Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Darwin Says...

"Organisms compete for limited natural resources."

As I'm in the midst of teaching evolution to my biology students, this topic came up today and reminded me of something that was said to me about the theft of my purse last Saturday:

"I know why your purse was stolen," she said, "it's because of the economy."

Now while this is totally a lame-o reason to have my purse swiped, it does provide a valuable example for me to to use to explain the foundations on which Darwin's theory is based. As I read student's conceptions of evolution, I find that they really don't "get it." They may not think that Lamarckian views of evolution are plausible (acquired traits are passed on to offspring...like a horse stretches his neck so he can get food and turns into a giraffe), they wind up explaining adaptations in just that way. It is difficult to get their minds around the concept because to understand evolution, you have to understand that individuals don't evolve, populations evolve. Variations only become adaptations when they provide an advantage to the individual who has them.

In this way, it was useful to be able to explain evolution in terms that the students could identify with. Yes, even humans compete for limited natural resources. Whether it's the case of "Leggo My Eggo," "First one to the clicker gets to choose the show," or even theft, the "environment" selects the most fit individuals. Believe you, me, next time a stronger "street sense" will prevail as I won't be leaving my purse hidden under the seat anymore.



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