Monday, March 27, 2006

Biology Class

Just finished my first biology class of the quarter. It was actually pretty entertaining. Today, of course, was only an introduction, talking about biology and so forth. The teacher kept saying that evolution is the basis of biology, the golden thread that runs through it, without which nothing at all can make any sense, discovered by Darwin based on observation, totally proven, etc, etc, etc. It could just have been my filtering, but I got the distinct impression that she was being just a little defensive. I was enormously entertained; I felt like I, as a representative of backwards religious-right extremism, ought to have been jumping up and shouting "Heresy! Heresy! Burn her!" or something, just so as to fulfill her apparent expectations. Which is funny, since I actually don't find evolution problematic at all, religiously. Based on my understanding of the whole Bereishit thing, especially as read by Dr. Schroeder (sp?) in Bereishit and the Big Bang, etc, it really isn't a problem. And even if it was, I doubt that I would be so horribly offended by even hearing it suggested. Nor, most likely, is there anyone trying to force intelligent design into private university curriculums. But, nonetheless, she was most adamant about the whole subject.
A more interesting point raised was the question of "What is life?" In the scientific sense, not the metaphysical. We came up with no definition that didn't apply to computers, except for "possessing a genetic blue-print", which applies to dead people. I suppose some combination of factors might be necessary- possessing genetic blue-print and responding to stimuli. I think that discussions like this are fascinating because it seems like a question of trying to put words to a vague concept that everyone has, but then you get the most fascinating nafka minot on those edge cases- viruses, AI, point of death questions. The process has a rhythm of its own- definition, counter-example, re-definition, edge case, and so forth. Very legalistic, very gemara actually. Fun stuff. But not really the sort of thing you're going to come to conclusions about in a biology class. Still, for an introduction, it's at least as interesting as reminding us all why evolution rocks.


Irina Tsukerman said...

It's funny how she's so adamant, considering that evolution is a theory, albeit a very convincing theory. : )

Richard said...

The point is, evolution is a theory. It satisfies the scientific criteria, and after all this time, there has been no counter-example, no dis-proof.
Theories are extremely difficult to prove; but a correct theory ought to be falsifiable and yet no counter-example can be found.
This seems to be true of the Theory of Evolution

Tobie said...

I'm pretty comfortable with buying evolution, as is most of the scientific establishment, I think. Which is why it entertained me how adamant she was. I mean, she ought to know that she's preaching to the choir for the most part.

e-kvetcher said...


Are you into Karl Hopper?

e-kvetcher said...


As an aside, I, for one, am extremely uncomfortable with Schroeder's science.

For starters see here

Tobie said...

Well, I'm certainly not a physicist and I don't feel at all qualified to judge in the Schroeder controversy. I mean, the objections sounded valid enough, but so did the original points when I read them, so who am I to judge? I do, from a purely layman's point of view, trust Perakh a bit less for his rather snarky insults to Dr. Schroeder's competance whenever he dumbed things down for his audience. But that, of course, is not even a second cousin of any actual understanding of the matter.
The point is, my faith isn't based on a faith in Schroeder. I think that he is an intelligent man with an interesting theory. If it's true, wonderful. If not, I'm not heart-broken. I'll either find another theory or admit that I don't know the answers, neither of which is going to kill me. And in either case, I don't think that my faith is going to contradict contemporary biology to such a degree that I must 1)reject simple scientific theories as heresy or 2)block my ears from hearing the whispers of rationality lest my faith be shattered.

e-kvetcher said...


Regarding Schroeder, like I said, it was an aside. I also feel ill qualified to judge in these battles, though I had taken a fair bit of college level physics in my day.

I did want to respond to your point about your teacher being a little too defensive. As I am sure you're well aware, the history of scientific inquiry has long been affected very negatively by the Catholic Church for the last 2000 years and by the fundamentalist Protestants in this country. The attack on evolution is a well coordinated, politically and religiously motivated effort to blur the line between church and state. Check out the funding sources for the main ID supporters - it is not very hard to follow the trail. It is not a question of competing scientific theories because otherwise it would have been fought in the peer reviewed journals and not in the courtroom. I for one do not want to be taught Christian religious dogma in my science classes. So in my opinion, being a little defensive is justified.

Mike said...

By the way Tobie it's Aviezer who wrote that book I think.

Tobie said...

Oh...oops...I think that Schroeder wrote a Genesis and the Big Bang and I got them confused. Or something like that.