Weird and Wonderful: Evolution 2010

Writing about evolution is not my bag. Around here, that’s Steven Popke’s job. Don’t get me wrong, though, I like it. I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for evolution. The thing I find weird and wonderful about it, is that there is a conference dedicated to it. Evolution 2010. This year’s event was held back in June in Portland, Oregon.

Evolution 2010. It sounds futuristic, doesn’t it? Like Starship 3000 or Honda 1500. And yet, it’s all about the past.

Apparently a couple thousand leading evolutionists attended Evolution 2010 and they gave 1500 presentations with titles like, “Adaptation of horizontally transmitted symbionts to environmental stress and its effect on host fitness.” I imagine most of the talks would have been beyond me. It’s been a long time since I’ve had Paleo 301. These days I doubt I could tell a trilobite from a brachiopod let alone a horizontally transmitted symbiont from … something else.

But yet, I like the idea of a conference dedicated to the scientific study of evolution. In some people’s minds, evolution is about as scientific as alchemy and astrology: it’s fine for believers but really, what proof is there of it?

I scoff at that. What proof is there for the laws of thermodynamics? And they get a pass. Why? Well, because they work. We put a man on the moon, yada yada.

Same with evolution, I say. Things start to make sense under evolutionary theory. I contend that despite the fact that 88% of the world’s inhabitants—including 1790 leading evolutionists—believe in a supreme being, we all believe in evolution as well. Why? Because it works. Solves too many problems like why does Australia have so many weird-ass species unlike anywhere else on the planet, yet at the same time you can find almost the same but not quite the same species in both the new world and the old world. I mean, how exactly does The Flood explain those two seemingly unrelated phenomena?

The reason evolution is hard to prove is that it moves so darn slowly we can’t see it happening. But if the climate experts are correct about global warming, we’ll see that old herd-thinning, natural-selecting, extinction-causing evolution first hand. And not by counting up vestigial drosophila wings, but by watching our own species decline and evolve. I’m predicting a mounting enrollment in the Evolution conferences to come. I think we’re all going to take in interest in this little event. I suppose the program will change a bit to include practical topics for us lay people. Over time, the conference itself will evolve. Perhaps Evolution 2020 will have panels on Surviving Genetic Drift during the Climate Apocalypse. Or Ten Things you can do Right Now to Avoid being Naturally Selected Out. Or for those willing to take matters into their own hands: Design your own Damn Progeny!

Or something.

Sue Lange
Episode 17 of Sue Lange’s WE, ROBOTS is now available for a free read.

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Weird and Wonderful: Evolution 2010 — 6 Comments

  1. There’s proof of evolution before everyone’s eyes: antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Also, all domesticated animals, dogs in particular.

    Evolution deniers abound only in theocratic nations (of which the US is essentially one) — and not because it is not obvious, but because it threatens a perceived privilege.

  2. If you put 9780679733379 in the Powell’s searchbox on the right sidebar of the blog here, you’ll see The Beak of the Finch, a terrific book about a couple who’ve been studying the finches on the Galapagos for many years, and watching them evolve in response to changing conditions.

    So while it’s true that we aren’t likely to see anything as dramatic as a dinosaur evolving into a bird in any of our lifetimes, evolutionary change is detectable in more subtle ways in less than geologic time.

    It really is a neat book, and well-written. I recommend it.

    Vonda

  3. Thanks, Vonda and Brenda for the recs.

    Athena, interesting thing to note at that link I listed. The average around the world for believers is 88% while in the U.S. it’s 95%. You’re right, we are a theocratic nation. And they call us unbelievers! Who the heck are they talking about?

  4. I think that “believers” is a nebulous term. Many people have a fuzzy, vague idea of “a higher power” that they haven’t bothered to analyze. More important is the impact of fundamentalists to political discourse. Religious fundamentalists (Christians, Moslems and Jews in particular, because they share foundation myths) would get along swimmingly in terms of values — free speech and dissent, women’s rights, core education, capital punishment, etc.

    I saw a chart recently that plotted national income versus religiosity. The US was a bizarre outlier (a rich but religion-ridden nation). Never fear, though: it’s working busily to put itself at the same part of the chart as Pakistan.