The Monkey Cartoon
February 23, 2009

Context is important. I assumed the Obama monkey cartoon was at worst an innocent expression of subconscious racism, and not really worth protesting. But then I saw this list of ten other cartoons by the same guy, and now I’m not so sanguine. He’s a racist misogynist homophobic scumbag, he knew exactly what he was doing with the monkey cartoon, and I hope he loses his job.

Darwin Day
February 12, 2009

cactus

Today is Darwin Day and the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth. I’m no biologist, but I do think the theory of evolution is pretty dandy, and so I’m happy to celebrate it a bit. It is somewhat troubling, however, that people associate Darwin and evolution so closely, so now you hear it called it “Darwinism” or “Neo-Darwinism”. Historically, he was pretty important, but not that important; my impression is that these terms have been primarily popularized by creationists who want to suggest that evolution is just as much a religion as creationism. After all, if both theories are on the same epistemological footing, then who wouldn’t prefer to be created in God’s image?

So, today seems like a very good day to link to this article by Jerry Coyne in the New Republic. It’s actually a book review, but it serves as a pretty exhaustive summary and critique of Intelligent Design and the ongoing battles between atheism and religion, written mostly for an audience of agnostics. And for the later parts of the review, when Coyne overreaches slightly in his argument, Ross Douthat has provided a useful counterargument from the religious perspective.

If you just read one article about evolution today, I’d suggest the one above. But I want to include slightly more of a tribute to the theory. First, here’s an excellent piece of science writing that explains natural selection and places Darwin’s contribution in the proper context. It also makes an unnecessary swipe about which, frankly, I don’t know what to say, namely that economic studies show that rejection of evolution in favor of creationism is correlated with “what might be described as the intensity of the struggle for existence”, i.e. the selection pressure. And I also want to point out that evolution has broader applications than just within biology, and one cool example is genetic algorithms, which use the principle of natural selection to solve maximization problems throughout science and mathematics. A recent contribution of these algorithms can be seen in chemistry, where they led to the creation of a new form of Boron. Just like everything else powerful, however, these algorithms also have downsides.