"A Can of Worms"

I have really been enjoying reading through my hard copy of the February 11, 2011 issue of Nature. (A note to the nice anonymous donor who saw fit to give me a subscription of the Weekly Standard for Christmas: my birthday is coming up in April.)In an article entitled "A Can of Worms," Amy Maxmen describes the shock waves sent through the evolutionary biology community by a new paper on a type of tiny worms called acoels, because they lack a coelum (a body cavity that holds the internal organs in place). In fact, the last author on the paper reflected, ""I will say, diplomatically, this is the most politically fraught paper I've ever written."What's the problem? In a nutshell, the paper is challenging long held views of the lines of evolutionary development. Previously, these little worms were seen at the trunk of the evolutionary tree, in part because they did not have separate intake and output mechanisms for dealing with nourishment. This paper, as I read it, suggests that the acoeli belong higher up the trunk, and maybe even in the branches with other vertebrates. They have, well, devolved from something higher, whose traces are still apparent in their cellular structure (micro-DNA).And it appears there's now tension and resistance in the scientific community, because the little worms fit so perfectly in the old picture.In a post below, Ann Oliver suggested that one way of reading the Nature article on Theresa Deisher was as subtly suggesting that the scientific community could become as settled in its dogmas as religious communities are. This article on worms can be read as supporting that suggestion.

Cathleen Kaveny is the Darald and Juliet Libby Professor in the Theology Department and Law School at Boston College.

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