Currently, I’m supposed to be studying for my GRE English Subject Test. I’m taking it in 4 days. Naturally, I’ve been viciously procrastinating with something that has very little to do with English lit at all. It’s time for science, namely: Evolution.
Netflix (note that I say Netflix and not Qwikster. Maybe a low blow, but come on, what were they thinking?) recently sent me the PBS 2001 series on evolution. I’ve only seen one disc, but it looks pretty interesting. The general project website can be found here.
So far, I thought the first episode’s tactic of oscillating back and forth between Darwin movie-style biography and the actual scientific documentary (with comments from the late Stephen Jay Gould and the awesome Kenneth Miller) a bit confusing and unnecessary. It was still a good watch, and the first episode already brushed against the thornier issues surrounding evolution, such as its conflicts with religious beliefs and its theoretical applications to real life issues such as HIV/AIDS medication development.
But to back up a bit…
I first became interested in evolution when I took the second semester of Natural Sciences course in Boston University’s Core Curriculum program my freshman year. I thought the scientific theory of natural selection so interesting that the next semester I took the first course towards my history minor partially based on the theory’s creator. The course was titled “Darwin, Einstein, and Freud”. I read Darwin’s letters and his notes while aboard The Beagle. I learned about his observations of giant sloth fossils in Patagonia, and of the famous Galapagos finches (and how Darwin didn’t give them much importance at first, to the point that he neglected to label them by island). We studied less well known material, such as how “Darwinism” was perceived in other European countries and America while feathers were being ruffled in Anglican England.
But the most intriguing part for me came when we were assigned to read contemporary materials, namely the Gould deposition in the McLean vs. Arkansas court case. That was my first foray into the creationist/Intelligent design vs. Evolution debate.
I could write for hours on the subject; my final paper for that course was, indeed, about the Kitzmiller vs Dover Area School District trial, which put to rest, for the moment, the issue of teaching intelligent design in public schools. A great source for that subject is the book Monkey Girl, by Edward Humes.
All I will say for now is that evolution is one of the most intriguing natural phenomena scientists have observed to date, and the theory of natural selection has few rivals in its elegance and simplicity. There’s a lot scientists need to learn about how evolution has shaped and continues to shape our natural world, but one thing they can be sure of is that you would be better off doubting the theory of gravity than you would doubting that evolution takes place. My favorite book on the subject is Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea, by Carl Zimmer. If you are interested in learning about evolution, PLEASE read it. One of the books on my current to-read list is The Greatest Show on Earth, by Richard Dawkins, but I can’t speak for how good that book is.
But…of course I’m only learning about this stuff WHILE I’m learning about Old English caesura and Hudibrastic poetry…