Welcome to the Journal of the Sierra College Natural History Museum
Keely Carroll, Executive Editor
As you might already be aware, 2009 marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin (coincidentally on the exact same day as Abraham Lincoln) and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his book on evolutionary theory “On the Origin of Species”. In the scientific news media there has been much-to-do about this anniversary, but why do we care?
Evolutionary theory is the single unifying concept in all of biology. It is essential to our understanding of the natural world. Yet, today this topic still suffers from a bit of an image crisis. Charles Darwin is today a much maligned figure, often used as the proverbial punching bag in arguments against this scientific theory. Darwin, who received his degree in Divinity from Christ’s College at Cambridge, knew all too well the potential for his theory to be in conflict with the religion of his day, but I doubt that he thought that the “disputes” would still be going on today.
We live in a day and age where, despite 150 years of scientific evidence in support of evolutionary theory, we continue to fight court battles over the ability to teach this theory in schools. Some of this confusion seems to be related to a lack of understanding of what a theory is and how a theory is a separate concept from belief. In this issue you will find an article from Vernon Martin, professor of philosophy at Sierra College, entitled “Do Science Educators Teach “Beliefs”?” that discusses the differences between the two.
So what sort of evidence do we have for evolutionary theory? How quickly does that evolutionary change happen? Peter and Rosemary Grant have been researching finches on the Galapagos Islands for over 20 years and have tracked the evolutionary changes in those populations during that time. Jonathan Weiner discusses their work in the wonderfully written, Pulitzer Prize winning, book, The Beak of the Finch. For this edition of the journal Mr. Weiner has given us permission to reprint his article “Evolution in Action” which discusses evidence for evolutionary change and which takes a look at how rapidly that change can happen.
I also wanted to provide in this edition a sort of case study of evolution of a species that would illustrate how species come about. Unsure of what species to feature, I realized suddenly one day, why not highlight the evolution of our own species! Jennifer Molina-Stidger, professor of anthropology at Sierra College, has written a fun and detailed chronicle of the key features of the evolution of the hominid line entitled “We Are Family: Human Evolution Redux”.
Many of us tend to equate the development of evolutionary theory with the Galapagos Islands. Most people think that Darwin had his “aha” moment while standing on those shores. Quite to the contrary, his theory did not really come to fruition until he returned home to London. Still, these islands hold our imagination today; yet, few of us have actually seen them. Dick Hilton appears to be the exception to the rule. Professor Hilton has visited the Galapagos on five occasions and has more than 300 pictures from his visits. I recently sat down with him to make the painfully difficult selection of just a few of them to present as part of a photo essay on the Islands. I must admit that I left his office wanting to plan a trip there immediately. The colors and landscape of those islands is truly breathtaking.
Finally, we highlight in this edition the new Department of Environmental Studies and Sustainability at Sierra College with a feature on the Interdisciplinary 1 class taught by a new addition to the college, Kristine Gilbert. This new department and associate degree will help students to gain competitive knowledge in the field of environmental studies, from training in environmental studies techniques, to learning field methods for studying ecology to a certificate program in photovoltaics. The campus is excited to be part of this growing field of study. Sierra College has often been at the forefront of sustainability in education and this new program furthers that goal.
It is my hope that by reading some of the selections in this edition that you will learn something about evolutionary theory that you didn’t already know or that if are being you introduced to the topic for the first time, that you will find this topic as fascinating as I do.
As always, additions to the journal from its readers are welcome. If you are interested in making a submission e-mail Keely at firstname.lastname@example.org. It is important to note that while this journal focuses on the Natural History Museum, it is produced under the Sierra College Press and would not exist if not for the creative thinking of Gary Noy and the technical assistance of Mike Price.