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.