Faces in the Crowd: A Darwinian Family Affair

Imagine a small crowd of people – a hundred or so – in a public place. A few minutes earlier they were all in transit to various other destinations, but a momentary spectacle has drawn them together. They do not, for the most part, know each other and in most cases they’ll never see each other again once they go their separate ways. They include representatives of every age group from infancy to dotage; there are people of various ethnic backgrounds, political and religious persuasions, socioeconomic status and states of mental and physical health. There is little consensus among them with respect to tastes or aspiration. Some are happier than others.


The people in this crowd have come to be together purely by accident, and it is the kind of accident that will never again draw this same crowd: the crowd has no identity, no “meaning.” Many people would be tempted to say of the people who make up that meaningless crowd, “They have nothing in common.”


But that sweeping statement, “They have nothing in common,” is not entirely true is it? They are all human, so they have that in common. Since they are all human, they are all the offspring of two biological parents, even if one of them merely traded his semen for cash at a sperm bank, or if in vitro fertilization was involved. And this makes it possible to list a great many other commonalities: they all have 23 pairs of chromosomes; they’re all bipeds; they’re all mammals; they’re all vertebrates; they’re all mortal; they’re all subject to the laws of physics and chemistry that make life possible, sets its limits, and so forth.


Continue reading “Faces in the Crowd: A Darwinian Family Affair”

It Isn’t ‘Survival of the @$$hole’ – A General Explanation of ‘Survival of the Fittest’

I mentioned in my first article that the ‘Cambrian explosion’ takes second place on my list of evolutionary concepts horrifically misrepresented by creationists. It seems only fair that I dedicate this article to the concept that tops the chart. Sadly, it’s not just creationists responsible for butchering this one – misrepresenting ‘survival of the fittest’ has practically become a national hobby.

What ‘Survival of the Fittest’ Doesn’t Mean

This solitary aspect of evolution may be held up as justification for dreadful behavior more often than all other pitiably poor defenses combined. I’ve personally seen it evoked as justification for bullying to the point of encouraging suicide, all manner of eugenics, rape, and even child abuse. As with so many scientific misrepresentations, the abuse of ‘survival of the fittest’ begins with a faulty definition. ‘Fit’, by evolutionary standards, does not mean the strongest, biggest, most powerful, most aggressive, or even the most physically sound. Evolutionary ‘fitness’ is not always, in fact, determined by physicality at all.
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Earth Science Tidbit of the Day

Earth Science Tidbit of the Day

For animals that breathe and eat through the same passage, humans included, choking can be a serious problem. Swallow something so big, or awkward, that it gets stuck in your trachea and your empty lungs will quickly become a much more serious concern than your empty stomach. Most animals get around this pesky issue by restricting their diets to those items that can either be safely swallowed whole, or masticated into suitable chunks. Snakes, on the other hand, were apparently far too wedded to the joys of forcing unchewed prey down their gullets, so they adapted a rather unique solution.


Eating and breathing are better when accomplished together.
Eating and breathing are better when accomplished together.


When a snake isn’t actively swallowing a meal, its windpipe fits securely into the back of it’s nasal passages, allowing it to breathe through it’s nostrils. Before it settles its maw around a fresh kill, however, it extracts its windpipe from the nasal passage, allowing it to rest on the floor of its lower jaws. As the snake’s mouth stretches around its prey, the windpipe extends beneath it, allowing the snake to breathe with its nasal passages and throat completely blocked. It is still technically possible for a snake to choke… but it would take a heck of a lot more than a piece of hot dog.