Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Riddles of Existence

Wonderful Life by Stephen Jay Gould is a fascinating book. I will likely be blogging through it over the next few weeks. Here are some choice quotes about the importance of the fossils of the Cambrian era and why so many people know nothing about them:
Without hesitation or ambiguity . . . I state that the invertebrates of the Burgess Shale, found high in the Canadian Rockies in Yoho National Park, on the eastern border of British Columbia, are the world's most important animal fossils. Modern multicellular animals make their first uncontested appearance in the fossil record some 570 milllion years ago--and with a bang, not a protracted crescendo. This "Cambrian explosion" marks the advent (at least into direct evidence) of virtually all major groups of modern animals--and all within the minuscule span, geologically speaking, of a few million years. pp. 23-24 (bold emphasis mime).

Gould says this about the third of the "three major aims" of his book:
I grapple with the enigma of why such a fundamental program of research has been permitted to pass so invisibly before the public gaze. Why is Opabinia, key animal in a new view of life, not a household name in all domiciles that care about the riddles of existence? p. 24

As far as I know, there is only one state that includes the Cambrian fossils as part of its science standards: Kansas. What was the reward for Kansas from the majority of the scientific community? Vilification and ridicule. Darwinian obscurantism is a powerful force.


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