In writing on other topics of late, the issues of epistemology, logic, pragmatism, truth, and fairness have all led me back to the issue of evolution. After reading that only 22% of Mormons believe in evolution, and then after watching the terrible movie Expelled, I thought I’d try and tackle the topic of evolution before the New Year (when Darwin’s anniversary year ends).
Evolution is the scientific principle that populations of living things adapt and change in response to their environments. Over time, adaptive changes and mutations lead to populations that are measurably different, both from the previous, ancestor population and from the other sibling populations that adapted differently.
As I’ve grown up, I’ve posited any number of theories about how I could square my own beliefs in a creator (and literal interpretations of the Bible) with what I knew and was studying about science. I’ve toyed with the ideas that God planted fossils in the Earth to test our faith; that fossils are remnants from other planets, put here when God organized matter from other places into Earth; or that all other creatures were evolving whilst Adam and Eve waited in a post-fall Eden until God kicked them out. These theories were useful thought experiments, and are all equally likely today as they were when I first posited them, but I have since learned enough about evolution to realize that it is a much more likely explanation for biological diversity than a literal interpretation of the Bible.
Not every evolutionary pathway and claim is equally compelling. There are still many unanswered questions, many fossils we’d like to find, and the possibility that simple life was transplanted to Earth from a meteor, rather than forming here de novo. That being said, there are two critiques of evolution that I hear often that are not, in fact, weaknesses of evolution.
First: ALL fossils are transitional fossils. Even you and I are part of a transitioning species. Even if we have not found every point on every evolutionary branch, it does not mean that a link does not exist. The argument that evolutionary theory has millions of “gaps” is simply misleading and ignorant.
Second: A weakness in one theory is not proof FOR a second theory. Ben Stein tries to point to what he sees as weak links in evolutionary theory and then tries to claim that those weaknesses lend proof to I.D. Even if I were to accept such a false dichotomy, I.D. simply does not answer any of the questions it proposes to answer any better than evolutionary theory does. If Darwin is wrong, Ben Stein can be too.
I’d love to answer any questions any of you have about what evolution means, or how we can still square it with a belief in a creator. If you’ve had the unfortunate experience of watching Ben Stein’s travesty of a film, please go to expelledexposed.com, trove Wikipedia, or write me to fact check any of the manifold lies in that film.
I’ve decided that I’m going to try and keep all of my blog posts less than 500 words from now on. Although my debate about Iraq was fun, I realized in posting it that 3000 words each is just way more than anybody really wants to read. It will probably mean that I’ll just post more often, rather than actually writing less, but setting a goal for short posts might just mean I’ll do another edit and cause me to ask whether I need to be writing anything at all. We’ll see.
Do you know how when you go into a mechanic or a dealership they are always telling you that you need to pour hundreds or thousands of dollars into preventative maintenance? Does it ever confuse you that they can say “hey, your car is in great shape, there’s nothing wrong with it whatsoever. Give me $1000 so I can replace things on your car that aren’t broken”? Well, when you’re sifting through the advice as to what to replace and what to let slide, make sure you actually replace your timing belt when they tell you it’s time. It will cost you around $400, but if you drive it until it breaks, you can apparently bend a valve, which will cost thousands to fix later on. I’m still waiting to find out how well a car with a bent valve will drive (I don’t plan on repairing it), but I’m kicking myself for not having replaced the timing belt when I should have. I’m also cursing Hyundai for not highlighting that the timing belt repair is actually necessary, unlike replacing the spark plugs, changing my tires, and flushing my radiator, none of which were actually necessary in my situation, but which were all recommended at the same time the timing belt was.
I love getting into arguments with people on-line. In my recent spats on various message boards, I’ve been called “a liberal,” “a Bush-hater,” and “a Kool-Aid drinker.” Although I realize that all of these “insults” were given to try and hurt my credibility, and were by no means a reflection of what these people think I believe, I also realize that the best course of action is to write down what I actually do believe. I’ve already written about how much it bothers me when people hypocritically change their positions to suit their arguments. Perhaps if I write down what I believe and allow my opponents to comb for inconsistencies, I’ll have more credibility to call others out for their hypocrisy and special pleadings. If nothing else, perhaps some of you will find elements of my belief system which are hypocritical and which I need to change. Whenever I debate something I really believe in, I always offer the stake that I will publicly admit that I've been wrong. If anything I write is just wrong, please let me know. If I’m wrong, we can discuss it, come to common ground, and I’ll confess my mistake.
Two years ago I started applying to medical schools. My MCAT scores were great, my application was solid, and I was fairly confident that I would be a good doctor. I interviewed at some top schools, but I was put on waiting lists for admission, rather than accepted outright. The schools all seemed to be saying that I'd be a good medical student somewhere, but that I wasn't a good fit for their school in particular. After interviewing at the University of Illinois, I came to the conclusion that perhaps I hadn't done enough to prepare myself to be the best doctor I could be. I withdrew my applications everywhere, applied for admission to a Master's program in Neurobiology and Physiology from Northwestern, and decided to gain some more scientific bona fides before applying again.
As some of you have maybe noticed, I've largely avoided discussing my plans for the future for the last few years. I've still wanted to be a doctor, but the underwhelming responses to my application from medical school admission committees caused me to doubt my chances. I started hedging my language, saying "if I become a doctor...", and also started looking into alternative career paths if med school was unattainable. I seriously considered becoming a teacher, a lawyer, or a nurse. I'm quite certain I would have been happy and successful in those careers.
Finally, however, and after multiple tries, I'm happy to report that UIC medical school thinks as highly of my abilities as I do. I've been offered admission for the class of 2014, and will matriculate in the Fall of 2010.
There's still a chance that I'll get into the University of Chicago instead (which would be closer and, since my chances of being classified as an Illinois resident are slim, cheaper), and that means that my plans might change as to where I went to med school. Thanks to UIC, however, the question is no longer if I become a doctor, but where I get my training.