So, I’ve just managed to squeeze in watching the first set of lectures for the Introduction to Genetics Coursera class, taught by Professor Noor of Duke University. The lectures for the first week were introductory in nature, but for the most part, this meant they were hashing over whether evolution is “just a theory” (as opposed to “a theory”), what the fossil record actually shows in terms of transitional fossils, and what a “missing link” might actually be (i.e. it is between ancient and modern forms, not between two modern forms). To be honest, this last idea, that we should see a transitional form between modern crocodiles and modern ducks (the example the professor gives) has never even occurred to me because it is patently absurd.
It is so sad that this sort of ‘introductory’ set of lectures is necessary. Anyone who thinks that there is some genuine scientific dispute about the truth of evolution should read Jerry Coyne’s blog or get his book! For that matter, people who are as bemused as I am by the need for these sorts of explanations should also support Jerry Coyne’s blog.
Professor Noor’s lectures include some very interesting statistics about how the US’ level of “belief” in evolution, which is both a scientific theory and a fact, but yet somehow still involves “belief” from the general public. Do people similarly “believe” – or not believe – in gravity? The statistics for the US are at around 30-40% (only Turkey is lower on the list that Professor Noor’s slides show), but what worries me most is that in the UK there are still around 10% of people who do not “believe” in evolution. I’m afraid that I have long since stopped being surprised at the absurd things that are believed/said in the US, but I do wish that my own country were performing just a little better.