I’m writing this blog from NCSE HQ and, dear readers, there is something in the air here other than awesome ideas. My histamines are in overload. My eyes are watering, my head is a cotton ball, and my nose is a faucet. As a result, I am feeling punchy, too.
“But it’s just a theory!”
“So, why are there still monkeys!”
“Evolution is not real!”
As a science teacher and evolutionary biologist in the Southeastern United States, these are things I hear on a regular basis, but it’s never any less surprising to me when I hear it.
Were you lying all the time? Was it just a game to you?
But I’m in so deep. You know I’m such a fool for you.
You got me wrapped around your finger, ah, ha, ha.
Do you have to let it linger? Do you have to, do you have to,
Do you have to let it linger?
—The Cranberries, “Linger” from the album Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?
In part 1, after explaining how I convinced Stephen Jay Gould to help me play a prank on my brother, I discussed Gould’s reaction, in his essay “Bully for Brontosaurus,” to a rather pointless squabble over a stamp issued by the U.S. Postal Service in 1989.
Every year, in the last two weeks of January and the first two weeks of February, I have a busy time of it, reminding people about Darwin Day. As I wrote in 2012 (and repeated here in 2014), “Across the country and around the world, at colleges and universities, schools and libraries, museums and churches, people assemble around February 12 to commemorate the life and work of the British naturalist. But it’s not just about Darwin: it’s about engaging in—and enjoying—public outreach about science, evolution, and the importance of evolution education.” There’s always a marvelous assortment of innovative ways of celebrating the occasion on display, but I was struck by the announcement from the Humanist Society of Redding, California, which mentioned: “This year’s featured entertainment will be a live production of ‘Charles Darwin, Vampire Slayer.’”
For Christmas in 1996, my brother gave me a copy of Stephen Jay Gould’s Bully for Brontosaurus. On the title page, he wrote, “Steph, Should you continue in Biology/Zoölogy —no matter where you are—you’ll run into Mr. Gould and his slightly pedantic but fantastic writing. This is, then, an introduction into college-level scientific writing, a harbinger of things to, come, and, hopefully, a good read. Happy ‘studying.’” At the time, my brother was a senior at Harvard and about to launch into a very successful career in comedy writing. I was a senior in high school and about to turn down Harvard for Wellesley (Go Wellesley!). Nevertheless, I did continue in biology, and boy, did I ever run into Mr. Gould. Imagine my absolute delight when, in 2002 as his faculty assistant, I got Steve to write an inscription to my brother in an identical edition of Bully for Brontosaurus along the lines of, “Michael, if you think this is pedantic, wait until you see my Structure of Evolutionary Theory.”
The look on my brother’s face when he opened his present? Priceless.
Not so long ago, while helping to draft a piece for NCSE’s regular column in Evolution: Education and Outreach, I found myself wanting to invoke a familiar threefold distinction between evolution as fact, evolution as theory, and evolution as path. A modern locus classicus is T. Ryan Gregory’s “Evolution as Fact, Theory, and Path” (PDF) which appeared in the inaugural issue of Evolution: Education and Outreach, so I duly cited it along with Stephen Jay Gould’s “Evolution as Fact and Theory,” which appeared in Discover in 1981. Gregory also cites Michael Ruse’s book Taking Darwin Seriously (1997), which I was going to cite as well, but when I looked at it, I noticed that it began, “In dealing with evolution, I make a three-part division (Ruse, 1984b),” which impelled me to cite Ruse’s 1984 article, published in BioScience, in preference to the book.