Monday, October 10, 2005


[Open quote] The fossil record speaks to us unambiguously of creatures that once were present in enormous numbers and that have now vanished utterly. Far more species have become extinct in the history of the Earth than exist today; they are the terminated experiments of evolution.

The genetic changes induced by domestication have occurred very rapidly. The rabbit was not domesticated until early medieval times (it was bred by French monks in the belief that newborn bunnies were fish and therefore exempt from the prohibitions against eating meat on certain days in the Church calendar); coffee in the fifteenth century; the sugar beet in the nineteenth century; and the mink is still in the earliest stages of domestication. In less than ten thousand years, domestication has increased the weight of wool grown by sheep from less than one kilogram of rough hairs to ten or twenty kilograms of uniform, fine down; or the volume of milk given by cattle during a lactation period from a few hundred to a million cubic centimeters. If artificial selection can make such major changes in so short a period of time, what must natural selection, working over billions of years, be capable of? The answer is all the beauty and diversity of the biological world. Evolution is a fact, not a theory.

That the mechanism of evolution is natural selection is the great discovery associated with the names of Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace. More than a century ago, they stressed that nature is prolific, that many more animals and plants are born than can possibly survive and that therefore the environment selects those varieties which are, by accident, better suited for survival. Mutations—sudden changes in heredity—breed true. They provide the raw material of evolution. The environment selects those few mutations that enhance survival, resulting in a series of slow transformations of one lifeform into another, the origin of new species. [Close quote] (from COSMOS by Carl Sagan, p. 27)


Christians and other like-minded Puritans constantly look for the will of their hypothetical superbeings, good and evil, in everything that befalls humankind and individuals. If someone lovely dies or if a perceived “bad” or “evil” person meets an untimely death, these seekers for meaning put all things to god’s will. If a good person dies, for example, they often say that god called them to himself. They always think that god is plotting and scheming to do good while their evil spirit does harm to man. They think that god gives them talents. They say to “trust god”. They say “let go and let god”. But in actual fact, none of them has any evidence that god is involved in anything that happens. It just gives them comfort to say these things they learned as children, and, of course, saying these mantras makes them feel special and above the ordinary, even if what is coming their way is bad stuff. To be honored for attention by the devil also lifts them above the ordinary. Satan, in their minds, is always out to tempt them. But, where’s the evidence for their claims other than their saying it’s so? None. No evidence.

Things, good and ill, happen to human beings and to assign supernatural meanings to these occurrences is to spit into the wind. It’s just as natural and logical to look for the will of natural law in all things that befall human beings, individually or communally. One can just as validly say, “It is nature’s will that this or that happened,” as it is to imagine that a supernatural being did it. There’s no difference in reality between the acts of a perceived supernatural being and the whims of natural laws. In fact, to assign logical causes to natural acts makes even more sense than to attribute one’s calamity or good fortune to the acts of a supernatural being. How does one discover the difference between an act of nature and the act of a supernatural being anyway?


"Books permit us to voyage through time, to tap the wisdom of our ancestors. The library connects us with the insights and knowledge, painfully extracted from Nature, of the greatest minds that ever were, with the best teachers, drawn from the entire planet and from all of our history, to instruct us without tiring, and to inspire us to make our own contribution to the collective knowledge of the human species. Public libraries depend on voluntary contributions. I think the health of our civilization, the depth of our awareness about the underpinnings of our culture and our concern for the future can all be tested by how well we support our libraries." —Carl Sagan, COSMOS, p. 282

"She Got The Gold Mine, I Got The Shaft" —song title by Jerry Reed

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