August 19, 2005 | David F. Coppedge

Italy Going Soft on Darwinism

The controversy over evolution is not limited to American shores.  An editorial in the September issue of American Naturalist1 expresses concern that evolutionary biology is getting a low-key treatment in Italian universities:

The Darwinian theory of evolution by natural selection is the unifying principle of the biological sciences.  Unfortunately in the Italian academic system, evolutionary biology is not acknowledged as an independent research area, so no faculty positions in “evolutionary biology” can be established, and most students hear only a brief summary of evolutionary theory in the final hours of their introductory zoology, paleontology, or genetics courses.  To make matters worse, during the past two years, several creationist organizations have been publicly attacking the teaching of evolutionary theory.   (Emphasis added in all quotes.)

It’s time to take action, says the Italian Society for Evolutionary Biology.  Last year, they established the Coordinamento Italiano dei Biologi Evoluzionisti – CoEvol for short – to both strengthen collaborations between Italian evolutionists and to “improve the teaching of evolution in Italy and to increase the involvement of undergraduate and graduate students in evolutionary studies.”  Activities include a new cyber-journal club allow evolutionists to discuss recent papers, annual meetings, and the announcement of the new Italian Society for Evolutionary Biology.  More significantly, CoEvol hopes to become a “lobby group that will foster collaboration among Italian evolutionary biologists in Italy and abroad and represent our interest in making evolutionary biology a priority in the Italian educational system.”  They have established a website:

1Announcements, “Letter from the Italian Society for Evolutionary Biology,” The American Naturalist, Vol. 166, Sept. 2005, pp. i-ii.

Today, class, we will learn about the evolution of the pizza.  The pizza was not created by intelligent design, as those rascally creationists allege.  Instead, it “emerged” out of the primordial dough.  Over millions of years, it became just one species of Italian food on the evolutionary Cuisine of Life, with spaghetti, linguini, tortellini and macaroni branching off early and forming the Pasta Kingdom, incorporating parmesan by lateral cheese transfer.  Some theorists believe that pepperoni was once a free-living organism that became incorporated into pizza as an endosymbiont during the Prosciutto epoch of the Paleocarne Era.  The pizza class experienced a rapid diversification into many forms on the North American continent, as the Italian fast-food restaurant niche opened after the last Ice Cream Age.  This stimulated an explosive period of adaptive radiation, producing the Round Table family, the Shakeys family, and the Chuck E. Cheese family, among others.  The microwave pizza, with no phylogenetic connection to the old-world pizzas of the Italian peninsula, provides a striking example of convergent evolution….
    That makes about as much sense as the usual evolutionary storytelling in biology.  Will Italian students give it much more than a yawn?  Maybe Go-Evil should obtain a concertina marching band and hold parades, where Emperor Charlie as Grand Marshall can strut down the Appian Way in his new clothes – on second thought, better pack a designer loincloth.
    Have you ever noticed that every announcement by Big Science starts with the same line? – “the Darwinian theory of evolution by natural selection is the unifying principle of the biological sciences.”  It’s almost enough to feed conspiracy theories.  In actuality, evolution is about as unifying as iron mixed with clay, the iron representing hard science based on observation, and the clay representing evolutionary speculation.  No matter how much it tries to cling to the iron, the clay will not be able to support the statue without a change of ore.

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