Tag: Evolution

Fearful bunnies

April 11, 2009 | By | 3 Replies More
Fearful bunnies

I was walking the dog last night when Holly (the collie) spotted a couple bunnies in the nearby grass. The bunnies stood perfectly still as we walked past, even though Holly was pulling at the leash trying to run over to take a closer look.

This Good Friday anecdote illustrates a common phenomenon. When they sense that potential predators are nearby, many types of animals get as still as statues, thereby blending into the background to avoid confrontation. It’s not hard to see how such a behavior has been naturally selected.

For some reason, it occurred to me that many of the conservative religious folks who visit this site do something analogous when they feel threatened by freethinkers. They intellectually freeze. Instead of engaging on the topic, they pull out a pre-packaged arsenal that includes a handful of platitudes that they repeat ad nauseam in order to avoid intellectual confrontation. These platitudes are not invitations for meaningful discussion, but rather inert utterances such as the following:

  • The Bible is inerrant.
  • Science doesn’t know everything.
  • Humans are not “animals.”
  • Science can’t disprove God or supernatural occurrences.
  • People who question religion are arrogant.

For some conservative believers (and for all fundamentalists), these platitudes (which range from ambiguous to disproved) constitute their entire “intellectual” arsenal. When the predator freethinkers have moved on, these believers spring back to intellectual activity, even going so far as to vigorously question everything else in their lives. They aren’t fools, you see. They only fear taking a close look at their own cherished beliefs.

In other words, many religious conservatives are unwilling to make any meaningful intellectual moves when it comes to discussing their own religion. They’re unwilling to consider new evidence, even evidence that is overwhelming. They are unwilling to consider new proven-reliable ways of analyzing evidence. Hence, evolutionary biology is an anathema. Why? [Repeat the platitudes over and over].

In short, many people who are religiously conservative use a strategy of intellectually freezing in place, hoping that all of the scientist-predators simply move along. In their own minds, this is a strategy that has been proven to “work.”

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Teach the controversy? Yes, while wearing one of these shirts.

April 5, 2009 | By | 2 Replies More
Teach the controversy?   Yes, while wearing one of these shirts.

Teach the controversy? Yes, while wearing these witty and “intelligently designed” shirts.

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Charles Darwin’s exceedingly dangerous idea

March 28, 2009 | By | Reply More
Charles Darwin’s exceedingly dangerous idea

In Darwin’s dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life, Daniel Dennett describes Darwin’s idea as the “best idea anyone has ever had.”

In a single stroke, the idea of evolution by natural selection unifies the realm of life, meaning, and purpose with the realm of space and time, cause and effect, mechanism and a physical law. But it is not just a wonderful scientific idea. It is a dangerous idea.

What exactly was Darwin’s dangerous idea? According to Dennett, it was “not the idea of evolution, but the idea of evolution by natural selection, an idea he himself could never formulate with sufficient rigor and detail to prove, though he presented a brilliant case for it.” (42) Dennett considers Darwin’s idea to be “dangerous” because it has so many fruitful applications in so many fields above and beyond biology. When Dennett was a schoolboy, he and some of his friends imagined that there was such a thing as “universal acid,”

a liquid “so corrosive that it will eat through anything! The problem is: what do you keep it in? It dissolves glass bottles and stainless steel canisters as readily as paper bags. What would happen if you somehow came upon or created a dollop of universal acid? With the whole planet eventually be destroyed? What would it leave in its wake? After everything had been transformed by its encounter with universal acid, what would the world look like? Little did I realize that in a few years I would encounter an idea-Darwin’s idea-bearing an unmistakable likeness to universal acid: eats through just about every traditional concept, and leaves in its wake a revolutionized world-view, with most of the old landmarks are still recognizable, but transformed in fundamental ways.

(63) Darwin’s idea is powerful, indeed. Many people see it as having the power to ruin the meaning of life.

People fear that once this universal acid has passed through the monuments we cherish, they will cease to exist, dissolved in an unrecognizable and unlovable puddle of scientific destruction.

Dennett characterizes this fear is unwarranted:

We might learn some surprising or even shocking things about these treasures, but unless our valuing these things was based all long on confusion or mistaken identity, how could increase understanding of them diminish their value in our eyes? (82)

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A Master’s in Creationism

March 19, 2009 | By | 24 Replies More
A Master’s in Creationism

LOL*cough*

Excuse me. I nearly choked on a handful of almonds. My created/intelligently designed oesophagus is just a little too close to my trachaea, making it very easy to block the latter with particles of chewed food whilst laughing my arse right off its hinges when I read stuff like this FOX article:

State Rep. Leo Berman (R-Tyler) proposed House Bill 2800 when he learned that The Institute for Creation Research (ICR), a private institution that specializes in the education and research of biblical creationism, was not able to receive a certificate of authority from Texas’ Higher Education Coordinating Board to grant Master of Science degrees.

So. “Education” and “research” (grin) of biblical creationism (chortle). OK, well, although I’m no theologian or creation scientist (snort) , allow me to sum up the entire proposed course for you:

Education: God did it.
Research: it says in the Bible that God did it.
Thesis: the Bible says God did it; the Bible is always right because God wrote it; God is always right; the evidence for this is in the Bible which God wrote; my conclusion is that God did it (and is always right, just like the book He wrote).

Well done, here’s your diploma & whimsical “WWJD” t-shirt that all the kids are wearing. That’ll be several thousand dollars. Hmm?

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Handy list of transition fossils: seven missing links for handy reference

March 14, 2009 | By | 6 Replies More
Handy list of transition fossils: seven missing links for handy reference

I’ve often wished that I had a short list of impressive transition fossils handy for the next time a creationist claimed to me that there were no such transition fossils. Well, here’s the list I’ve been looking for, published by the National Geographic. The first fossil on National Geographic’s list is the especially compelling find, Tiktaalik, the “fishopod.”

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Susi Neunmalklug explains the evolution!

March 4, 2009 | By | 3 Replies More
Susi Neunmalklug explains the evolution!

Tis a pity we don’t make things like this in the U.S. Neun = 9, Mal = times, Klug = smart. So Susi Neunmalklug translates into Susie Smartypants. Yeah. Ask a linguist or etymologist about the evolution of vernacular.

So, imagine a religion teacher coming in to your class and explaining where we come from to kids who were raised to know better.

Anyway, this video is wa-ay cute, and has English subtitles.

Tip of the mustache to Pharyngula

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Group selection theory attempts a comeback

March 3, 2009 | By | 2 Replies More
Group selection theory attempts a comeback

Over the past few weeks, in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birthday, we’ve seen many articles published on the topic of evolution. The November 20, 2008 edition of Nature contains a drawing of Darwin on the cover, and the entire issue is titled “Beyond the Origin.” Inside this issue is an article by Marek Kohn titled “The Needs of the Many,” an article summarizing current thinking on group selection.

Kohn carefully sets out some definitions at the beginning of his article. For instance, he recognizes that modern evolutionary theory is based on the idea that selection “sees” individuals and acts on them through the genes they embody. Compare that to “group selection”:

The idea that evolution can choose between groups, not just the individuals that make them up–has a higher profile today than at any time since its apparent banishment from mainstream evolutionary theory. And it gets better press, too. This is in part owing to the efforts of David Sloan Wilson of Binghamton University in New York, who argues that the dismissal of group selection was a major historical error that needs to be rectified. And it does not hurt that he has been joined by Edward O. Wilson, the great naturalist and authority on social insects. They and many others have worked to reposition group selection within the broader theme of selection that acts simultaneously at multiple levels.

Buried in the dispute about the extent to which group selection occurs are numerous definitional issues such as the proper way to define “group,” “altruism,” and “selfishness.”

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A program that gets college students enthusiastic about the scientific theory of evolution

February 24, 2009 | By | 2 Replies More
A program that gets college students enthusiastic about the scientific theory of evolution

David Sloan Wilson has written some terrific articles on the topic of evolution. I recently ran across a 2005 article he wrote for PLoS Biology www.plosbiology.org titled “Evolution for Everyone: How to Increase Acceptance of, Interest in, and Knowledge about Evolution.” The article explains the method by which Binghamton University has successfully infused its undergraduate curriculum with real-life applications of evolutionary theory. The EvoS program began in 2002. Here’s the mission of EvoS:

The mission of EvoS is to advance the study of evolution in all its manifestations, including all aspects of humanity in addition to the biological sciences.
Many organizations and websites promote the study of evolution, but EvoS is unique in two respects.

• EvoS is based on the realization that evolutionary theory will probably never be generally accepted–no matter how well supported by facts–unless its consequences for human affairs are fully addressed. Once evolution is seen as unthreatening, explanatory, and useful for solving life’s problems, then it becomes not just acceptable but irresistable to the average person (see the tutorial for more).

• EvoS makes a connection between evolutionary theory and the unification of knowledge, which has always been the goal of a liberal arts education and contemporary efforts to integrate across disciplines. The same kind of unification that took place in the biological sciences during the 20th century is now taking places for the human behavioral sciences and humanities–but is not yet reflected in the structure of higher education. EvoS is the first program to diagnose this problem and comprehensively provide a solution at a campus-wide scale.

David Sloan Wilson explains that the Binghamton program makes use of 50 faculty members representing 15 departments. The program was created based on the following assumption: “Evolution can be made acceptable, interesting, and powerfully relevant to just about anyone in the space of a single semester.”

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“Evolution is only a theory. It hasn’t been proven.”

February 14, 2009 | By | 7 Replies More
“Evolution is only a theory. It hasn’t been proven.”

Here’s another brilliant video from AronRa dispelling the common misperception that because we call it the “theory” of evolution that it is somehow “unproven” and therefore can be rejected. This notion comes from a misunderstanding of what scientists mean when they use the word “theory”. AronRa clears that up in a little over 10 information-packed minutes.

AronRa’s description of the video:

“The first of a two-part final installment to this series, explaining what the words, hypothesis, fact, law, and Theory actually are, rather than what creationists want us to think they are. Hint: a scientific theory isn’t a guess, but an explanative study of real phenomenon.”

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