Sunday, February 12, 2012

Happy 203rd Birthday, Charles Darwin!

It is instructive to look at the work of Darwin, and recognize that careful observation, interpretation and analysis form the basis of his body of work -- ideas which are still relevant to the science of Biology and all the disciplines that stem from it.

There have been many detractors, particularly in education, in the presentation and teaching of the science of evolutionary biology. The most famous of these cases perhaps being the "Scopes Monkey Trial" of 1925, and the more recent case of the Dover School Board provide an overview of how thinking on evolution has progressed. Interestingly, I know of no equivalent attempts in Canada to mandate the exclusive teaching of a creationist perspective.

In more recent times, mainstream religious institutions, including such entities as the Roman Catholic Church, have incorporated Darwinian ideas of biological evolution into their belief structures. But there are still some holdouts, as this critique makes clear:
"...the list of churches that have signed up for Evolution Weekend are mainly theologically liberal churches, and I added, with an inordinate number of women clergy. The particular Sacramento-area church the writer reported on has a woman pastor—who obviously doesn’t understand the difference between operational (observational) science and historical science. When clergy like this make the comment “science and faith,” they really mean that “biological, geological, and cosmological evolutionary belief” is supposedly compatible with God’s Word. "

The condemnation is clear -- only "theologically liberal" churches would advocate any co-existence with what I would call the real world. And of those churches, it is the women clergy who are at fault, presumably because they don't conform to the patriarchal model that the author of this piece would like to be the universal norm. The "Evolution Weekend" reference is to an event which encourages religious institutions to discuss the co-existence of faith and science on the weekend closest to February 12. The fact that I find this ironic will undoubtedly cause the creationist author of the critique to insist that I burn in hell.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Groundhog Day reprised

Last year, Groundhog Day was cloudy and the ground was snow covered. This year, the ground is not but the day is just as gray.

Where the heck did the idea of predicting weather based on a groundhog's shadow come from?

The first major snow storm of the winter (at least here in Toronto) happened earlier in the week, dropping around 5cm of snow through the course of an evening. Within 24 hours, 8C temperatures and rain had melted or washed it away. Halfway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox, it seems unlikely that we will get the 6 weeks of killing cold that we need to keep down insect and other pests, so this will likely be an interesting summer.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Internet Freedom - the SOPA/PIPA protest

Six days ago, over 115,000 websites including Google, Wikipedia, Freethoughtblogs, Craigslist, and many other popular websites "went dark" -- effectively went on strike -- for a 24 hour period to protest the SOPA and PIPA legislation that is being considered by the American government.

We are all connected, and what happens in America affects all of us, as law professor and copyright expert Michael Geist pointed out on his blog, in an article entitled Why Canadians Should Participate in the SOPA/PIPA Protest. From Professor Geist's article:
"...millions of Canadians rely on the legitimate sites that are affected by the legislation. Whether creating a Wikipedia entry, posting a comment on Reddit, running a WordPress blog, participating in an open source software project, or reading a posting on BoingBoing, the lifeblood of the Internet is a direct target of SOPA. If Canadians remain silent, they may ultimately find the sites and services they rely upon silenced by this legislation."

Writer, consultant, and teacher Clay Shirky explains why this legislation is a bad idea even for Americans:

[Thanks to Lorna for pointing out this video]

The day of protest on January 18, 2012 was mildly inconvenient for me, but annoying to many others. That annoyance translated into political action which raised the awareness of American lawmakers and caused the SOPA and PIPA legislation to be withdrawn. But the final point raised by Clay Shirky in the video is still valid -- there will be other attempts in the future to censor and regulate the internet.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Gung Hei Fat Choy! Happy Chinese New Year 4710 - The Year of the Dragon

It is still January 23 -- first day of the Chinese lunar New Year -- as I type these words, so I haven't missed out on my chance to wish a Happy New Year to all of you -- may this Year of the Dragon be a year of prosperity and good health!

Note - the Dragon image above is from the Facebook gallery of Mr. John Wu of Manhattan, Kansas, USA.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Happy Solstice Aftermath

As I write these words, it is barely within 12 days after the solstice, and we are definitely within the 12 days of Christmas, so it is technically still the holiday season. That means I can legitimately wish family, friends, customers, and colleagues a somewhat belated best of the season, and the year to come.

For my father-in-law, a man who believes (notwithstanding the cultural dominance of Christmas celebration in Canada) that there is a "war on Christmas" (presumably an action like the "war on the automobile" that the current mayor of Toronto claims to have ended), a hearty "Season's Greetings".