Saturday, October 17, 2009

Trilobites, Arthropods, Evolution, and Why Mothra Isn't Real

"Trilobites: Extinct, but not a failure"
The Arthropod Story, Understanding Evolution, University of California, Berkeley

"The trilobites may have gone extinct (along with 95% of marine species) during the mass extinction at the end of the Permian period, but that doesn’t mean that they were a failure. On the contrary, the trilobites survived for more than 250 million years (longer than the dinosaurs), and dominated seafloor ecosystems for much of this time...."

This page is in the middle of the longer "Arthropod Story" section of Berkeley's online (tutorial, I suppose) about evolution. Navigation's quite intuitive (for me), the pages are well-designed with animations and branching links limited to concepts that actually require them.

In short, a well-designed page in a well-designed website.

Quite a few pages beyond this one, there's a pretty good set of examples that gets the idea of square-cube limitations on structures. That's the reason that fifty-foot tarantulas and King Kong are fine fantasies, but wouldn't work in the real world. Not as shown, anyway.

As I went along, I saw a pretty good discussion of why the respiratory and circulatory systems of spiders and crabs makes it easier for them to be large than it is for insects. And one of the better discussions of how we think evolutionary adaptation works.

Isn't Evolution the Work of the Devil or Something?

When (and where, I suspect) I was growing up, a frightfully 'religious' subculture was having fits about evolution - when they weren't using numerology to find connections between the Bible and the Soviet Union's military inventory.

From what I still run into, now and again, it looks like the loyal acolytes of Ussher are still around. And people who are convinced that Earth is flat.1 They're not necessarily the same people, though.

Anyway, if you listen to the right (or wrong, depending on your point of view) people: Christianity is a psychiatric condition, characterized by chronic breaks with reality and a marked aversion to systematic investigations of nature. If my memory serves, Freud and Marx had views similar to that.

Me? I'm one of those benighted dupes of the Whore of Babylon: a practicing Catholic.

There are Catholics who are convinced that evolution is some kinda plot, the work of the devil, and/or utterly nasty. But that's not a teaching of the Church.

Let's put it this way: St. Albert the Great is the patron saint of scientists and Gregor Mendel was a Catholic monk. (Mendel is the dude who got genetics going as a science - although I don't know if he's mentioned much these days.)

I touched on Catholic views of reason, science, and reality; and contemporary Western culture's preferences; in another blog:

That Doesn't Sound Very Apathetic: What Gives?

The Lemming is "apathetic" only in that I don't have intense, obsessive feelings about the culturally-normative things. I've written about this before.
1 Sadly, the formally-organized Flat Earth Society seems to have broken up around 2001. But there are plenty of people still dedicated to arguing that Earth is flat. ( and, for starters) Some of them, I suspect, are in it for the laughs. Others are quite likely convinced that there's some kinda plot to deceive the masses.

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