Category Archives: evolution

Why Darwin Matters

I’m currently reading “Why Darwin Matters” by Michael Shermer, whilst at the same time trying to follow the comments on Jacks blog. A ‘debate’ involving, amongst other things,  evolution, while people still debate this is beyond me (though Shermer gives some very good reasons why we should debate the ID/Creationists), as my comments will hopefully help show to some extent.

[Yes, I know I should be finishing the several other blog posts I’ve promised various other people, and writing the book review for “The Heathen’s Guide to World Religions”, but … but … but I have no valid excuse.]

Anyway, I have posted the following comments on Jack’s blog, but thought I’d reproduce them here so you don’t have to wade through all the comments on his blog (and possibly have your brain explode):

5 reasons why people resist the truth of evolution:
1. A general resistance to science.
2. Belief that evolution is a threat to specific religious tenets.
3. The fear that evolution degrades our humanity.
4. The equation of evolution with ethical nihilism and moral de-generation.
5. The fear that evolutionary theory implies we have a fixed human nature.

(From “Why Darwin Matters”, Michael Shermer pg30/31)

Those who cavalierly reject the Theory of Evolution, as not adequately supported by facts, seem quite to forget that their own theory is supported by no facts at all.
– Herbert Spencer, Essays Scientific, Political and Speculative, 1891

(A quote from “Why Darwin Matters”, Michael Shermer pg 45)

Note: that quote was written in 1891, and science has found a whole lot more to corroborate the theory of evolution since then.

Creationists often demand “one transitional fossil”, when provided with that fossil they then demand the transitional fossils in-between [paraphrased]. This can be called:
The Fossil Fallacy

The belief that a single ‘fossil” – one bit of data – constitutes proof of a multifarious process or historical sequence.

But we know that’s not the case:

We know evolution happened not because of a single transitional fossil … but because of the convergence of evidence from such diverse fields as geology, palaeontology, biogeography, comparative anatomy and physiology, molecular biology, genetics …

When I read that I thought “how could anyone not understand evolution is a sound scientific theory, how could they try and debunk it with one or two arguments?”. Then I re-read some of Marcus’ and facilis’ comments and I despaired.

(quotes and paraphrasing from “Why Darwin Matters” by Michael Shermer)

I sometimes despair when I see people like Marcus trying every trick in the book to attempt to debunk evolution, as if one person, however educated, or not, they are, could disprove what thousands of scientists in many different field have come to accept as fact during the last 150 years.

I’m enjoying Shermer’s book so far (about half way through) and would recommend it to anyone with an interest in evolution, from either side of the fence. Though the ‘god botherers’ need to switch their godness off whilst reading it, they need to read it with an open mind.

In writing the above sentence I can just hear some religious type saying “but you haven’t turned off your non-godness while reading it”, or “you’re just accepting what these other atheists say” (or something similar).  Just let me say this, first read my about page, then know I studied the bible with an “open heart”, I was baptised because because I believed. BUT, then I started to study the bible more and kept coming up with questions that couldn’t be answered. I started to study (using the term very loosely) evolution and biology and tried to work what I was learning into what I “knew”.  I attended a couple of lectures and invented the term Creatio-Evolutionist (pity I never copy-righted it), an attempt to combine what the bible and religious leaders where telling me with what was known in the scientific community at the time (this was before DNA came into the picture).  Then I misplaced my faith, then I just didn’t care, then I woke up and really thought about it all.

This was when, after reading many texts, I came to the full and complete understanding that evolution explains how we got here and that that is a wonderful and amazing thing.

To the religious readers, if your faith is so weak that in discussing evolution you have to resort to all sorts of fallacies and weasel words, then perhaps your faith isn’t worth keeping. Try to honestly, and openly, read some of the vast quantities of material on evolution (read this for a start), try not to insert a “god of the gaps” or a “goddidit” into your thinking, and try to think of it logically and sensibly. Read “Why Darwin Matters” , or some similar book, and then, I defy you, debate your point with an expert, or highly knowledgeable person, like Shermer or Dawkins, and see how long you last.

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Our Famiy Tree

Catalyst had an interesting segment this week titled The Ultimate Mammal Family Tree, you can watch the video, read the transcript and download the family tree diagram. Worth watching, I think it’s quite a unique way to represent the evolution of the species, when you see the time scale represented like this it’s not hard to see how it happened.

Note to Thump Thump Eyes: I’m still working on that post I promised, truly.

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The Genius of Charles Darwin, part 1

A brief review and highlights from the first episode of the three part TV documentary “The Genius of Charles Darwin” by Richard Dawkins.

Dawkins goes to a science class of 15 – 16 year olds. The first question he gets asked is “Why do we need to find out about Evolution?” The questioner then goes on to say that he can’t believe evolution because his holy book has stronger evidence. (It’s about this stage that I start banging my head on the keyboard thinking “there is no hope for the future of the human species”.) Richards response “So the reason you believe it (your holy book) is because that’s the one you were taught first?”. From there it descends into madness, I can’t comprehend how deluded these kids are!

Part of the problem is that these students don’t seem to comprehend that there is overwhelming evidence for evolution. As Dawkins says, “no one’s actually seen evolution take place over a long period” and then compares that to evidence in a court of law. No one can say they actually saw the murder happen but the overwhelming evidence is enough that no one would dispute the facts. I thought that was a great analogy.

The show then goes on to provide a brief history of Darwin’s early life and how he came to start thinking about evolution.

… a theory of life on earth far more wonderful, and more moving, than any religious story of creation.

What a great quote!

Dawkins then goes onto discuss how fossils and geology made Darwin think further about evolution. Then takes the school children on a field trip to a beach to search for fossils and explain how they got there.

He discusses how Darwin studied for twenty years and gathered vast amounts of information to develop his theory of the ‘tree of life’. Darwin was also one of the first to grasp the immense age of the earth and thus how life was able to evolve, change and develop.

The next section of the show discusses how humans have changed many species of plants and animals by breeding for the trait they want, and how this is similar to natural selection. The following section of the show which discusses the description of natural selection is very succinct and somewhat graphic. Some quotes:

If an animal survives it’s more likely to reproduce, and crucially, pass those variations (the ones that helped it survive) on to it’s offspring.

The race is survival, the finishing line is reproduction.

This is what Darwin defined as natural selection.

Dawkins then  discusses Darwin’s reluctance to publish his findings due to his concern how upsetting this would be to the religious. He finally published when he found out a rival was going to publish a similar theory, and after being convinced to by other academics.

The documentary then discusses genes and how their mutations are part of the whole evolution and natural selection framework. Dawkins then discusses the work in one gene lab (Craig Venter’s) and how it provides enough evidence to state that “Evolution is a Fact”. As he says:

… the evidence from this lab alone would be absolutely not just enough but overwhelmingly, staggeringly enough

Dawkins then goes back to the school children and we see if he has managed to convince any of them that evolution is a fact. What do you think the results were? If two hours with one of the greatest minds can’t convince you that evolution is a fact and that the bible is wrong, what hope is there for future societies?

Overall another great documentary from Richard Dawkins, go check it out at Richard DawkinsPharyngula or elsewhere.

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The Moral Instinct

There is scientific evidence that evolution has endowed us with ethical impulses. 

So states the sub-heading of an excellent article on ‘the moral instinct’ in this weekends Sydney Morning Herald (Page 26/27 of the Spectrum section) written by Steven Pinker. This article originally appeared in The New York Times on 13 Jan 08, here is the link, recommended reading for all.

The essay starts off by asking:

Which of the following people would you say is the most admirable: Mother Teresa, Bill Gates or Norman Borlaug?

Before reading the article, who do you think is the most admirable?

The article also discusses “the trolley problem” (a trolley is a railborne (track) vehicle, lighter than a train, designed for the transport of passengers).

Imagine you are standing at a fork in the track and a trolley is hurtling down the track out of control. There are 5 workers on the main track oblivious to the danger. You can pull a lever that will divert the trolley to the side track, saving the five workers. However, the trolley would then run over a single worker labouring on the side track. Is it permissible to pull the lever killing one man but saving five others?

What would be your answer?

The article then discusses this moral dilemma further by postulating a slightly different scenario.

Consider the previous scenario, but you are now on a bridge overlooking the track. You realise if you throw a heavy object in front of the trolley you will save all the workers. However the only heavy object within reach is a fat man. Should you throw the man off the bridge?

What would be your answer to that dilemma?

The rest of the article discusses humans innate moral sense, and postulates reasons for altruism and fairness. Please read this excellent article and then, if you like, you can discuss it here.

 

 

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Filed under atheism, atheist, evolution, moral dilemma, morals, Steven Pinker

Some light reading

I’m all out of original thoughts today, so here’s a few trackbacks to some blogs I read today:

Daylight AtheismOn the Limits of Knowledge

Not A BlogBad Atheist Responses to Christianity

No More Hornets‘ rather silly Presidential campaign

I also got around to reading the rest of comments on Sean the Blogonaut‘s – Doesn’t Atheism require as much faith as belief in god?

and, the excellent comments by Richard explaining evolution (quite well IMHO) at Fiery‘s Chicken or the Egg post.

One last one, a funny church sign at The Frame Problem.

Which brought me to a thought, that there are so many good blogs out there it’s hard to keep up with reading them all.

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Filed under atheism, atheist, blog, creationism, evolution, god, ID, politics, religion

ya gotta laff

Those fundies can sure make you laugh (and cry and scream). From fitness comes some interesting quotes, which in turn came from, what may be my new favourite website, Fundies Say the Darndest Things (FSTDT). Here’s a few examples:

Jesus is not a Jew. Jesus was Jewish.

awesomelegend, gaiaonline.com [Comments (75)] [2006-Nov-18]

and

[Talking about an eleven year old girl who was raped and then buried alive]

god was sacrificing this child as a way to show others the light. much as he did his own child. what a beautiful gift he has given us.

Howie R, Yahoo Answers [Comments (134)] [2007-Nov-08]

Submitted by Zoe

or

Apes are just creatures twisted by Satan to mock Jesus by giving EVILolition credibility. Further more they are naturally lust crazed for human women. Since they are not natural creatures they should be exterminated forthwith as the tools of evil they are.

BJ Tabor, Blogs4Brownback [Comments (103)] [2007-Aug-01]

Submitted by Damned at Random

FSTDT collects these quotes from all over, they have a latest and a Top 100, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll scream. It’s like a car crash – you know it might be horrible, you know you shouldn’t look, but you can’t help yourself reading them.

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FSTDT also has some funny pics, one of which he made from hetemeel, this is my version:

click to view full size

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Filed under atheism, atheist, beliefs, christianity, creationism, evolution

Lies, Damn Lies, Science and ID (‘Intelligent Design’)

Only one of the above is truth!

Maragon, at ‘atheism is rational‘, has written an article on what she doesn’t like about Creationists/IDers. I’m sure she’s not the first, and won’t be the last, but she has some good points on how IDers use science only when it suits their needs. I particularly like the inference that IDers are only in it for the money, she’s probably right.

She cops some flack in her comments from Brody who tries to insinuate that ID and Creationism are very different. Well he may think so, but I don’t think I’m alone in thinking they are basically one and the same thing.

Overall it’s a good read, so here’s the link.

Thanks to wehaveavoice for finding this article.

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