things like online petitions can help–companies and governments recognize the fact now that real people are signing these–and they have to throw the public a bone once and a while. But still it isn’t the same.

Bowling Team Name Suggestions

I googled bowling team name suggestions, and found similar lists all over the interwebs. I decided to make my own list. I’m in a duckpin league, so there are a couple duck references on this list. A lot of these are just generic team name ideas, not necessarily bowling. :0)

Alien Ninja Pirates

Always Cheat

Average Joes

Bingo

Blind Alley

Boom Goes the Dynamite

Bowling For Quatloos

Bowl You Over

Bumper Bowlers

Chop Chop

Cold Turkey

Couch Potatoes

Deadwood

Ducks in a Row

Evil Penguins

Field Goal

Foul Line Follies

Glory to the Hypnotoad

Good Times Roll

Handicapable

I’ll Roshambo You For It

If the Pins are Rockin

Jerk Store

Missed It by That Much

Moment of Zen

Moon over Parma

Mostly Harmless

My Side Your Side

Never Strikes Twice

Never Tell Me The Odds

No Crying in Duckpin

Old and Bitter

Ooow Shiny!

Operation Fuzzy Dice

Pinned Down

Powerball

Quacks Like a Duck

Red Shirts

Reset

Revolutions

Right Up Your Alley

Running on Fumes

Runs with Scissors

Seven Deadly Dwarves

Sewer Mutants

Small Potatoes

Split Infinitive

Stop, Drop and Bowl

Strike a Pose

Strike Zone

Stuff and Nonsense

Talk Turkey

Team to be Named Later

The 300

The Usual Suspects

Three Strikes

Turkey Shoot

Use the Force

Watch This!

Worst Team Name Ever

Yahtzee

Another idea, use a name inspired by your league night, like Friday Night Lights, or A Case of the Mondays. If you bowl on Wednesday and your team is bad, you could call your team Full of Woe. Or you could use your number of players in your team name, like Four Sheets to the Wind. Take inspiration from your personalities, or your favorite movie title. Whatever floats your boat!

Something bugs me about online petitions..

There was a time, when online petitions were ignored. People thought the names were fake. Corporations and politicians paid no attention.

Today, as more people worldwide join online culture, their voices are being heard. Online petitions are one tool to apply pressure to governments and industries, and help spread awareness about countless issues. I’ve seen a video of my own senator using a stack of online signatures, to help argue a point on the Senate floor. People in power know that ignoring public outcry can lead to protests, boycotts, strikes, being voted out of office, criminal charges, and in rare cases, even revolution.

But there is one antiquated convention, required by almost every online petition I’ve ever signed–a title. You must select Mr, Ms, Mrs, Miss, or Dr from a list, or your signature will not be submitted.

Why do many online petitions require a title? I don’t think it should even be on the form, let alone required. Is a doctor’s opinion more important than mine? But, mostly, I assume they do it as an acceptable way to ask for your gender.

If put “Ms.” I feel like I’m saying, “Hey, Republicans, don’t pay any attention because I will never vote for you anyway!” So that leaves me with the option of “Miss” or “Mrs.” They’re pushing me to tell my marital status, as well. I don’t like this little game with titles, forcing me to cough up information men don’t have to include. I sign a lot of online petitions, and this bothers me every time.

You may be thinking, “No one reads it, anyway.” But that field doesn’t have to be required, it doesn’t even have to be on the form. They must be running demographics on it, otherwise it wouldn’t be there.

I wish they would quit trying to slip this misogynistic practice under the radar. If you’re going to ask, just include check boxes for gender and marital status, for everyone. Don’t require me to include a title.