Monday, October 20, 2014


 The most recent reading I assigned to one of my English classes was a piece by the great Harvard biologist, E. O. Wilson, titled "Intelligent Evolution."  This essay first appeared in Harvard Magazine in 2005.  For my students, it appears in the 2012 edition of The Norton Reader. I introduced the essay by telling my students that we're going to have to study some key words that are used in many different ways for many different purposes.  Some of these words are especially used differently by people who accept the theory of "evolution by means of natural selection" and those who do not.  I decided to do a little research on one of these words: theory.  I began by gathering most of the dictionaries and basic biology books in my house.  That included a couple of thesauruses and a "book of synonyms" which are kinds of dictionaries.  In class tomorrow, among other points, we'll discuss the difference between prescriptive and descriptive dictionaries.  The above photo is what my work space looked like when I began the research. 
 The first book I checked was a junior high life science textbook written for Christian Schools.  Not all Christian schools, but a particular type.  That is immediately apparent from the introduction.  This book devotes an entire 21-page chapter to Biological Evolution.  The entire chapter can be summarized by this one sentence: "The theory of biological evolution is not true, because it contradicts the Bible."  [The editor failed to remove the superfluous comma.]  I found the last two paragraphs of the chapter particularly offensive.  Here they are:
"Worldly scientists present evolution as fact. Many people simply believe what these scientists say and have never really considered why they believe in evolution.  Worldly scientists also present evolution as something everyone believes.  For a person not to believe evolution, he must be willing to say that that the majority is wrong.  Some people believe evolution only because they do not want to be different or looked down on.
"Satan wants people to believe in evolution.  This is probably the main reason that evolution is so popular.  Satan is a deceiver (John 8:44), and he wants people to believe that God's word is not true.  He keeps the belief in evolution popular because he can use it to lead people away from God."

So, what is a "worldly" scientist?  I guess I'll need to research "worldly."  Amazing stuff. 
 The Synonym Finder, my 1978 edition of a thesaurus-like book published  by Rodale Press, includes some widely-used synonyms for "theory" that explain a lot of the problem that is explored in E. O. Wilson's essay.  The excerpt shown several photos below begins with "hypothesis" but it gets worse.
 Next, I looked into a widely-used basic biology text found in colleges and AP high school biology courses.  It treats the word theory the way one would expect in a legitimate science textbook.  More on that later.  Can you identify the "forbidden fruit" in this photo?  No, not the apple or the banana.  It's the biology book, a book of knowledge!
 My old "Webster's unabridged" is impressive for its size, if not its contents.  I'm not sure if I keep it as an heirloom or a doorstop.  It's fun to consult it from time to time.  It does contain one of my favorite new words: deipnosophist.  I like to think I'm one of those.
 So, photos of my findings continue.  As you can see, the definitions of "theory" are all over the map.  Thus, the difficulty of discussing an essay like Wilson's among a group of people who might hold to different definitions. 

 This next one (below) is one of the worst from a scientific standpoint.  Most of these synonyms have no relation to evidence, reason, or scientific principles and are close in spirit to the word "guess."  One might even add "wild" guess.  Sad.

 The one below, helped by my famous left thumb, says a lot in very few words. It would even fit on Twitter! To do the word justice, though, one would need an expansion of this definition and examples from practice.  These, of course, are provided in the textbook.
 One last definition from one of the dictionaries makes a total of 13 images for this post.  On the chance that some of my students might have superstitions in relation to the number 13 (not that they will be counting), I decided I'd better add one more:
 So, I gathered up my research materials for one last photo.
So, the first assignment I'll be giving in relation to E. O. Wilson's essay will be a word search.  We'll  research several key words (evidence, purpose, mind, fact, inference, etc.) in the essay, then try to gain a better understanding of what's at stake for our society in the seemingly never-ending battles over evolution. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

It's All About Leaves

The Last Stand

Some Squirrel Play

 I took a break from school work this morning to see if the Oak Treehoppers were still on duty at FRC.  As I headed up the paved walkway, I came to a group of squirrels playing chase.  They didn't let me get very close on my way up the hill.  I'm sure they were catching me closely as I inspected a large California Black Oak and looked for the Treehoppers (next post).  By the time I headed back down the hill, they seemed more comfortable with my presence, and I got some closer photos.  Click on them to get even closer.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

My Neighborhood; Fall Colors

 The Sweetgum, or Liquidambar, in front of the courthouse is "peaking," as they say in the other fall colors blogs.  The bright blue sky is a nice complement to the average orange of the leaves.
 One of my favorite milkweed spots on Lee Road is showing lots of bursting pods on the Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa. 
 Amongst the milkweeds, there are still a few Chicory plants making a comeback after being mowed several times during the late summer.  I love it when they get the last laugh.
 In Boyle Ravine, just above my house, there are some spectacular Dogwoods turning red.  The red looks great when still surrounded by green.
 The Big Leaf Maples have lots of winged seeds.  I collected a few for friends who hope to help with dispersal.
 Here are a couple of photos of Big Leaf Maple leaves with some sort of viral infection.  Beautiful in their own way.  I recommend clicking on these for a more detailed look.
 Here's a dried up Dogwood leaf suspended on a thread of spider web...
 ...and a nice crop of lichen growing on a branch of Douglas-fir.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

What survived the rain?

 While hiking up the hill in the rain with my school stuff but without my camera, I was pleasantly surprised to find the Oak Treehoppers on the Black Oak had survived the night's rain.  I decided that if the forecast clearing came to be, I would return with my camera.  So, I came back around 3:30 and got these photos.  What a colorful group this is!  The light was disappearing fast behind the hill to the West, so I made several attempts to get a clear close-up of the adult Treehopper with the bright orange "horn."  THe slightly blurry photo below was the best I could do.
 I noticed a lone Red Clover just below that oak, so here it is.  Again, poor lighting.
 Then I went up to the area just north of the Admissions and Records building where I've been watching a late-blooming Checker Bloom.  These normally bloom in June, but in this particular spot they experience the wrath of the weed eaters several times during the summer.  If it weren't for the recent rains, they might have given up.  But, here they are in all their glory (below) making one last attempt to leave some seeds for next year.Remember, "Nature bats last."