February 2008 Science Updates

There's been so much important news pouring in this month that it's hard to keep up with it. But despite the flood of information, there've been a few especially significant discoveries that I think shouldn't be overlooked. There are three that I thought deserve special notice: • On February 13, astronomers announced the discovery of a new solar system that resembles our own more closely than any exoplanetary system that was previously known. The new system, given the unlovely designation … [Read more...]

Immanence

Last month, while I was on vacation in Puerto Rico, I had a chance to visit the great radio observatory at Arecibo. That was one of the highlights of my trip, but there was another. Puerto Rico has the only tropical rainforest in the United States national park system. On the northeast coast of the islands, at the foot of the Luquillo Mountains, is the 28,000-acre preserve of El Yunque National Forest. Set aside in 1876 by the Spanish king Alfonso XII, El Yunque is one of the oldest nature … [Read more...]

Book Review: Survival of the Sickest

(Author's Note: The following review was solicited and is written in accordance with this site's policy for such reviews.) Summary: A fast-paced, entertaining, informative account of how past evolution has shaped our current living conditions. Recommended - but with one major caveat. One of the most common misconceptions about evolution is that it is a steady climb towards perfection, working over time to remove every defect. In fact, natural selection is not a skilled artisan but, to use … [Read more...]

Some Thoughts on Evolution Sunday

Yesterday, February 11, was Evolution Sunday, a nationwide project in which hundreds of Christian pastors and denominations voice their belief that the theory of evolution, and science in general, is compatible with their religious principles. My standpoint on this matter is not as combative as some people's. While I, too, would like to see all religious people become atheists, I recognize that this is not going to happen any time soon, and encouraging the majority of theists to find … [Read more...]

Hello, Beautiful

(Note: The final post in the free will series will appear tomorrow.) It has been a hundred and twenty-five years since Charles Darwin passed away, but his legacy is alive and well. The theory of evolution which he was first to propose has become the unifying pillar of modern biology, drawing together a vast array of evidence from genetics, paleontology, biochemistry, ecology and other scientific fields. Contrary to the creationists who are perpetually (and wrongly) forecasting its imminent … [Read more...]

Book Review: Darwin's Dangerous Idea

Daniel Dennett is one of my favorite philosophers. Few write with his clarity or liveliness, and the topics to which he turns his attention - evolution, religion, free will, the human mind - fall squarely within my area of interest. His explanations are often brilliantly clever, and his conclusions are ones I can usually agree with. In Darwin's Dangerous Idea, his provocative thesis is that Charles Darwin's idea of modification by natural selection, which he calls "the single best idea anyone … [Read more...]


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