My counter has reached zero....and that means it's time to party, to celebrate the birth of the young man (shown in this portrait with his sister) on the right!

Charles Darwin's 200th birthday is indeed time for celebration. Darwin's contributions to the biological sciences are arguably the most significant, in that without evolution, much of biology would be fragmented into different camps of data-gatherers, with no explanatory framework to unite all the stamp-collecting. But, thanks to TENS (the Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection), we can bring the disparate observations together into a single web of great power. Dobzhansky's famous quote says it all.

So, let me take this moment to remind folk of their opportunities today. This evening, as previously mentioned, I'll be attending an evening event sponsored by New Covenant Community Church and the local chapter of Reasons To Believe. As I said to one of my fellow Darwinians, this is my cross to bear. For those not interested in the speculations of creationists, or who don't feel an obligation to attend such, let me commend the following events in and around Fresno:

Darwin Birthday Celebration and Reception

Feb 12th, 2009, 4:00 PM
Downing Planetarium and Museum

Darwin Day Dinner (lecture, "Darwin's Finches")

Feb 12th, 2009, 7:00 PM
Carrow's Restaurant
4280 N. Blackstone (major cross streets: Blackstone and Ashlan)

Darwin's Ideas and the Societal Impact of Evolutionary Biology

Feb 13th, 2009, 3:00 PM
Science II Building, Room 109

There may be more events emerging this month as well, and I'll try to post them as I find info about them. If you don't live in the Fresno area, but you'd be interested in finding a Darwin Day event, have I got a web site for you! Check out Darwin Day Celebration. It has a searchable database of events, and as of this post the list is 371 events in 31 countries. Pretty wild!



To celebrate Darwin, should we celebrate 'Darwinism'?

This op-ed from the Times
says, in effect 'no'. PZ Myers and Jerry Coyne, gasp, agree with one another: they don't like the piece's rhetorical sallies. Well, bully for them, but I have to admit I'm more sympathetic to Carl Safina than they are.

Here's an observation to set my claim in stark relief, a list of the top 20 titles from Amazon.com with the word 'Darwinism' in the title whose central focus is closely related to evolution (I've omitted irrelevant titles, like Richard Hofstadter's 'Social Darwinism in American Thought'.

1) Darwinism and Its Discontents (Ruse)

2) Defeating Darwinism By Opening Minds (Johnson)

3) Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design (Wells)

4) Exposing Darwinism's Weak Link (Poppe)

5) Darwinism (Wallace)

6) Shattering the Myths of Darwinism (Milton)

7) Reclaiming Science From Darwinism (Poppe)

8) Darwinism and Philosophy (Hosle and Islies)

9) Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism (Behe)

10) Moral
Darwinism: How We Became Hedonists (Wiker and Dembski)

11) Tornado in a Junkyard: The Relentless Myth of
Darwinism (Perloff)

12) Darwinism Evolving (Pew and Weber)

13) Neural Darwinism (Edelman)

14) Darwinism Comes To America (Numbers)

15) Darwinism and the Divine in America (Roberts)

16) Created from Animals: The Moral Implications of Darwinism (Rachels)

17) Disseminating Darwinism (Numbers and Stenhouse)

18) Uncommon Dissent: Intellectuals who find Darwinism Unconvincing (Wilson and Dembski)

Darwinism Under the Microscope (Gills and Woodward)

20) Darwinism Applied to Social Goals (Beckstrom)

Three (1,8, 16) are works in the philosophy of biology. Ruse's work also covers much of the history of the 'evo-creo wars', as does 12, 14, 15, and 17.

Wallace's book (5) is basically of historical interest, a facsimile of an 1889 publication.

So how many books does that leave with 'Darwinism' in the title that are contemporary science books, instead of polemics or treatises motivated by interests in history, religion or philosophy?

Three (12, 13 and 20), and they are not concerned principally with documenting or describing mainstream evolutionary biology, but with applications of evolutionary concepts to (respectively) complex adaptive systems, brain function and the social sciences.

The remaining ten, fully half of the twenty, are creationist screeds, mainly from Discovery Institute stooges, highlighted in red. It is worth noting, as well, that these wastes of ink represent seven of the first ten.

I get similar results from searches for 'evolutionism', 'Darwinist' and 'evolutionist'. Very few titles having anything to do with contemporary science. Much about the history and philosophy of biology, discussions of 'social Darwinism' and (of course), a considerable number of Bible-based batshit.

So I think, really, I've made my point. 'Darwinism' has been hopelessly coopted, primarily by the creationists and secondarily by the various academics who study either the historical or present 'controversies' engendered by the cottage industry of creationism within the churches. It can no longer serve a legitimate scientific usage in North America. Let it go, and let those who use it to attack science be forced to wear it, like Cain's mark.


Courtesy of my noble colleague Madhu, here is a link to all six parts of the new BBC special, featuring the justly-renowned David Attenborough!




My Mom and Dad are in New Zealand as I write this, following my father's love affair with antique motorcycles and biking tours. They left Dallas yesterday, had a layover in LAX around 8:00 PST and are now nineteen hours ahead of me. Sometime early this morning my time, if they look out the window, they may have that experience that Steven Stills wrote about:



Did you know that Paul is dead?

Wait...not the guy who actually invented Christianity, the tent-maker. I'm talking about the guy who was in another band before he was in Wings.

No, not the situation comedy.

Well, look, I happen to own a copy of the magazine shown above. I found it rummaging around in the bottom of a shortly-to-be-condemned theatre in downtown Fresno back in the early 80's, in a pile of ridiculous skin mags from the 1960's. I took it, still have it. In retrospect, there were probably a bunch of Bette Pages in the pile that would be worth a lot more money, but I like my grim Beatle mag. It's a hoot if you don't think about it too much, and entirely sobering if you do. The fact is that there was a 'Paul is dead' meme that gained incredibly wide circulation in a very short time, and the more it was denied, the more people believed it.

Anyway, the fascinating Ken Cope left a comment over at Pharyngula got me thinking about this by linking to this presentation by Brian Moriarty. Believe it or not, I knew a lot of this 'lore' already just by osmosis, and I was in second grade when all this happened. Who woulda thunk?



There's a lot of weirdness out in the pews these days. One of the weirder ideas that has gained great currency amongst some Christians (largely evangelicals) is that Christianity, or at least the evangelical version of Christianity, is under assault by the culture, Hollywood, liberal elites, etc.

The truth is that Christians are in the majority in this country, obviously, and that historically that majority has been heavily-privileged in the public square. This practice continues in much of the United States to this day. It's so ingrained in many communities that it's not even questioned. Fresno has been, and probably still is, one of those communities.

Case in point: there is a National Day of Prayer, which I've posted about before. Last spring, I joined other members of the Interfaith Alliance in essentially 'crashing' an evangelical-only party with city government, as a ceremony was held on the steps of City Hall with the participation of Mayor Alan Autry. The purpose was to peacefully make the point that the National Day of Prayer is for all faiths, not just one segment of the Christian community, and that in no way should the local government's actions privilege one house of worship over another. It is a great credit to Mayor Autry that he welcomed the Alliance's participation. We were not invited, but once there, non-Christians were allowed to participate, ending a 16-year tradition of exclusion at this event:

Now it would be wonderful to report that the evangelicals have seen the light, and that they now intend to extend the olive branch of inclusion to all faiths in the community, and (one would think) especially the largest religious denomination in Fresno County, the Roman Catholic Church (there were no Catholics last year!). Yeah, it would be great to report that. Except what is actually happening is that evangelicals have quietly made inquiries as to whether the Interfaith Alliance intends to attend this year's observance. If so, it's been suggested that they may move the National Day of Prayer from City Hall to one of their mega-churches.

I have mixed feelings about this. Obviously, if they change the venue as indicated, they are avoiding the sort of entanglement with religion that leads to Establishment Clause challenges in the courts, and the secular nature of our government is affirmed. That's good, as far as it goes. But how sad is it, that the evangelicals would rather go undercover than risk being caught in public praying with non-evangelicals, or even (gasp) Catholics or (double-gasp) non-Christians?

I mean, they still control the local political apparatus, it's not like a moment of civility with other groups is going to cause their power base to unravel.

See, many of my fellow Christians are used to having a privilege, at being given a leg up on other faiths, and so when someone has the nerve to disagree with them or ask them to revisit the Establishment Clause, they act as if they are having their rights violated...when of course the truth is that the privileging of their views in the public square is likely to violate the sensibilities (and perhaps the rights) of non-believers. It is my unfortunate duty as an American citizen to direct their attention to the Constitution on this point, but often times all that gets through their cognitive filter is 'your religion . . . no'. Which is not the intended message!


It's, like, cabaret music. You know, the kind of cabaret that you might've seen just before the Reichstag fire, but transported through a time warp into the 70's? And played on distorted guitars with solid-state (rather than tube) electronics? And with some clever, off-putting lyrics? Let's not forget the deliberately-minimalist keyboard player's homage to Count Basie.

OK, so it's really hard to describe. Just press play and try not to dance, laugh or frown. Good luck!