For the past few months I have subscribed to the Taxacom email list. I have tried a number of listservs over the years and I have usually regretted it fairly quickly. Most listservs seem to be plagued by off topic posts and flames that take over and waist everyones time. However, I have been pleasantly surprised with Taxacom.
While there are certainly people who have an ax to grind on particular topics, the discourse is as a whole civil and intelligent. As a student, this has been a great learning tool for me. I have been able to sit on the sideline and observe as professors from great universities and directors of important collections from around the world debate issues such as: the definition of a species, phylocode, open source publishing, and many other topics.
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08 June 2010
04 June 2010
03 June 2010
Today I read an article I find quite difficult to digest. The author Michael Reiss is an English bioethicist, anglican priest, and educator. His article in Evolution deals with the relationship between evolutionary biology and religion in an educational setting.
Just to be clear on my own beliefs, I don't know if there is a god or not. If I stop to think about it my guess is yes something probably created the conditions for a universe to form. I don't pretend to know anything more than this and I have not yet run across anything that made me think there must be an involved or active god.
In the first part of his article he attempts to define the "nature" of science. He puts forth the idea that the subject matter of science is limited and that some questions such as: the origin of the universe, nature of love, nuclear vs wind power, etc. should be in the domain of religion, philosophy, or economics. He sums this up with the statement:
"Science is concerned with how things are rather than with how they should be. So there is a science of gunpowder and in vitro fertilization without science telling us whether warfare and test tube births are good or bad."
So I can't discount this... but I also find it hard to accept. I think the reason I find this so difficult is that I am basically an agnostic secular humanist and look to "science" for not only the how things are but also the how things should be. I also don't see how we benefit by dividing the world of ideas into domains to be tackled by different systems of knowledge (natural science, religion, philosophy.) Someone like myself is still going to come to loggerheads with a literalistic Christian who believes in a young earth.
Reiss goes on to discuss his view of the "nature of religion" and then finally gets to the heart of the article that discusses creationism and evolutionary biology in a class setting. This is also the part of the article I simply find unacceptable. He says:
"Creationism can profitably be seen not as a simple misconception that careful science teaching can correct. Rather, a student who believes in creationism can be seen as inhabiting a nonscientific worldview, which is a very different way of seeing the world. One rarely changes one's worldview as a result of formal teaching however well one is taught. My hope, rather, is simply to enable students to understand the scientific worldview with respect to origins, not necessarily to accept it."
To me this is just giving up. Simply because it is hard to change someones mind or to convince someone of the fallacy of long held beliefs does not mean that educators should simply accept errant beliefs in students grasps of a subject. If we were discussing another subject we would not accept this would we? If someone came up with an alternate math system based on religious texts that was disprovable with standard math would we still accept belief in this alternate math after taking an algebra class. I don't think that we would. I think that we would require that our students understand and accept the realities of math as we understand them today.
Despite my negative views of creationism and most especially "intelligent design", I feel that there is room for religion in our understanding of the world. However, I think that it is intuitively obvious that it should be relegated to addressing those questions that science has yet to provide germane answers for.
Reiss, M.J. 2009. The Relationship between Evolutionary Biology and Religion. Evolution 63 (7), 1934-1941
Like most coleopterists I have a soft spot for tiger beetles. These beetles have it all: beauty, interesting behavior, convenient size, and they even give us an excuse for going to the beach. So when I saw an article by Barry Knisley (tiger beetle guru) I was immediately interested.
The article discusses a genetic study of the difficult to diagnose pair Cicindela splendida and C. limbalis. These two species are sympatric in fairly large regions and have been considered valid species that can be separated based on coloration, maculations or setae. Previous studies have even discussed possible paleogeographic history that could have led to the allopatric speciation of these two species.
However, the study done by Woodcock and Knisley shows that we should perhaps look a little closer at these two species as well as C. denverensis. It ends up that when analyzing the mtDNA specifically cob and cox1 these 3 species all sort out as a single assemblage. Furthermore the authors could find no genetic correlation with the geographic source of the specimens. The fact that these species could not be reliably sorted via mtDNA does not by itself prove that these are not valid species; it does though tell us that if they are unique species they have diverged very recently.
This paper shows you just how much work is left to be done with Coleoptera. This is a group of beetles that are as popular as any and yet we still have so much to learn and figure out. Very exciting stuff!
Woodcock, R. M., C. Knisley. 2009. Genetic Analysis of an Unusual Population of the Problematic Tiger Beetle Group, Cicindela splendida / C. limbalis, from Virginia U.S.A. (Coleoptera: Cicindela) using mtDNA. Entomological News 120(4):341-347