July 2011

In The Light

This is the second place entry in our Marion Craig Essay Contest. The question this year was “how has Darwinian evolution affected your field of study?” We received several entries and this one was judged to be runner up to the best.

“Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution” stated Theodore Dobzhansky in his 1973 essay. In 2011, the truth of this statement has not wavered the slightest. Today Darwin is recognized as presenting us with the most scientifically plausible theory for the diversity of life. Before Darwin, we would see complexity in organisms and their interactions, with no scientific means to understand it. Darwin was able to give this to us. With an understanding of evolution, biologist from different backgrounds can unify their disciplines. Underneath the “light of evolution,” it makes sense why the immune system operates to expel pathogens. It makes sense why some bees will sacrifice themselves to save the colony. Darwin was able to give biology the “why.” Where before we only had the “how.”

Darwin’s theory has allowed biologists to study one organism, and relate the findings to another. Before Darwin, if a scientist wanted to understand how the nervous system of a human worked, they would study humans. Now with the understanding that we all share a common origin, you can study another organism to receive incite onto another. This has allowed biologist to do experiments that would have been otherwise unethical or impossible to do.

For the ecologist, Darwin’s theory gives us the “why” to why some plant will produce toxic chemicals, while others do not. Understanding that all life is under the constant scrutiny of Natural Selection, and that all life is competing for resources. One can use this information to predict what kinds of traits will evolve. Slow growing plants, will produce more toxins than fast growing plants. Why? Because the slower you grow the more valuable your tissues are as you cannot replace them quickly. Under any other theory, this trend lacks explanation.

For the medical biologist, Darwin’s theory gives us the “why” to vaccinations. Every year we are informed by the medical community to get yet another vaccination for the flu virus. Understanding how viruses mutate and the trends involved with it are a result of understanding evolution. A particular medical insight evolution has given us is the understanding of why the AIDS drug, AZT becomes ineffective after a period of time. The biologist knows, because AZT is placing strong selective pressure on the virus, it will have to evolve or die. With this intimate understanding, when the virus survives and begins to thrive within the host we can know why. Medicine as a whole has seen revolutions in treatment because of the light evolution has shined upon it.

For the geneticist, Darwin has explained the uniformity of the genetic code. Knowing all organisms follow the same genetic code is explained only in terms of evolution. Without Darwin, the why to this magnificent discovery would be unanswered.

Scientists as a whole have received new ways of thinking that has been presented to us through the understanding of evolution. Before Darwin, the thought of complexity arising from more simplistic parts was unheard of. All complexity required more complex explanations. With Darwin, we can see our universe anew. The result of natural laws acting along one another to produce staggering feats of complexity and beauty, stretching the bounds of thought.

—Zach Stevenson

Experience the World Without Leaving Home!

Ever wonder what you can do to help change the world? This is an opportunity to open your home and family to a high school student from another country and help build bridges of intercultural understanding at a time when the world really needs it. This year, through AFS Intercultural Programs, more than 2,500 young people from 60 countries will arrive in the U.S. to study at local high schools, charter schools and even some private schools. They will live with families just like yours, sharing in day to day activities. Hosting families provide a bed and meals and the same guidance and support they give their own children; students have health insurance and bring spending money with them. All receive the support of local AFS volunteers.

AFS is a worldwide, nonprofit organization that has been leading international high school student exchange for more than 60 years. Each year, AFS-USA sends more than 1,400 US students abroad, provides approximately $3 million in scholarships and financial aid, and welcomes 2,500 international high school students who come to study in US high schools and live with hosting families. More than 6,000 volunteers in the US make the work of AFS possible.

To learn more about our organization and explore opportunities for hosting, studying abroad or volunteering call AFS-USA at 1-800-876-2377, email hosting@afs.org or check out our website http://www.afs.org. Locally you can call Barbara Calney at 801-942-4014.


“As a humanist and former AFS student to Belgium, I can attest to the life-enhancing experience of being a host family or student abroad.”

—Mark Bedel
HoU Member

Freethought Happenings

Activities of Interest to HoU Membership:

Thursday, July 7: Join the Atheists of Utah for their weekly coffee and conversation in an informal and relaxed atmosphere, at Mestizo Coffeehouse (631 West North Temple). They go to The Beerhive (128 South Main Street) for drinks afterwards. If The Beerhive is too busy to accommodate the group, look for them at either Murphy’s (160 South Main Street) or O’Shucks (22 East 100 South).

Sunday, July 17: SHIFT will be having a book discussion. We will be discussing Dr. Stephen Hawking’s The Grand Design in the 1st floor cafe of the Marriott Library (295 South 1500 East) from 1:00 to 3:00. The event is free and open to the public, with free parking in the visitor lot adjacent to the library

Saturday, July 23: Meet the Utah Coalition of Reason at our Summer BBQ beginning at 4:00 p.m. at the home of our Marketing Director, Lauren Ball, and his wife, Judy! 11242 South O’Henry Road. (470 East) in Sandy. Ethically-raised meats and all-natural vegetarian grilling options will be provided. We welcome you to bring a side/drink to share, as well as a contribution to our Grand Prize “Bag of Beans” (coffee/tea related stock-pile). Be prepared to purchase tickets to win awesome prizes—all proceeds go to the Utah Coalition of Reason. This event is free and open to all members of non-theistic groups in Utah—bring your friends!

—Elaine Ball

President’s Message

In the last month or so the announcements of intent to run for president by several politicians make me groan. They will be in our faces for a year and a half before the next election. I don’t know about you, but at the age of 63 I’m getting a little tired of what is actually the never ending campaign. In fact I’m down right sick of politicians. Some of them are so obviously stupid that it is depressing to know that they are or will be in positions of authority making decisions for all of us.

We have an idiot Democrat, Anthony Weiner, who, quite literally, cannot keep his pecker in his pants. Then we get a couple of Republican aspirants (Palin and Bachman,) running around making insane statements that are not only idiotic lies or distortions, but are at time delivered in incomprehensible babble. To top it all off Mitt Romney tells a group of people, “I’m unemployed too.” Disgusting.

I realize voting is important, and I haven’t missed a general election in my entire life, but I’m sick of the politicians.

There, I’ve had my little rant, now on to something more positive.  As I have mentioned a couple of times recently that we will be involving the chapter in helping the Homeless Youth Resource Center. The needs of these young people are a glaring example of our society’s failure to actually provide adequate safety nets for those in need.

I am hopeful that our efforts will be successful and sustained. One fear I have is that an effort like this may become a once a year or a “holiday” charity event. Let us work to keep it going continuously.

In order to get started, I obtained their “wish list”. There may be an opportunity in the future to volunteer for the group for those willing to give time. But to get started we thought that we would link a “Wish List Drive,” with our end of summer BBQ and have people bring items that we can deliver to the HYRC. Without doubt, they would love donations of money, but I will include the list below so you can pick whatever you would like to give.

  • Canned meals (spaghetti-os, Chef Boyardee, Thick and Chunky Soups)
  • Men’s Boxers (Medium, Large, xlarge, and 2xl)*
  • Canned tuna
  • Tarps
  • Peanut butter
  • Batteries (AAA, AA, C, D)
  • Size Three Diapers*
  • Men’s Undershirts (New, all sizes)
  • Tampons
  • Postage stamps*
  • Lighters (preferably bic)
  • Plus size clothes and underwear for women
  • Full size body wash

Items most needed at present*

There is the list, mark August 11 on your calendar for the BBQ and plan on bringing a donation. But before the BBQ, I hope to see you at the July Movie. Bye for now.

—Robert Lane
President, HoU