RSSCategory: Evolution

Temple of Disinformation

January 29, 2010 | By | 7 Replies More
Temple of Disinformation

In America’s heartland there is a modern temple to the denial of five nines (99.999%) of what we’ve learned about the universe in the last couple of centuries. The Creation Museum is a sleek, elegant, well presented indoor theme park almost entirely lacking in actual knowledge. It is derided worldwide, and is a source of shame for our once forward thinking nation. It is also, I grant, an edifice to the principle of free speech.

The ham, showman and charlatan who created this institution in Kentucky after he was laughed out of his Australian homeland seems to be quite sincere about the project. Ken Ham is actually his name. And he has been raking in major profits for nearly three years from this place, well beyond even his early hopes. Apparently there is more than one born again every minute.

Busloads of young Christians long to go on pilgrimages to shore up their Young Earth ideology. The younger ones (under 12) can even get their picture taken on the back of a dinosaur, just like those that people rode. That is, before the old west cowboys killed the last of them off. That’s why all those T-Rexes are found out on the great plains.

You don’t have to take this from me on faith, follow the links from the Wikipedia article on the Creation Museum. See actual video tours.

So, why am I venting my bile right now? Wasn’t this already adequately covered on this site?

I just learned that a young collateral relative, a bright young man, is looking forward to his trip there this weekend! Half a dozen years ago, he was in public schools, in every advanced program they offered. Advanced science and math and lead cello in the district orchestra. Then his parents removed him from all that intellectual wealth to put him in a small Christian school. He still excelled, eventually garnering college board scores that got him invitations to Harvard and Yale and such. But he wants to go to a small school with an influential chapter of the Campus Crusade. Sigh.

Most of this is re-posted from this FaceBook note.

Share

Read More

Daniel Dennett: Why Darwin’s idea was the greatest ever

December 31, 2009 | By | Reply More
Daniel Dennett: Why Darwin’s idea was the greatest ever

In this terrifically engaging and accessible video interview, Daniel Dennett (talking with Richard Dawkins) explains his view that Darwin’s idea was the greatest idea ever. Dennett, who authored Darwin’s Dangerous Idea explains that natural selection unified the world of mechanism/material/physical and the world of meaning/purpose/goals which, until Darwin, seemed to be unbridgeable.

Many people feel that Darwin’s idea destroyed their sense of meaning, but Dennett argues that this “immaterial immortal soul” is a “crutch,” and that Darwin replaced that idea with that of a “material mortal soul.” Dennett describes our material souls as made of neurons. “They are blind little bio-robots . . . They don’t know; they don’t care; they are just doing their jobs.” If you put enough of these simple little bio-robots together, you end up with a soul. Out of these little bio-robots, you can assemble the control system of a complex organism. Simple little parts can self-organize into sentient being that can “look into the future . . . because we can imagine the world in a better way, and we can hold each other responsible for that.”

There’s no need to assume that a God implants any sort of soul. Rather, according to Dennett, a functional soul can “emerge” from soul-less little individual parts. The simple little parts don’t need to exhibit the functions and abilities of the assembled groups of parts, but this illusory jump is a huge stumbling block for many theists. They wonder how you can “make a living thing out of dead stuff,” but that is exactly what happens, “and that’s the wonder of it.” Science has also shown that you can also “make a conscious thing out of unconscious stuff.”

Over great periods of time, natural processes can constitute the design function that allows these incredible results we see in the world. It is not necessary that complex things need to be created by even more complex things. Darwin’s ideas destroyed this misconception and “this is a really stunning fact. Purpose can emerge from the bottom up.” The brain itself is a fast-paced evolutionary device; the learning process is a matter of generation and testing and pruning, over and over.

Dawkins asks Dennett to explain further how “cranes” (simple natural processes) can really account for the wonderful complexity of life in the absence of “sky-hooks” (supernatural beings). You could argue that our planet has grown a nervous system and it’s us. The above summarizes only the first ten minutes of the fifty-minute interview.

Numerous other topics are discussed in the video, including the following:

– Modern wars and strife constitute growing pains resulting from our being flooded with great amounts of information about each other. (15:00)

– Cultural evolution clearly exists. Languages and musical ideas evolve, for example, without anyone initially consciously “laying down the law.”

– Dennett’s recent brush with death (his aorta suddenly burst), resulting in many intriguing observations (21:00), including a deepened understanding of the phrase “thank goodness.” You can put goodness back into the world, “and you don’t need a middleman” (God). You can directly thank the doctors, nurses and medical journalists, the peer reviewers and the entire scientific enterprise that allows elaborate cures such as artificial aortas. According to Dennett, don’t bother thanking God, “go plant a tree, go try to teach somebody something . . . let’s make the world better for our children and our grandchildren.”

– Dennett elaborates on being part of this elaborate social and scientific fabric, this complex exploratory process. He finds this view much more inspiring that the idea that he is “a doll made by God . . . to pray to him.” (24:00)

– The scientific process is double-edged, exacerbated by the Internet. We can’t tightly control this information, and their effects might be detrimental. We need to think “epidemiologically” about this possibility, and to better prepare people to deal with the ideas gone awry to protect them. (26:00) Knowledge can be a “painful process,” yet we need to honor other people to make their own considered decisions.

– Darwin offers some consolation regarding our impending deaths: that they had the opportunity to walk on this planet “for awhile.” (29:00) Dawkins adds that it is a huge privilege to have been born, in that “you are lucky to have had anything at all . . . stop moaning.” Dennett adds that we are not aghast at the thought that there were many years that passed before we were born when we were also not alive . . . it shouldn’t bother us that we will someday again no longer be alive. Our grief at someone’s death is a measure of how wonderful someone was.

– The urge to thank someone for the many good things in one’s life is a great temptation for believing in God. (33:00). Dawkins argues that contemplating that amazing process that gave rise to you “is better than thanking because it is a thoughtful thing to do . . . You’re not just thanking your Sky-Daddy.” He argues that the urge to thank should be “sublimated” into the drive to understand how it all happened. Atheists, too, can feel the sense of “awe.” Dennett exclaims, “Hallelujah! It’s just spectacular. It’s so wonderful! The universe is fantastic!” Dawkins adds, “Hallelujah for the universe and for the fact that we . . . are working on understanding it.”

This June 2009 video is uncut; it is the full Dennett interview by Richard Dawkins. Parts of this interview were used in a British television documentary entitled “The Genius of Charles Darwin.”

Share

Read More

Gifts that tell good stories

December 25, 2009 | By | 1 Reply More
Gifts that tell good stories

Geoffrey Miller has written an extraordinary book, Spent, that challenges us to recognize that our ubiquitous efforts to decorate ourselves and others with goods and services are primarily to project image and status. (and see here and here) “Many products are signals first and material objects second.” The result is that we often engage in a vast orgy of spending mostly to look good in the eyes of others.

What does this have to do with Christmas? We humans are also creatures who are always looking for shortcuts. Many of us have deliberately chosen to work long hours as part of “career” choices in order to make more money. Most of us who have who have made extra money as a result of those long hours at the office would much rather burn off some of that money at a store than to spend our severely limited amounts of time creating goods or providing services. We’d like to believe that our gift-giving is a display of our good intentions and of who we are, but as Miller points out, the store-bought gifts so many of us buy serve only to display only a narrow range of qualities regarding who we are:

Buying new, real, branded, premium products at full price from chain-store retailers is the last refuge of the unimaginative consumer, and it should be your last option. It offers low narrative value–no stories to tell about interesting people, places, and events associated with the product’ design, provenance, acquisition, or use. It reveals nothing about you except your spending capacity and your gullibility, conformism, and unconsciousness as a consumer. It grows no physical, social or cultural roots into your local environment. It does not promote trust, reciprocity, or social capital. It does not expand your circle of friends and acquaintances. It does not lead you to learn more about the convention, manufacture, operation, or maintenance of the things around you.

Retail spending reveals such a narrow range of traits: the capacities to earn, steal, marry, or inherit wealth, and the perceptual memory and media access required to spend the wealth on whatever is advertised most avidly now.

(p. 271 ff). Those who procure gifts with a moment’s thought or two, and with the help of credit cards, often fail in their attempts to impress. Retail spending pointedly fails:

[a]s a costly, reliable signal of one’s dedication to a particular person (in the case of gifts), or to a particular acquisition (in the case of things bought for self display).

Miller reminds us that creating something yourself speaks much more loudly than a premade thing purchased at retail. The proof is that gifts which require personal time and creativity make much better “stories” to tell to family and friends.

I largely agree with Miller, though I think that retail spending can make a compelling story in some circumstances. For instance, what if someone has limited financial means, yet digs deeply in order to purchase a nonfrivolous gift that another person truly needs (e.g., assume that someone of limited means provided a student with books that were desperately needed for a coming semester).

During the Christmas season, however, Miller’s version of retail spending is a common occurrence. Most of us patronize retail stores in order to send out ready-made gifts. This much is not disputed. What can be disputed in an interesting way, is why . Many people would claim that we give gifts to each other because we “care about” or “love” each other. Miller’s writings dig several levels deeper, recognizing that we are human animals who have come equipped with deeply felt needs to display our traits to each other, and that we resort to retails gift giving to serve these deep urges. In other words, Miller resource to biology rather than folk psychology:

Biology offers an answer. Humans evolved in small social groups in which image and status were all important, not only for survival, but for attracting mates, impressing friends, and rearing children.

(p. 1). During this Christmas season, and at all other times of the year, it is fascinating to re-frame the widespread displays of gift-giving as anciently-honed and deeply-rooted biological impulses geared to ensure survival.

For more, consider this post, entitled “Shopping for Sex” and this post on The Church of Stop Shopping.

Share

Read More

Reminder that “struggle for existence” is a conceptual metaphor.

December 12, 2009 | By | 1 Reply More
Reminder that “struggle for existence” is a conceptual metaphor.

In the November, 2009 edition of Nature (available only to subscribers online) Daniel Todes has written an article entitled “Global Darwin: Contempt for Competition.” Todes points out that although Darwin’s idea of a “struggle for existence” made sense to his English peers, other biologists from other countries rejected this metaphor. Todes focuses on the alternative viewpoint embraced by many Russian biologists.

In On the Origin of Species (1859), Darwin noted that “there must in every case be a struggle for existence, either one individual with another of the same species, or with the individuals of distinct species, or with the physical conditions of life. It is the doctrine of Malthus applied with manifold force to the whole animal and vegetable kingdoms.” Through this quote, Darwin recognized that he was using “struggle for existence” in a metaphorical sense. Darwin had been urged to adopt this metaphor by Russel Wallace, who feared that natural selection “seemed to personify a perceptive and forward thinking selector, or god.”

Todes holds that Darwin’s metaphor was common sense to those “who were living on a crowded island with a capitalist economy and highly individualist culture.” Russian biologists lived in a very different place, however, which led them to “reject Darwin’s Malthusian metaphor.” Russians did not tend to explore densely populated tropical environments. Rather, they tended to investigate “a vast underpopulated continental plain . . . it was largely empty Siberian expanse in which overpopulation was rare and only the struggle of organisms against a harsh environment was dramatic.” Todes points out the Russian political system also contrasted sharply with that of Darwin’s England. In Russia, capitalism was only weakly developed, and the social classes stressed cooperation rather than individual struggle, one against the other. In fact, many Russian political commentators “reviled Malthus as an apologist for predatory capitalism and the soulless individualism.” This context for the Russian research led to (many successful) studies in which the focus was “mutual aid” more than “struggle for existence.”

[more . . . ]

Share

Read More

Intelligently designed t-shirts

November 18, 2009 | By | Reply More
Intelligently designed t-shirts

Teach the Controversy is still busy hawking its new line of intelligently designed t-shirts. I decided to buy the shirt with a triceratops pulling a plow.

Share

Read More

Amazon Accidentally Increases Internet Disinformation

October 20, 2009 | By | 2 Replies More
Amazon Accidentally Increases Internet Disinformation

We have previously posted regarding the latest reprint of Darwin’s “The Origin of Species”, by Ray Comfort. If you don’t know about it, it has a 50 page forward full of untruths, confusion, and misdirection in an attempt to discredit the original text that follows. Yes, he’s trying to use Darwin to discredit 200 years of thoroughly tested evolutionary biology.

Unfortunately, Amazon.com reviews and ratings confuse it with another (reputable) reprint by the same name, as discussed in detail here:

Share

Read More

The nasty brutish “Darwinism” concocted by I-don’t-give-a-crap free-marketers

October 18, 2009 | By | 9 Replies More
The nasty brutish “Darwinism” concocted by I-don’t-give-a-crap free-marketers

Many conservatives have a “hate-love relation with biology.” Primatologist Frans De Waal terms this “the first great paradox of the American political landscape” in his new book, The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society. In this new book, De Waal has produced another tome of lively writing and thoughtful analysis, reminding us of our exquisite human animal roots. He is out to set the record straight on a gnawing social issue: too many people invoke “evolution” to justify treating each other in contemptuous ways. This has got to stop, because this modern version of “Social Darwinism” paints a highly selective and distorted view of the kind of animals we humans are based on a wildly inaccurate distortion of how natural selection works.

Although I am not even halfway into De Waal’s book, I can see that De Waal has launched a sustained broadside against the commonly expressed perspective that evolutionary theory equates to “social Darwinism,” an approach embraced by many conservatives. The idea of social Darwinism is that “those who make it [successfully in life] shouldn’t let themselves be dragged down by those who don’t.” The idea was championed by British political philosopher Herbert Spencer in the 19th century. Spencer “decried attempts to equalize society’s playing field,” and said of the poor that “the whole effort of nature is to get rid of such, to clear the world of them, and make room for better.” De Waal comments that the business world fully embraces this idea and characterizes competition as a “law of biology” that will improve the human race. We thus have “the second great paradox of the American political landscape”:

Whereas the book found in most American homes and every hotel room urges us on almost every page to show compassion, social Darwinists scoff at such feelings, which only keeps nature from running its course. Poverty is dismissed as proof of laziness, and social justice as a weakness. Why not simply let the poor perish?

Many of these conservatives embrace the metaphor of the invisible hand, arguing that this invisible hand “will take care of society’s woes.” De Waal notes, however, “the invisible hand . . . did nothing to prevent the appalling survival-of-the-greatest scenes in New Orleans” following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Why are the assumptions about biology always on the negative side? [p. 4] . . . What we need is a complete overhaul of assumptions about human nature. Too many economists and politicians model human society on the perpetual struggle they believe exists in nature, but which is a mere projection. [p. 7] . . . Our bodies and minds are made for social life, and we become hopelessly depressed in its absence [p. 10] . . . [It is a great myth] that human society is a voluntary creation of autonomous men. [p.20] . . . When our ancestors left the forest and entered an open, dangerous environment, they became prey and evolved a herd instinct that beats that of many animals. We excel at bodily synchrony and actually derive pleasure from it. [p. 20]. . . . All primates have this tendency [to develop trusting alliances], and some even invest in the community as a whole. Instead of just focusing on their own position, they demonstrate group-oriented behavior. [p. 34]

De Waal’s main message is that we are NOT condemned by nature to treat each other badly. Though competition is part of the picture, we have evolved to be predominantly groupish and peace-loving beings who are well-tuned to look out for each other. Not that we always look out for each other admirably, but there is plenty of reason to conclude that human animals are highly social in an empathetic way. Keep this book handy for the next time someone claims that they don’t need to care about people who are struggling to make it because nature is “dog eat dog.” That approach to life is a cop-out; it is certainly not justified by Darwin’s work.

Share

Read More

Warning: Gravity is “Only a Theory”

October 13, 2009 | By | Reply More
Warning: Gravity is “Only a Theory”

This is a very funny satirical critique of the Theory of Gravity using many of the arguments that people will use to discount evolution. It was written by Ellery Schemp, the noted physicist who is also known as an activist for the separation of church and state.

From Wiki:

On November 26, 1956, Ellery staged a protest against the school requirement that each student read 10 Bible passages and the Lord’s Prayer each day during homeroom. Instead, Ellery brought a copy of the Qur’an and read from that. For this, he was sent to the Principal’s office. With the help of his father, Edward Schempp, and the American Civil Liberties Union, they sued the Abington School district over their policy of mandatory Bible readings.

One of the things I found especially interesting about this article is that I discovered it on an Evangelical Apologetics website in the Philosophy section!

Warning: Gravity is “Only a Theory”

The Universal Theory of Gravity is often taught in schools as a “fact,” when in fact it is not even a good theory.

First of all, no one has measured gravity for every atom and every star. It is simply a religious belief that it is “universal.” Secondly, school textbooks routinely make false statements. For example, “the moon goes around the earth.” If the theory of gravity were true, it would show that the sun’s gravitational force on the moon is much stronger than the earth’s gravitational force on the moon, so the moon would go around the sun. Anybody can look up at night and see the obvious gaps in gravity theory.

Read the rest of this article here.

Share

Read More

Scientist finds all missing links. Evolution proved. Churches scheduled to close.

October 13, 2009 | By | 7 Replies More
Scientist finds all missing links. Evolution proved. Churches scheduled to close.

Assimulated Press – Tempe, Arizona

In a discovery that not even the most optimistic scientist would ever have predicted, all of the transitional forms necessary to prove that evolution is indeed a fact have been found in one location. In a strange twist of fate, it was a Creationist scientist who found the fossils.

Uncovered over the course of several years at one extensive archeological dig in Arizona were all the so-called “missing links” needed to show that man has indeed evolved from simpler primate ancestors and that we are kin to all other primates, mammals and indeed every living thing on the planet.

At a press conference on Monday, chief archeologist Matthew Christiansen of the Creation Science Foundation stated, “I really didn’t expect to find these fossils. Genesis says that we were created separate from the animals but even I can’t deny this evidence. People can now stop saying that evolution is ‘only a theory’ because it isn’t. It’s a fact. We now have all the complete sets of fossilized transitional forms that we need. There are no gaps. This case is closed.”

The news has sent Jewish synagogues and Christian churches around the world into a frenzy. Rabbi Eli Weinstein of the Beth Shalom Israel synagogue in New York put it this way, “Those of us who accepted the traditional account of seven day creation as true are devastated. Proof of evolution means that Genesis is wrong which means that God doesn’t exist. I guess I’m out of a job!”

[More . . . ]

Share

Read More