24 October 2007

Evolution among Friends

I don't like to work in silence, so I often have the TV on in the background. The other day a re-run of Friends came on, and what do you know, they were talking about evolution.

Ross, for non-watchers of the show, is a scientist who studies dinosaurs, and during the episode he tries to convince Phoebe, the resident skeptic, that evolution is a scientific reality. Thanks to the countless people out there obsessed with Friends, a transcript of the episode "The One Where Heckles Dies" exists, so I'll paste in the relevant parts below the fold...

PHOEBE: I'm sorry, but sometimes they [the recently deceased] need help. That's fine.
Go ahead and scoff. You know, there're a lot of things that I don't
believe in, but that doesn't mean they're not true.

JOEY: Such as?

PHOEBE: Like crop circles, or the Bermuda triangle, or evolution?

ROSS: Whoa, whoa, whoa. What, you don't, uh, you don't believe in

PHOEBE: Nah. Not really.

ROSS: You don't believe in evolution?

PHOEBE: I don't know, it's just, you know...monkeys, Darwin, you know,
it's a, it's a nice story, I just think it's a little too easy.

ROSS: Too easy? Too...The process of every living thing on this planet
evolving over millions of years from single-celled organisms,
too easy?

PHOEBE: Yeah, I just don't buy it.

ROSS: Uh, excuse me. Evolution is not for you to buy, Phoebe.
Evolution is scientific fact, like, like, like the air we
breathe, like gravity.

PHOEBE: Ok, don't get me started on gravity.

ROSS: You uh, you don't believe in gravity?

PHOEBE: Well, it's not so much that you know, like I don't believe in
it, you know, it's just...I don't know, lately I get the
feeling that I'm not so much being pulled down as I am being

(knock at the door)

CHANDLER: Uh-Oh. It's Isaac Newton, and he's pissed.


ROSS: How can you not believe in evolution?

PHOEBE: Just don't. Look at this funky shirt!

ROSS: Pheebs, I have studied evolution my entire adult life. Ok, I
can tell you, we have collected fossils from all over the world
that actually show the evolution of different species, ok? You
can literally see them evolving through time.

PHOEBE: Really? You can actually see it?

ROSS: You bet. In the U.S., China, Africa, all over.

PHOEBE: See, I didn't know that.

ROSS: Well, there you go.

PHOEBE: Huh. So now, the real question is, who put those fossils there,
and why?

ROSS: Ok, Pheebs. See how I'm making these little toys move? Opposable
thumbs. Without evolution, how do you explain opposable thumbs?

PHOEBE: Maybe the overlords needed them to steer their spacecrafts.

ROSS: Please tell me you're joking.

PHOEBE: Look, can't we just say that you believe in something, and I

ROSS: No, no, Pheebs, we can't, ok, because--

PHOEBE: What is this obsessive need you have to make everyone agree
with you? No, what's that all about? I think, I think maybe
it's time you put Ross under the microscope.

ROSS: Is there blood coming out of my ears?


PHOEBE: Uh-oh. It's Scary Scientist Man.

ROSS: Ok, Phoebe, this is it. In this briefcase I carry actual
scientific facts. A briefcase of facts, if you will. Some of
these fossils are over 200 million years old.

PHOEBE: Ok, look, before you even start, I'm not denying evolution,
ok, I'm just saying that it's one of the possibilities.

ROSS: It's the only possibility, Phoebe.

PHOEBE: Ok, Ross, could you just open your mind like this much, ok?
Wasn't there a time when the brightest minds in the world
believed that the world was flat? And, up until like what, 50
years ago, you all thought the atom was the smallest thing,
until you split it open, and this like, whole mess of crap
came out. Now, are you telling me that you are so unbelievably
arrogant that you can't admit that there's a teeny tiny
possibility that you could be wrong about this?

ROSS: There might be, a teeny, tiny, possibility.

PHOEBE: I can't believe you caved.

ROSS: What?

PHOEBE: You just abandoned your whole belief system. I mean, before, I
didn't agree with you, but at least I respected you. How, how,
how are you going to go into work tomorrow? How, how are you
going to face the other science guys? How, how are you going
to face yourself? Oh! That was fun. So who's hungry?

RACHEL: I am. Let me just get my coat.

Phoebe makes a pretty elegant argument at the end there - so scientists, as the Rosses of the world, don't cave in the face of evolution doubters. While our understanding of evolution may be evolving, it is the only possibility that currently explains a large body of scientific evidence.

(except if maybe you're a Pastafarian and believe that an invisible and omniscient being called the Flying Spaghetti Monster created the universe in one day)


Gabriel said...

phoebe doesn't understand, and neither do people who attack evolution, that science isn't a "belief system." it's a self-correcting process of gathering knowledge based on evidence. i can't understand why it's not logical to change your mind if new evidence comes in. ross doesn't "cave" and neither are scientists who say (honestly) that science changes and there's always that chance that what we believe now is wrong. in fact, that's the beauty of it! scientists CRAVE evidence, and if anyone had any evidence that didn't fit in with the theory of evolution - the overarching explanation that seems to be doing well and predicting and explaining - i'm pretty sure scientists would be thrilled and excited by new areas study - IF that happens. people who don't see how elegant science is as the ultimate (and unending) search for "truth." it's way too easy, small, and petty to confine truth to "holy" books. evolution isn't the only answer, evidence is and evolution does a beautiful job of explaining the evidence. the bible has yet to predict or explain anything.

Amy said...

Very well put Gabriel, you worded that far better than I did.