Sunday, December 12, 2010

Rerun: A Darwin Appreciation

In light of last week's photo essay on my surreal visit to the Creation Museum just outside San Diego and my follow-up post, I thought it was appropriate to rerun another photo essay from last year, also based on museum visits. Sanity rules ...

On two recent separate visits, I stopped in at two museums in San Diego's magnificent museum-botanical complex at Balboa Park. The permanent displays in both the Museum of Man and the Natural History Museum attest to the genius of Darwin and his theory of evolution, which is the only credible explanation to connect all the apparently random cool stuff in both buildings - from dinosaur skeletons to mysterious fossils to evidence of lost civilizations.

In celebration of the bicentenary of his birth (the same day as Lincoln) and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his seminal "On the Origin of the Species," the Natural History Museum is featuring a special Darwin exhibit. 

This photo essay - taken on my iPhone - is drawn from my museum trips.

These guys ruled. You are looking at the fossils of ammonites, which superficially resembled the nautilus but were closer in relation to the octopus and squid. They survived two major earth-shaking catastrophes eons apart only to succumb to apparently the same disaster that did in the dinosaurs.

Speaking of dinosaurs, smile for the camera, and thanks for the memories.

For many thousands of years, mastodons thrived in Southern CA. Then global warming happened. Sayonara, big fellow.

Speaking of disappearances, these reproductions of stellae stand as silent testimony to the lost civilization of the Maya. Their descendants live on, but their society went the way of the mastodon, perhaps for similar climactic reasons, such as drought.

Do you perceive a certain common theme, such as adaptive failure? Sometimes, the slightest genetic tweak can spell the difference between life and death, species-wise.

This is me on a bad hair day. Unfortunately this prototype of modern man failed to make the final cut.

Here's a reproduction of a fossil skull, zinjanthropus, dating back 1.75 million years, found in Tanzania's Olduvai gorge by Mary Leakey. Sadly, when it came to natural selection, the little guy lacked the right stuff.

Out of Africa. Zinjanthropus was not our distant ancestor, but this unmistakable DNA trail shows that everyone of us on the planet is linked to a common male and female ancestor from 60,000 years ago.

Get over it. We're all related.

The letter that started it all: An invitation from JS Henslow to Charles Darwin to serve as naturalist on the HMS Beagle.

Further reading from Knowledge is Necessity:  Darwin and the Psychiatric Advantage


Anonymous said...

we may all be related. But that is only because of Adam and Eve so that isn't so bad. The animals aren't part of that same human history. They have their own history found in the layers of this earth's crust from the flood to this day.

Tony the cretin said...

You got it right. The greatest lessons to take from Darwin is that all animals (including that funny-looking bipedal ape known as humans) are all related. We all share a common ancestor and we all are caught up in the same game of life. So we should be taking care of all of us animals. In a way, natural selection is quite humbling. All animals today are highly evolved, not just us. Our little experiment is pretty recent and just might not make it. So we should be careful.

John McManamy said...

Hey, Anonymous. If that's your faith belief, I will fight for your right to express it. If this is part of an anti-science agenda you are trying to force on school kids in lieu of teaching kids real science I will fight to protect our nation's future.

Sorry, I love the Bible. But we don't have to violate science to abide by its teachings. "New knowledge has led to the recognition of the theory of evolution as more than a hypothesis." - Pope John Paul II

John McManamy said...

Hey, Tony. They irony is that the people who don't believe in science are the ones most likely to bring out little experiment to an end. Stupid popular opinion combined with stupid people in charge combined with polar ice caps melting does not bode well for our species. Are we headed for the same fate as the mastodon?

The wacko religious fringe won't care. They will attribute their own self-made catastrophe to the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Book of Revelation.

Extinction by irony - this is a tough way to go. :)