Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Out of Africa

As we draw near to the bicentennial of the birthdays of both Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln, I, like Scriptulicious and Uruk, wanted to write something about the real implications of our knowledge of evolution, as contrasted with the mendacious and vituperative implications concocted by the likes of Ben Stein, who has alleged that social Darwinism follows necessarily from Darwinism. (See Stein's film Expelled for context, if you can do so without paying). While I certainly hope that everyone still feels outraged by the inhumanity of the Holocaust, Stein seems to me to lack such scruples when he opportunistically uses the memories of the victims of Nazi genocide as an emotive argument for rejecting evolution.

Never mind the fact that, even if social Darwinism necessarily followed from Darwinism, that would not prove that Darwinism isn't true. Such an argument, though valid, is unnecessary because, as it just so happens, there is no causal relationship between the two. Social Darwinism is a flagrant example of what we call the "is-ought fallacy", a faulty inference that, since something is a certain way, we therefore ought to be that certain way. It is a fallacy because we can not logically derive "ought" from "is". If a person observes a bird that is eating some red berries, he would be foolhardy to think that he ought to eat them as well; the red berries could easily be digestible for birds but poisonous to humans. Equally absurd is the suggestion that, since nature selects by a process of "survival of the fittest", humans must therefore model their social policies on the same theme.

Moreover, "survival of the fittest" (a term coined not by Darwin, but by Herbert Spencer) is not even regarded as an accurate description by modern biologists. Does Stein think that scientists have made no further inquiries into the subject of evolution in the 150 years since On the Origin of Species was written? Even if they had not, Darwin himself understood perfectly well that evolution by natural selection is a non-teleological process (that is, a non-goal oriented process). In other words, evolution does not work to bring about a super-species that is superior to all other species; fitness only refers to a species' ability to survive, not its inherent worth. Thus, Scriptulicious's pet ferrets are every bit as well-adapted, and therefore "fit", as Scriptulicious himself.

Finally, consider the following short film, and how every person, every race, every nationality on this planet has a common ancestry. There was actually an Adam and Eve, but the real Adam and Eve differ from their biblical counterparts greatly, indeed they never even knew each other. We inherit our mitochondrial DNA from our mothers, and we can trace markers in our mitochondrial DNA to a "mitochondrial Eve" who lived about 150,000 years ago in modern-day Africa. We inherit our y-chormosome DNA from our fathers, and we can trace markers in our y-chromosome DNA to a "y-chromosme Adam" who lived about 60,000 in Africa. These facts are coupled with archeological evidence of the rise of civilizations and with our knowledge of the historical climatological conditions that would have forced our earliest ancestors to migrate from the cradle of humanity. The multifarious faces of humanity arose as a single species, a single race, from out of Africa.

It is serendipitous, I think, that Lincoln and Darwin share their birthdates. At Gettysburg, Lincoln eloquently stated that "our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal." Thanks to Darwin, we now have a knowledge of evolution and genetics which prove this proposition of equality.


~Philosobot



29 comments:

  1. Good post, Philosobot.

    My blog on Darwin Day blog isn't going to quiet measure up to this one. I may just delete mine and link to yours!

    :-D

    Netflix has on-demand viewing for many movies. Expelled is available. I can watch it "for free" . . . sort of. I'm already paying, so my viewing is paid for in a sense.

    And neat about Lincoln also being born on the same day. I didn't know that until I read the Smithsonian Magazine for this month.

    Also glad you added the video. That was fascinating.

    Oh, and Philosopot, you and Scriptulitious-- your vocabulary rocks!

    I know how to use "context clues" but sometimes, you guys force me to use the "define" feature on Google.

    But hey, that's how you learn, right?

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  2. I'll have you know I haven't smoked "philosopot" in ages!

    Scrip, Biggs and I watched Expelled together; Scrip pulled out all his hair out, Biggums had to see a therapist, and I am still in a perpetual state of "facepalm".

    Scrip and I have a proclivity for the sesquipedalian that borders on obscurantism. Ask Scrip about the metaphorical connotations of "aquatinting".

    Anyway, I'm glad you liked the post, and I look forward to yours.

    ~Eric

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  3. > I'll have you know I haven't smoked "philosopot" in ages!

    Ooops! I got fat fingers. And no more talk about "pot".

    So Scrip, what can you tell us abut the metaphorical connotations of "aquatinting"?

    Sounds like Expelled will be fun! I'll try to watch it Wednesday!

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  4. Off subject but...in college I had a science professor who was very pro evolution (not odd, no, but the fact that he openly shared these views at my Presbyterian college was). He named his son Darwin.

    Poor kid.

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  5. Hey Lion,

    I have two ferrets, as Philo points out. My first ferret is Darwin. Do you think he is a poor "kid" too? ;-) Our other ferret is Huxley. So we have the dynamic duo of Darwin and Huxley, who as Philo posits, are just as evolved as me and Biggums.

    You went to a Presbyterian college?

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  6. Okay Philo,

    You outdid yourself, aquatinting and all. This post is superb. And to think that you used multi-modal delivery (visual and aural)...wow.

    Reasons to Believe Ministries (RTB) uses the chronological disparities between MT-Eve and Y-Chromosome Adam as evidence for their "biblical creation model." They represent "old-earth creationists," and they posit a creation of Adam and Eve at about 100,000 years ago. They assert that the later date for Y-chromosome Adam reflects the genetic bottleneck of Noah's Flood in which only Noah's sons survived and after which they passed on only his Y-chromosome signature. What RTB fails to realize (among lots of blind spots) is that MT-Eve and Y-Adam are relative states. The more DNA is sampled, the earlier and earlier MT-Eve and Y-Adam generally become. For example, if one fails to consider the Aborigines of Australia, Y-Adam jumps ahead by some 30,000 years, making Y-Adam date to about 28,000 years ago. RTB needs to understand the relativity of these designations.

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  7. Hey Uruk,

    "Aquatinting..." I mistakenly made this word up in a previous blog, and it gave Philo quite the laugh. I meant to type "acquainted," but I misspelled it with a different word. Philo thought that I was trying to be metaphorical. I just misspelled my target word with an actual word that I did not intend. I could benefit from being a bit more circumspect over my spelling, syntax, and grammar. I get so excited to post sometimes that I have often said things that were different than intended. For example, I often forget to add a negation like a "not" or a "no" to a sentence, which completely changes a meaning. I generally, though, do not go back and correct stuff after posting as I feel it important to not censor myself too much (a joke).

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  8. Why should I believe Darwin or this DNA science about origins when the dates keep changing, the “facts” keep changing, etc. Why is it easier to believe fallible man rather than God?

    I would give “comment of the week” award to Uruk for this statement:

    “Reason can be sharp like a razor when wielded appropriately. 
Interestingly, the Bible says that the word of God can cut like a two-edged sword.

That may be the summation of all our discussions. Which one is sharpest, The Word or reason?

    A very astute statement!

    Thank you for the votes yesterday though (Philo, Zee)....I am glad that, if not taken seriously, I can at least provide some entertainment. : )

    [If anyone would like to join Philo, Scrip, and I in reading through the Bible (KJV) the daily schedule can be found at biblepathway.org. Click on Daily Devotions. The agreement we have is that we will read through the KJV from Genesis to Revelation (while I read a book on Evolution). Must be KJV.... other Bible versions based on manuscripts from Alexandria and modern textual criticism are problematic to say the least.]

    Welcome, Lion! We are forming quite a diverse community here. Will we hear from Biggums soon? I am looking forward to hearing her point of view on these issues.

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  9. Tandi,

    My vote was not for quote of the week. I would find it premature to vote for such a thing until Saturday.

    Do you have a online link to the version of the dictionary you previously suggested to go along with the KJV?

    What book on Evolution are you reading? It would seem unbalanced to just participate in the KJV side.

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  10. Tandi: "Why should I believe Darwin or this DNA science about origins when the dates keep changing, the “facts” keep changing, etc. Why is it easier to believe fallible man rather than God?"

    Because science takes into account new evidence as it comes in. What the evidence has never pointed to is a 4,000 y.o. earth. I highly recommend checking out the whole "made easy" series on YouTube, which explains how we know the age of the universe, the age of the earth, that evolution happened and continues to happen, and much more besides.

    ~Eric

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  11. Hello Tandi,

    You state:

    "Why should I believe Darwin or this DNA science about origins when the dates keep changing, the “facts” keep changing, etc. Why is it easier to believe fallible man rather than God?"

    Let me reverse this statement:

    Why should I believe in the Bible or this creation "science" about origins when the dates cannot change, yet the "facts" keep changing, etc.? Why is it easier to believe in dogma that cannot be tested or questioned than in science that can change to account for observed information?

    Besides, you are overstating your case. The date refinement happens to account for the increasing specificity of the information. Additionally, these dates have changed little in the last ten years. Though I could be mistaken, and it might be found that homo sapiens spaiens was present much earlier, the information all demonstrates the earliest homo sapiens sapiens populations at 150,000 - 100,000 YBP (years before present).

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  12. I can't say I didn't see that one coming but both responding at almost the same time is impressive.

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  13. > responding at almost the same time is impressive.

    Yeah. Adds new meaning to the term "team blog".

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  14. hmmm... "responding at the same time" That was not planned. Funny how we both focused on the same comment. Maybe though, it is not that odd because we are both thinking on similar wavelengths about these matters especially vis-a-vis creationist apologetic strategies.

    Philo has proposed to write a book about one particular macro or molar Christian apologetic strategy. It is one that is demonstrably the underpinning to most Christian arguments against challenging scientific findings, regardless of the area of science it addressed. I hope that he finds the patience to do this. (I mean patience to suffer the torture of reading through and amassing enough primary material).

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  15. Zee:

    Yes, I realized you were voting for drama queen or something along those lines, right?

    Here is one link to the online 1828 dictionary.

    http://1828.mshaffer.com/

    Many of the difficult words are defined in the devotional commentary at biblepathway.org. though.

    The book I am reading is Evolution: What the Fossils Say, by Prothero. I get it through Interlibrary loan and read a few chapters at a time and then give it a rest. I am on hiatus at present. I sandwich my reading between healthy doses of Bible reading before and after and I engage the text with questions and commentary in a notebook. I do not just swallow the information whole in one large gulp. I appreciate the understanding I am gleaning, yet so far it has not made an impact on my faith in God or Creationism. I can see how it could, though, in those who are vulnerable. Read slowly...and chew and digest well is my advice.

    This blog is so entertaining I am finding little time for my own blog. I've got two posts ready to go though. One will be posted later today called, "An Open Letter to My Christian/Messianic Friends" which will include an excerpt from Uruk's blog by permission. Tomorrow's entry, in response to Darwin Day, will be guest commentator, Daniel Gregg on "The Definition of Science". Tune in.

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  16. Hello Scrip,

    So what is the definition of aquatinting since you have inadvertently coined a new vocabulary word. : )

    I would suggest this:

    aquatinting:

    tanning by the poolside or beach

    I think this word could catch on. Especially with you, since you eschew words with few letters such as the common "tan". Plus the word "tan" would remind you of me, Tandi, and how long its been since you've written me a friendly email. Now you seem to be on the same wavelength as Philo....when in times past I thought of you as on the same wavelength with me. I think I am jealous. : )

    Now all the coincidences are happening in a different context. I wonder what you make of it from a naturalist, metaphysical monist point of view. And I wonder what you make of the very interesting account at Lion's blog (Miracle on Gavin Hill). Have you completely ruled out the possibility of Divine Providence?

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  17. Sudoku is a lot like those "dot-to-dot" worksheets we probably all did as kids. Follow the dots and you'll see the picture. Ignore the dots and you'll have you're own creation-- or stray lines everywhere. The authors of the Sudoku puzzle revel only certain numbers. By examining the placement of the numbers, you can tell the numbers they hid from you.

    Tandi, you mentioned something about our using reason with a certain kind of perfectionism that we cannot fit all things cannot. I don't see it that way, if I understood you correctly. I see things more like connecting the dots.

    Darwin saw similarities and differences among a variety of species. This led him to believe that animals adapted to their environment. Birds with longer beaks usually gathered nectar from longer flowers. He generally found the opposite for birds with shorter beaks. This stood out even more when he saw animals living on neighboring islands that looked the same, otherwise.

    That's just one example.

    From many like examples, he connected the dots. Animals seem to adapt to their surroundings over time. Their offspring as a group continues the adaptation. Animals that do not adapt either migrate, or become extinct. He then took this idea and carried the implications even further.

    But when Darwin finally published his works, critics within the scientific community found three big problems with his ideas:


    1) Darwin's evolution required billions of years to make sense. The Earth didn't seem that old. Darwin couldn't account for that.

    2) Darwin couldn't explain how an animal adapted to it's environment and then passed the traits to the children.

    3) Darwin's evolution requires that the continents were in a totally different arrangement than in present day. If the continents were fixed, Darwinian evolution is wrong.


    The critics had good points based on what they knew back then. They were simply connecting the dots, too.

    And his critics had a strong case against him. Darwin even admitted he couldn't answer their challenge in these areas.

    But, as it was mentioned by Philosopot, er, Philosobot-- new information comes along. Darwin died before much of the new information actually influenced the scientific community.

    For example:

    1) Astronomers finally realize that the earth is billions of years old. Light from many stars in the sky cannot travel from certain depths of space without having billions of years to reach us. If our ideas of light an energy are wrong, why do we worry about Pakistan and Iran having (or gaining) nuclear capabilities? Employing nuclear energy requires taking into account the same concepts that explain how light travels and how mass turns into energy.

    So, Darwin's theory did have enough time to actually happen. Hmmm . . .


    2) Traits were found to be passed along by genes. Mendel's work is the earliest of the most groundbreaking findings. Then, the discovery of DNA. This explained how the adaptations of animals passed along. They became traits that would be passed to the offspring generation after generation. This is were the adaptations came from and why some species diverged from others.

    This gave Darwin's idea more merit. There actually was a biological mechanism doing what Darwin suggested, despite the fact that he couldn't explain it.


    3) Geologists found out that the continents drift on tectonic plates. That's why we have earthquakes. That's why Hawaii is slowly growing a new island under the sea. That's why California is going to fall off one day. (Any of you guys live in Cali?) Fossils could now be dated and so could rocks because of the way radiation works. So, geology confirms again the earth is old, and shows how animals dispersed across the planet. And that also explains why certain continents look like they maybe, just maybe could fit together like puzzle pieces.


    So at first, those three gaps in Darwin's theory made his idea sound all wrong. But as other sciences grew into maturity, the scientific community realizes now that Darwin was simply ahead of his time.


    All that, from playing Sudoku.


    :-D

    Now, I don't know how others feel . . . but I personally don't think Darwinism implies atheism. So, one can accept Darwinism and remain theist. The problem seems to come when people take the Bible so literally. Now we have a contradiction. Darwin doesn't "fit" Genesis. Many theists are fine with this.

    Others, not so much.

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  18. Tandi wrote:"I appreciate the understanding I am gleaning, yet so far it has not made an impact on my faith in God or Creationism."

    It doesn't need to, there are plenty of people who have reconciled evolution with belief in god, even scientists. Ken Miller jumps to mind, but he might be a bad example because I think he's *gasp* Roman Catholic. Perhaps Scrip knows of a decent Protestant biologist.

    Aquatinting is a method of etching which apparently makes the resulting picture look like a watercolor painting. I forget the exact context, but Scrip had written something about his thoughts being "aquatinted" with the teachings of Talmudic scholars (or something like that). He meant, of course, to say he was acquainted with their teachings. But, knowing Scrip as I do, when I read it, it seemed entirely possible that he was using some sort of metaphorical meaning: his thoughts were colored with the teachings of Talmudic scholars. Afterwards, we laughed at the idea that he should misspell a word and come up with a real but completely different word that still conveyed the same meaning more or less. What are the odds?

    ~Eric

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  19. Uruk:

    I actaully do think that evolution does 'fit' Genesis. I see Darwin as someone who took his best shot at filling in the numbers in the 9 numbers in the sub catagory "How did this world come to be?" Proving or disproving any of the numbers changes nothing in my opinion but both are useful in completeing the final puzzle.

    There are 9 sub-catagories, 81 squares, and just under 5.5 billions ways to fill the classic 9x9 Sudoku puzzle. It gets complicated because numbers in one sub-catagory effect the numbers in every other catagory. As you just pointed out in the Sudoku of life its not uncommon for numbers that were once taken as a given to be found inaccurate.

    I get what you are saying with the "dot to dot" but I personally relate to Sudoku.

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  20. Pot wrote: "What are the odds?"

    There are about a million words in the english language including scientific words. I'm going to estimate that there are approximately 13 words that still would convey the same meaning. So the odds are about 1 in 76923.

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  21. Eric,

    What are the odds indeed. I think there are some Divine appointments going on in our midst.

    Thank you for the definition. I love learning new vocabulary.

    I do believe Scrip's thoughts may be aquatinted with the teachings of Talmudic scholars, as well as with the vast library of scholarship he has imbibed. He is like a walking scientific and theological encyclopedia (not to mention thesaurus).

    Maybe we should call him Theosaurus Rex!

    I cannot believe he has had time in his short lifespan to fully digest all of his learning and integrate his knowledge base into mature wisdom. That is why I have not given up on him. One day all of this aquatinting is going to result in a beautiful watercolor masterpiece.......I hope......unless he uses too many dark colors and it all turns nasty.

    Uruk, I will read your post carefully when I return from my walk. Connecting the dots.....that is what I like to do in my Bible reading as well. I will have to look into this Sudoko game. Sounds like brain candy.

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  22. Philosobot said.....

    ...there are plenty of people who have reconciled evolution with belief in god, even scientists.

    Why hasn't Scrip found reconciliation then? Or Uruk?

    No, there is no reconciliation. Ideas have consequences....and Darwinism is a very dangerous idea for a Bible believer. Those with a non Bible-based faith can reconcile....because they have no firm foundation to begin with.

    So Bible believers must address this attack on their faith with sound apologetics and sound science. We shall see who has the truth and who has the delusion when all the facts are in.

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  23. Hello Tandi,

    Yes, theism is reconcilable with evolution; though, it leaves little room for the function of a God. Reconciling the Bible and evolution is a different issue. I find that genre criticism is a open field for freeing Genesis from scientific implication, but few "bible-believers" are willing to apply genre categories of "myth" to biblical literature. Genre critical readings of Genesis are fruitful, and I tried them. Yet, I do not find the theologies that remain any less burdened with difficulty than the "science" that the previous (YEC) readings suggest.

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  24. "So Bible believers must address this attack on their faith with sound apologetics and sound science."

    And they fair poorly at both. Either one of two things happens. A) Apologists take a post-structuralist stance to undermine the foundations of science so that they don't need to justify their beliefs on rational grounds. Or, B) they have to attempt a scientific justification.

    In case A, the upshot (that they must hope no one will notice) is rank relativism. Science, Christianity, Islam, Satanism, hey! whatever floats your boat, coz' there's no foundation for knowledge anyway. In case B, they try ID and creation "science", which cannot be classified as scientific theories because they contain no testable hypotheses and therefore can be neither verified or falsified.

    Fail and fail.

    But there's a third option, which I've already said. They can reconcile the two: the bible is not a scientific textbook, and evolution tells us nothing about morality, salvation, etc. This is the only viable option, and your bringing up Scrip and Uruk does nothing to disprove that. Why hasn't Scrip or Uruk found reconciliation? Maybe there are other, better reasons to reject faith. My own deconversion had nothing - repeat, nothing - to do with evolution.

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  25. Tandi,

    Why couldn't have God used evolution to create the world as we know it?

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  26. Why couldn’t God have used Evolution? It would make Him a liar. He said He made the heavens and earth in six days. That is why we celebrate a weekly Sabbath instead of Darwin Day. “For in six days.....(Exodus 20:8-11). Jesus mentioned the Ten Commandments, Adam and Eve, quoted extensively from the “Old Testament” and did not abrogate one jot or tittle (Matt. 5:17-19). Jesus never taught the descent of man from ape-like ancestors and primordial soup. I am a dedicated disciple of Yeshua, not Darwin.

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  27. That is ignorant. In the second account of creation in Genesis God does not describe creating everything in six days. By the same logic wouldn't that make Him a liar as well?

    2 Peter 3:8 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.

    I wouldn't expect Jesus to teach anything on evolution. Because it doesn't matter. I also am a dedicated disiple of Jezus (Dutch for Jesus).

    I am not convinved in any way EXACTLY what meathod God used to create the world as we know it. Personally I don't care.

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  28. Tandi:

    Again. Let's assume God dictated the Pentateuch to Moses: why would He ever bother to explain evolution, even if evolution was how God accomplished the creation of life? It's quite beside the point from what Moses needed to know to lead the Hebrews, and it would have taken ages to explain all the science involved in the process. As a pedagogical step, wouldn't God have told him a simplified version of creation that also had metaphorical meaning?

    There is metaphorical meaning, and it has greater meaning than the cheap literal meaning creationists ascribe to it.

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