Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Evolution and the Heavens

This week in introductory biology we started our material on “Evolution” and I always think about “the controversy” surrounding evolution in our society.   I’ve polled the students in  class for the last eight years (~N=150 X 8 years) and around 30% fall into the categories of 1) having a problem with evolution, 2) sort of having of problem with it, or 3) aren’t really sure how they feel about it.  Although our class is a foundational course taken by students of many disciplines, it is mostly science majors (mostly pre-meds).   The students seem to have the biggest issue being related to other apes or being considered apes at all. Such comments from them always make me think of my father with a smile since he liked to introduce himself as Emmette Ba Boone (you know, as in baboons, which are monkeys and not apes).  Sharing a common ancestor with any life form was never a stretch for me, but that may be one of the advantages of being a Ba Boone. 

When I think about “the controversy,” I mostly wonder why there is a controversy.  Jesus was such a reasonable guy.  Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s. Or, Let him who is without sin among you cast the first stone…  Or hundreds of other perfectly reasonable statements.  If Jesus was around today in the flesh, I think he would worry about God’s creation and what humans are doing to it, and the general problems of human failure.  It’s hard to imagine that man of the bible waging a war over the evolution of life and a literal interpretation of the story in Genesis.   He gives no impression that he’d be someone who has a problem with using the available data to understand natural phenomenon.  And why should he?  Scratch the surface and the world really is awesome in the traditional and contemporary sense.  Evolution and religion are not mutually exclusive for many people. 

What I wish we all could concede is that because we share common ancestors with the rest of life, we should be extremely (even evangelically) motivated to care for our fellow creatures on this planet.   That is a more productive conversation to have:  what we can do to protect the creation.  “Believing” in a literal translation of Genesis or “believing” the diverse and abundant data that serves as the foundation for the theory of evolution really do not matter in terms of Christian salvation—that salvation is found through other beliefs.   A life spent examining natural explanations for natural phenomenon requires its own kind of faith, but interpreting and reinterpreting the data available should always be based on logic and reason.  Heaven would expect no less.  

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Looking Up

Another semester begins here at Miami University and there is the usual excitement and anticipation associated with the beginning of fall semester.  The temperature even dropped ten degrees yesterday as if to concede that the summer is coming to a close.  A generous concession at this point. 

I am recently back from a two week vacation and sufficiently recharged to feel a little of that new-school-year excitement as I prepare for another semester of introductory biology with lots of freshman and others. Today was our first day of class and I shared a poem with the students called “Invitation” by Mary Oliver, one of the great living nature poets. It begins: Oh do you have time/ to linger/for just a little while/out of your busy//and very important day/for the goldfinches/that have gathered/in a field of thistles…

When she puts it that way you realize, yes I do.  One of the things I love about Mary Oliver’s poetry is that she witnesses the goings on of the natural world and reminds you that you have the time to linger, to stare, and to listen. Ah, such hobbies. On my drive home, I watched a young student walking down the street with rather large head phones on her head. Fashion-wise, I didn’t really like the look; nature-wise, I worried she might miss the calls of the cicadas and wondered if she even saw the birds flying all around her. Sure, I like my folk my music and I understand that it’s nice to have a good beat to walk to. But, nature is now and it’s a shame to miss any more of it than necessary.  Walking home or to class seems like the perfect time to witness our urban ecology.

With that thought, I came home, laid on our deck, and looked up. Near the top of one of the thinner branches, there was a robin’s nest secured in the maple.  It has probably been there all summer, right above our heads apparently, and it was news to me.  It made me want to Tweet like a bird in her nest.  Hope you find something new and exciting in your backyard too.