Baggage cat

Do cats ever get packed into your suitcase?

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Yes, they do!

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Von Daniken analyzed

Skeptical student S E E Quine has written a long article analyzing Erich von Däniken vs. the Egyptians (Part I of “von Däniken vs. all of archaeology”). First she explains that von Däniken can dazzle the unwary general reader; then she explains how she learned a little more and gently takes apart his nonsense for your inspection.

(You can get a nice selection of Von Daniken books if you go to amazon.com and ask for the tag “classic crackpot.”)

Evolution is geneological descent with modification

Evolution is geneological descent with modification, and as such is not concerned with compfort or kindness but only with producing the next generation. However, Biblical texts can, by definition, never be part of science. Science is testable and falsifiable. You can’t set up a scripture in the centre of it and say, “We can’t test this: we must prove that it is true.”

Back to evolution: let’s look for a definition that doesn’t come from a 45-year-old textbook and look at something a little more recent. Here’s one from only 19 years ago:

“In the broadest sense, evolution is merely change, and so is all-pervasive; galaxies, languages, and political systems all evolve. Biological evolution. .. is change in the properties of populations of organisms that transcend the lifetime of a single individual. The ontogeny of an individual is not considered evolution; individual organisms do not evolve. The changes in populations that are considered evolutionary are those that are inheritable via the genetic material from one generation to the next. Biological evolution may be slight or substantial; it embraces everything from slight changes in the proportion of different alleles within a population (such as those determining blood types) to the successive alterations that led from the earliest protoorganism to snails, bees, giraffes, and dandelions.”
—Douglas J. Futuyma in Evolutionary Biology,
Sinauer Associates 1986

It is important to note that biological evolution refers to populations and not to individuals and that the changes must be passed on to the next generation. In practice this means that,

Evolution is a process that results in heritable changes in a population spread over many generations.

This is a good working scientific definition of evolution; one that can be used to distinguish between evolution and similar changes that are not evolution. Another common short definition of evolution can be found in many textbooks:

“In fact, evolution can be precisely defined as any change in the frequency of alleles within a gene pool from one generation to the next.”
—Helena Curtis & N. Sue Barnes, Biology,
5th ed. 1989 Worth Publishers, p.974

When biologists say that they have observed evolution, they mean that they have detected a change in the frequency of genes in a population.

Unfortunately the common definitions of evolution outside of the scientific community are different. For example, in the Oxford Concise Science Dictionary we find the following definition:

“evolution: The gradual process by which the present diversity of plant and animal life arose from the earliest and most primitive organisms, which is believed to have been continuing for the past 3000 million years.”

This is inexcusable for a dictionary of science. Not only does this definition exclude prokaryotes, protozoa, and fungi, but it specifically includes a term “gradual process” which should not be part of the definition. More importantly the definition seems to refer more to the history of evolution than to evolution itself. Using this definition it is possible to debate whether evolution is still occurring, but the definition provides no easy way of distinguishing evolution from other processes.

This is not a scientific definition.

Standard dictionaries are even worse:

“evolution: …the doctrine according to which higher forms of life have gradually arisen out of lower..”- Chambers“evolution: …the development of a species, organism, or organ from its original or primitive state to its present or specialized state; phylogeny or ontogeny”- Webster’s

These definitions are simply wrong. Unfortunately it is common for non-scientists to enter into a discussion about evolution with such a definition in mind. This often leads to fruitless debate….

…But once we realize that evolution is simply “a process that results in heritable changes in a population spread over many generations” it seems a little silly to pretend that this excludes religion!

All quotes and their commentary, from the first definition of evolution, are from TalkOrigins.

(This is copied from a post I wrote in BookCrossing.)

Geek humor: graphics

Fun with graphics:

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