The reasons that I choose to inform my worldview with the discoveries and mechanisms of science are many, but chief amongst them is the way that science does not stop. There is never a “well, case closed on THAT” moment where the professor brushes off his hands and puts the book back on the shelf.
Such is the ongoing interest in Epigenetics.
One of the bloggers I follow, Rationally Speaking had a story on this. Due to the April Fool’s date of the story, I spent more time than usual researching it, and have run across quite a few interesting, legitimate presentations of the idea, which basically runs thus:
Inherited things other than genes effect physiology.
What do you inherit other than genes, though? One common example is your internal flora/fauna. But there are many more, involving for instance, the phosphate-chain “sides” to the DNA “ladder” – this is not classical genetic information, it is not composed of ATCG sequences, but it can be inherited on the cellular and individual levels. Some coral reefs can have drastically different forms and the same DNA sequences, or the same form and be reproductively incompatible. The online journal Evolutionary Biology is just one of many new Open Source research journals where you can find these sorts of things.
Science changes daily, evolution is rewritten every decade, it is not the “religious belief taken on faith” that the creationists attack it as.
A good read on the history of how we’ve changed our thoughts on evolution is Ever Since Darwin by Steven Jay Gould. Gould, with typical winding, grandiose style, puts forth what has been learned that is different about evolution compared to the theory Darwin developed.
It’s important to remember that the main pillar of skepticism, and even scientific skepticism, is that you refrain from making truth statement. Now, you may notice that this is in fact a truth statement -so it’s not like you NEVER make one. Some things are so workable, so provable, that you might as well accept it as true, until something comes along to disprove it.
Science moves forward when you disprove something, which, to me, is the biggest disappointment from the “intelligent design” crowd. I would love to see someone point out something wrong with the theory, a misunderstanding that might be corrected, filled in. This is the way that great discoveries are made. But pointing out things that are not wrong and claiming they are wrong is nothing more than useless noise providing signals that some one might listen to, thinking it true.
Meanwhile, though, real scientists out there trudge forward, finding fascinating differences between hypothesis and evidence, further the understanding of the universe that we little bits of starstuff have managed to accumulate over these deadly eons. Let’s make sure it’s not in vain, skeptics – remember to defend science.