Friday, December 31, 2010

book Review: The Making of the Fittest (Book 43 of 100)

hose of you who know me will know how strange it is that I have decided to review an evolutionary biology book. I have, as I have noted, a good deal of unresolved rage at scientists and what they have permitted or encourage to be done to individuals who have bodies like mine. I suppose reviewing this book was my half-hearted attempt to give the field of science a chance to do what it proclaims its goal to be. That is, make the world better.

I’m happy to report that my attempt succeeded and so did the scientists who wrote this book. Since what happened to me as a child, I have not been much of a science person. I figured, for the most part, scientists were money-hungry, greedy people who had no concern for the bodies they might injure. This is especially given the way that Darwin’s “Survival of the Fittest” methodology has been used to advocate for the elimination of disabled people. I’m not the biggest fan. Now that I have waxed social science on you for two paragraphs, let me get to the book.

I learned many things from this book. The first of which is that there are some creatures whose blood isn’t red. A group of ice fish in Antarctica has white blood. They are the only vertebrate lacking hemoglobin which produces the red color of blood. When a passing scientist in 1800 heard about this, he thought sailors were playing a joke on him. I would have thought so too until I read this book. I thought everything that bled had red blood. I guess there really is no single unifying factor across species. Well maybe pain, but then again, not even all humans feel pain. There is a subset of people who have a disease that makes them incapable of feeling pain.

Another I learned was that there are two major classes of organisms, eukaryotes and prokaryotes. Humans are eukaryotes, as are animals and plants. I don’t know what exactly the prokaryote kingdom encompasses because that was not covered.

The biggest thing I learned from the book was that the “fittest is transient.” This means that while one might be the fittest today and therefore most likely to survive, changes may occur tomorrow that render a previously fit organism no longer fit. Another thing I learned was that not all ‘bad’ genes are bad in all circumstances. Sickle-cell anemia, for example, results from having two copies of a mutated gene. Having one copy of the gene, however, results in increased resistance to malaria. Also Darwinian principles have been applied to fighting cancer. If someone is resistant to one drug, we can undermine the resistance by giving them two drugs at once because it’s unlikely that the cancer will be resistant to both at once. As the author says, the best way to combat cancer is to “hit it early and hit it hard.” As someone who has studied HIV for a long period of time, this makes sense.

I was saddened to learn that Soviet scientist Lashanko who didn’t agree with evolution had scientists who supported the theory killed or institutionalize. His denial of this basic scientific tenet put the Soviet biology program back 20 years. We still see things like that in the fight against HIV and the battle over intelligent design vs. evolution. No one cares who is right and no one even cares who dies. It’s all about protecting one’s own little corner of the Earth and being the big cheese. Last time I check that was not science. It was grandstanding.

The hardest part as layperson to digest was all the goings-on about intelligent design. This is the theory that the complexity of the universe can only mean that it was designed by a greater entity. I believe in a greater entity. I also believe that I am not the person designed to force my beliefs on others. Like most people of faith, I believe in evolution. It makes sense to me. Of course, God is too busy top create every creature. There needs to be some level of self-evolution. What’s the big deal here? Why do we need to go to court about this? I am saddened that many people who claim to read the same book I do think it’s appropriate to go around suing school boards over the teaching of accepted scientific fact. How would this be pleasing to God?

In the final chapter, the author talks about how unless man reverses some tendencies and lives a much more sustainable future, many animals and plants will no longer be around when they’re kids grow up. He says “the future of nature, at present, looks terribly gloomy.” As sad as that statement makes me, I know it’s true.

I rate this book a 7 out of 10. I don’t know enough knowledge of science to understand everything, but I got a lot of out of it. If you’re a science novice, you might enjoy it too. At least it will give you new evidence to counter any anti-evolutionist forces you have to contend with in your local school board or perhaps at your breakfast table.

No comments:

Post a Comment