February 2012

Does Evolution Make Big Changes?

Humanists of Utah were treated to a fascinating discussion of evolution by Dr. Alan R. Rogers, professor of anthropology and biology at the University of Utah, who spoke on “Does Evolution Make Big Changes” at our January general meeting. His presentation included some of the questions raised by evolution skeptics and how those questions have been answered.

The U.S. population is next to last in the world (just above Turkey) in believing that human beings as we know them developed from earlier species of animals—only forty percent of Americans believe this fact. Dr. Rogers said he could assume that students in his classes were doing the homework and taking the tests, and that sixty percent of them didn’t believe a word he said. However, studies between 1985 and 2010 show there is a growing belief that no god was involved in the creation of man.

Evolution non-believers question the evidence of any big changes. They say there are no intermediate fossils of similar organisms and that species should show traces of common descent (DNA). Dr. Rogers went on to show how, in one example, recent intermediate fossil finds have proven that over millions of years land mammals evolved to be whales, including going from no motion of the tail to the tail becoming more important and feet less important, thus walking to swimming. The whole process took about ten million years. The first intermediate fossils were found in Pakistan in the early 1980s. Scientists had to be looking in the right place and in rocks of just the right age to find these fossils.

Other examples of evolution proven by intermediate fossils are birds evolving from dinosaurs, tetrapods evolving from fish, and in one specific instance, the evolution of the eyes of the flatfish from both sides of the head to one side of the head.

Progressive creationism claims that only similar organisms share ancestors; however, evolution proves that all organisms share ancestors. Dr. Rogers then went to discuss “transposons,” the fascinating “junk DNA” or “jumping genes” that are good for nothing but that copy themselves and insert themselves into random spots in DNA. They’re never lost without a trace. Each of the transposons is shared by all the descendants after the original insertion and only by these descendants. An example: deer and cows share transposons with humpback and beaked whales—they have a common ancestor.

A lively question-and-answer period at the end of the meeting brought up questions about the beginning of life on earth, evolution of drug-resistant bacteria which change so rapidly that drug companies have nearly given up on developing new antibiotics—they can’t recoup their costs before the bacteria has become resistant to the new drug, and more.

Dr. Rogers has been teaching evolution at the university level since 1980. He recently published the book “The Evidence for Evolution,” about which Dr. Steven Pinker of Harvard University says: “Alan Rogers addresses the political controversy over the theory of evolution (there’s no longer any scientific controversy) in the best scientific spirit: with evidence and logic. For anyone with an open mind, a curiosity about the natural world, and a desire to see controversies settled with evidence rather than rhetoric, this is an invaluable contribution and a fascinating read.”

—Susan Fox

Uniquely Ours


This month we’re talking about something we would like to be able to do that is not in general mainstream. Of course, our humanists outdo themselves with their ideas and dreams once again!

  • I would like to become a great belly dancer, but since I am in my 70s it’s not likely to happen; too bad there’s no after life.
  • I have always been a person who enjoys solitude. As such, living on a lighthouse always seemed appealing. Sadly there are no longer any manned lighthouses; technology has taken over. From what I understand, people can buy lighthouses but that’s not quite the same thing to me. As a second choice, an expedition to the Antarctic would be fine, although you would have others there with you. If there were personality problems, that would take away the charm.
  • I would like to sit in the dugout at Busch Stadium and watch my beloved St. Louis Cardinals play–if it were a playoff game that would be icing on the cake. World Series game? Might simply be too much!
  • I’d settle for run-of-the-mill adventures such as going to the Galapagos Islands or up the Amazon. I can think of hundreds of places/times I’d like to have been in the past (knowing, of course, that they ended safely)…rafting down the Colorado with John Wesley Powell, exploring with Lewis and Clark, sitting in on the drafting of the U.S. Constitution (to put to rest all those “Christian Nation” arguments), etc. I’ll have to settle for armchair exploring and adventures!
  • I would like to upload my consciousness into a computer that would greatly augment my cognitive abilities and allow me to manifest myself in any number of machines or entities remotely linked to that computer, especially to nano scale entities/machines. In doing so, I would not only improve myself beyond measure, but would also make the world a better place according to my worldview.
  • I’d really like to know that when I can no longer do the things that need to be done each day, to enjoy food and music that I would be able to say to someone, “I’m ready to go. Please give me the pills.” And I could just die peacefully and quietly the way our dogs have died when they have been old and in pain. (I’m 91 and not expecting to want this for at least another ten years—but it would be comforting to know that the opportunity would be there.
  • I would like to continuously celebrate my humanity by greeting each day with curious wonder and joyous anticipation of discovery. And then share my simple daily adventures and astonishment with others.

—Lisa Miller

Liberal Progress

“….with liberty and justice for all.”  U.S.Pledge of Allegiance.

The liberal social agenda is summarized in the final phrase of the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance and it is marching forward successfully. I was born in 1924 and during my 87-years I have seen the spirit of liberalism enjoy many victories: Two Quakers elected president, Herbert Hoover and Richard Nixon; one president elected to four terms, FDR; a small businessman elected president, Harry Truman; a Catholic in the White House, JFK; a movie actor elected president, Ronald Regan; a Republican President opens relationship with a communist nation, Richard Nixon; a violator of our legal code forced to resign the presidency, Nixon; an accused violator of our moral code escapes impeachment, Bill Clinton; a black citizen overwhelming elected to our nation’s highest political office, Barack Obama; and currently a thrice married Catholic is endorsed by Protestant evangelicals as a presidential candidate, Newt Gingrich.

In my lifetime prohibition was tried and failed, young adults, those between 18 and 21 year of age were given the privilege of voting. Black citizens were recognized fully as individuals rather than only 3/5ths of a citizen. A black civil rights leader was honored with a monument on the grounds of our nation’s Capital, Martin Luther King.

An 8-hour work day and 5-day work week is instituted. Some financial income when out of work and/or retired, basic medical care and career opportunities are available for workers

With the lawful sale of contraceptives women have won the right to decide when to become mothers and the right to have an abortion before they have been pregnant for less than three months. They can have a career of their choice and enjoy increasing equality with males in all walks of life. They win elections to governorships, legislatures, Mayors, councilors; CEOs and become business owners. Women are political leaders in both parties and have had successful careers as Secretary of State. They are familiar faces as anchors on television newscasts and are respected journalists.

Interracial marriages are common, homosexuals of both sexes are accepted politically, publically, as business leaders and in the military, and have full citizen rights, tattoos and body piercing besides ear rings are readily available. Sexual pleasures are accepted as recreational activities. Citizens of all races, religions, and ethnicities can buy or rent a home anywhere they can afford.

Our nation races to help the victims of poverty and the victims of nature’s aberrations round the world. We rebuilt Europe after a devastating war and now financially support and host a worldwide forum, the UN, where nations can openly discuss their differences and seek peaceful solutions to serious problems. The United States evolves as the world’s leading power morally, economically, politically, and militarily.

All of these progressive actions have occurred in my lifetime!

Despite the opposition of conservatives the agenda of liberalism, “liberty and justice for all” continues to march ahead toward “a more perfect nation.”

—Flo Wineriter

This was submitted to the Salt Lake Tribune, but never published

Website of the Month
New Natural History Museum of Utah

An architectural marvel and a case study in “green” design created by community generosity; we welcome you to the Natural History Museum of Utah at the Rio Tinto Center. Come check us out!


President’s Message

I have often been heard to say that my humanism has its roots in science. I say that because in the end I understand that it was my interest in science that drew me away from religion. From the early age of about fifteen, I began asking questions that irritated the religious adults in my life. I remember asking someone in the Mormon bishopric, “If god created everything, then who created god?” This is the famous (infamous?) first cause question, which I think, can logically come to mind. The irritated response I received was that I shouldn’t ask those kinds of questions because they were unanswerable. I also remember there was some admonition about obedience and studying the scriptures.

As I have been thinking about science in my life, I wondered what it was in my youth that ignited my love of science. There are actually many, but the really big one occurred when I was my eleventh grade advanced biology and physiology class at a military school. The teacher had good resources. Suffice it to say, we had more than worms to dissect. Plus the teacher would dissect in class other larger animals he had access to. It was all quite fascinating. This is about the time when my “obedience” to nonsense was all but gone.

Obedience without doubt is a common thread with most religions. Here is another example I came across recently: “Independent thinking is not encouraged.” That statement from a religious publication, (not Mormon) stands in stark opposition to our humanist ideals which includes freethought as one of the paramount necessities. It is also necessary to advocate and defend science. Unfortunately quite often these days science needs to be defended. Defended from attacks by those who are working hard constantly, to put religious beliefs alongside real science in schools.

I am not interested in challenging anyone’s belief in god. People should always be free to believe whatever they wish. But when beliefs are turned into actions which we disagree with we must be willing to challenge efforts to, for instance, insert creationism into the science curricula in schools. Teaching students that the Grand Canyon was carved, virtually overnight by the Noah flood is nonsense and it most certainly is not science. Asserting that the earth is only several thousand years old rather than the 4.6 billion years it is estimated to be. It is unfortunate and frustrating that observable facts must be defended and at times it may feel like a waste of time to have to oppose nonsense that tries to call itself science. But we must continue to do so.

That’s enough about the conflict between science and religion. Our February Darwin Day will be our fifth, and we come together to celebrate Darwin’s birthday, his great contribution to science, and to celebrate science in general. So please join us for an informative evening and piece of birthday cake.

—Robert Lane
President, HoU