Sunday, February 12, 2006

Evolution Sunday; At the Movies

Happy Evolution Sunday (aka Darwin's birthday), everyone. Chicago Tribune story here. New York Newsday story here. Newsday excerpt: The Rev. Richard E. Edwards will not mince words in his sermon today about God and Charles Darwin, the 19th century naturalist whose theory of evolution rocked the world. "I want to reaffirm the compatibility of Biblical tradition and modern science," said Edwards, pastor of Stony Brook Community Church, a small, Methodist congregation that draws members from the nearby university and medical center. "This is a community where science counts, and where folks really need to hear that." At a time when conservative Christians are mounting aggressive challenges to the teaching of evolution in public schools, Edwards is one of about 400 pastors nationwide, mostly from mainline Protestant churches, who are participating in "Evolution Sunday" to promote the idea that Christianity and science may coexist peacefully. Note: Today is also Darren Aronofsky's birthday. Wouldn't "Aronofsky Sunday" make for some interestingly themed sermons?

February 12, 1809 was the birth date and year of Mr. Darwin, but also of Abraham Lincoln. I don't believe in any of that astrology nonsense, but I do like to keep lists of things. One of my lists is of famous people born on the same date, same year. One of these days I'll have to dig it up and post some examples. Of the top of my head, however:
  • October 1, 1924 - Jimmy Carter, William Rehnquist
  • June 1, 1926 - Andy Griffith, Marilyn Monroe
  • June 18, 1942 - Paul McCartney, Roger Ebert

Update, 5:02 PM, 2/12/06: San Francisco Chronicle article on Lincoln and Darwin. Excerpt: On this day in 1809, two of the most famous men of the 19th century were born under very different circumstances -- one in a Kentucky log cabin, the other in an English country house complete with stable and servants' quarters. The first is, of course, Abraham Lincoln. And the second? None other than Charles Darwin. That two such influential men should be born on the same day of the same year surely is one of history's most amazing coincidences. In fact, had the second man been anyone else in the world except Charles Darwin, the father of the theory of evolution, it might even be cited as an example of ... intelligent design! Needless to say, Darwin's birthday is not a day of great celebration in intelligent design circles.

I must take issue with this. There are only 365 (or 366) days in the year. There are fewer than 200 years since their births. It would be statisically quite improbable to never have overlaps in birth dates and years of at least some great figures in the history of the past 200 years -- in other words, if it wasn't Lincoln and Darwin, it would be Lincoln and somebody else, or Darwin and somebody else, or somebody else and somebody else. (Like I said, I don't go for a lot of that astrologyish stuff.)

Check out this discussion of the Birthday Paradox question. Excerpt: This question is more complicated than flipping a coin, because the chance of finding two people with the same birthday depends on the number of people you ask. If there were only one other person in your math class, you might be surprised to find out that she had the same birthday as you. If there were a pair of people with the same birthday in a class of 366 people, would you still be surprised?

One of my favorite classes in high school was Probability, Statistics, and Logic. One time the teacher asked us to try and figure out a similar question and took intuitive guesses from the rest of the class, most of which were to the effect that there's no way that there could be overlapping birthdays in a class of 28 kids. I sat in the second seat back on the farthest row on the left. I happened to know that the girl in front of me had the same birthday as I did. Due to the coincidence of the seating chart, the teacher asked that girl what her birthday was first, then asked me, and then the intuitives were all like "no way..." especially when it turned out another kid in another row had that birthday too.

End of update.

In other news, we watched The Aristocrats, and as Penn Jillette said at the end of the commentary (and I paraphrase), "Name another movie where there's no violence, no hostility, no hate, no conflict; Just a whole lot of people having a good time and loving each other." I don't know about the "loving each other" part, but the concept of this film [a series of jokes revolving around a variety of "unspeakably" (irony - get it?) perverse acts with (usually) the same minimalist punchline] fits in well with the word/image-is-not-the-thing theme that I've been going on about for a few days. Also, see this NOTM post on logic, humor, and discontinuity. I'm finishing the extras on this disc this morning.

I watched Rabid, too, and I liked it pretty good. If you find the idea of a sharp-toothed, carnivorous appendage coming out of a porn star's armpit appealing, then this is the movie for you. (Did I mention that one of the consequences of the armpit-appendage's appetite is that the cops machine gun Santa Claus in the middle of the mall?)


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