The Bible from an Evolutionary Standpoint – Part I

On January 5, 2012, in Religion, by prosario2000

“Religions Never Change”

“Religions never change”, said a dear friend and adopted sister of mine when I posted something about using the best aspects of religious practice for peace.  I know what she meant.  Religions have been used very often to manipulate people, to make them act unethically, even engaging wars in the name of God.  She, as a pacifist, rejects all of that.  As a matter of fact, she has been heavily influenced by the so-called “New Atheists” (Richard Dawkins in particular and his book The God Delusion).

It is not a surprise that the renowned biologist and militant atheist P. Z. Myers stated that if you want children to reject Christianity completely, you have to do one thing:  make them read the Bible.

Yes, there are wonderful stories there, but much of the content leaves much to be desired.  Yet, children usually do not read these passages.  I remember when I was teaching Humanities, I was about to talk about the Hebrew society, and was naming my students the best Bible translations (to Spanish) available to them.  Then I described some inconsistencies in the Bible, while a dear student of mine was looking at me with disbelief.  One of the inconsistencies I pointed out was that after David killed Goliath of Gath by cutting his head off (1 Sam. 17:40-54), but later, Goliath appeared alive and well just to be killed by Elhanan son of Jair (2 Sam. 21:29).  She shouted with surprise:  “I have NEVER heard of David cutting Goliath’s head off!”

Of course she was surprised!  She was never taught that very gruesome part of the Bible.  She was taught that David killed Goliath by throwing a stone at his forehead.  Bible school didn’t tell her about the beheading.  Yet, as I eventually showed her at the end of the class with the Bible in hand, that is not exactly what the Bible says:

Putting his hand in his bag, [David] took out a stone, slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead; the stone penetrated his forehead and he fell face downwards on the ground.  Thus David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; he hit the Philistine and killed him, though he had no sword in his hand.  David ran and stood over the Philistine, seized his sword, pulled it from the scabbard, despatched him and cut off his head. (1 Sam. 17: 49-51).

David and Goliath's Head by Caravaggio

She was surprised once again, because no one told her that part of Goliath’s death.

[Note:  If you have a King James Version translation in English or a Reina-Valera translation in Spanish, the passage 2 Sam 21:29 has been changed purposely to hide the contradiction.  Yet the rest of the Bible translations show the real translation, that Goliath appears much later.]

In the Christian right, there is much emphasis on how violent the Q’uran is, and how, because of it, all (or at least most) Muslims are violent.  Yet, they (convenientely)  forget how violent the Bible is.

Yahweh Elohim can be said to be slow to anger and rich in mercy (Ps. 145:8), yet you have to look at many of the passages in the Pentateuch and Minor Prophets to see that His anger sparks at the slightest provocation, and, sometimes, no provocation.  Take this incident, for instance:

They transported the ark of Elohim on a new cart and brought it out of Abinadab’s house which is on the hill.  Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, drove the cart, Uzzah walked alongside the ark of God and Ahio went in front.  David and the whole House of Israel danced before Yahweh with all their might, singing to the accompaniment of harps, lyres, tambourines, sistrums and cymbals.  When they came to Nancon’s threshing-floor, Uzzah reached his hand out to the ark of God and steadied it, as the oxen were making it tilt.  This roused Yahweh’s anger against Uzzah, and for this crime Elohim struck him down on the spot, and there he died beside the ark of God.  (2 Sam 6:3-7).

We can understand why David was a bit pissed at Yahweh for doing that (2 Sam. 6:8).  Any person who reads this passage, whether believer or not, will have the impression that Yahweh’s penalty doesn’t quite fit the “crime” …  if it can be called a “crime” in any sense.

Yahweh is also not short of promoting genocide.  For example, Yahweh commanded the annihilation of the Midianites (Num. 31:1).

The Isaelites took the Midianite women and their little ones captive and carried off all their cattle, all their flocks and all their goods as booty.  They set fire to the towns where they lived and to all their encampments.  Then, taking all their booty, everything they had captured, human and animal, they brought the captives, spoil and booty to Moses, the priest Eleazar and the whole communityof Israelites at the camp on the Plains of Moab, near the Jordan by Jericho.

Moses, the priest Eleazar and all the leaders of the community went out of the camp to meet them.  Moses was enraged with the officers of the army, the commanders of the thousands and commanders of the hundreds who had come back from this military expedition.  He said, ‘Why have you spared the life of all the women?  They were the very ones who, on Balaam’s advice, caused the Israelites to be unfaithful to Yahweh in the affair at Peor:  hence the plague which struck Yahweh’s community.  So kill all the male children and kill all the women who have ever slept with a man; but spare the lives of the young girls who have never slept with a man, and keep them for yourselves.  (Num. 31:9-18)

In other words, kill all children and married women … and, by the way, you may keep the young virgins to rape them. There are other passages which actually suggest to kill babies or rip a pregnant woman’s womb apart, especially when they are the enemy (2 Kings 6:12; Is. 13:16; Hos. 14:1, Neh. 3:10; Ps. 137:9).  There are other examples of genocide, such as the command to kill the Amalekites.  Samuel told Saul to  “… crush Amalek;  put him under the curse of destruction with all that he possesses.  Do not spare him, but kill [every] man and woman, babe and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.” (1 Sam. 15:2-3).  Yahweh also consents to slavery, sometimes more humane slavery for ones, but worse slave treatment for others (Ex. 21:2-11,20-21; Lev. 25:44-46).

My, my, my!  These are the passages which are forgotten when many believers present the Bible as the story of “God’s love throughout history”!  These are the passages not taught in Bible school.  Yet, they are definitely there.  According to the scholar Raymund Schwager, the Hebrew Bible alone (the Old Testament with the exception of the Deuterocanonical books),

contains six hundred passages that explicitly talk about nations, kings, or individuals attacking, destroying, and killing others. … Aside from the approximately one thousand verses in which Yahweh himself appears as the direct executioner of violent punishments, and the many texts in which the Lord delivers the criminal to the punisher’s sword, in over one hundred other passages Yahweh expressly gives the command to kill people (Schwager, 2000, pp. 47, 60).

According to Matthew White, supposedly there are 1.2 million deaths from mass killing in the Bible (excluding the half million dead due to the war between Judah and Israel in 2 Chron. 13 for considering it implausible).  I have to add the fact that many of the battles told in the Hebrew Bible did not actually take place, but I’ll explain it in a future blog post in these series.

 

Yet Religions have Changed … 

One of the things I had to tell my friend and sister when she stated that “religions don’t change” is that the fact that religions have changed refutes her arguments.  If you don’t believe me, believe Steven Pinker.  He is not exactly an ardent defender of religion.  He is quite the opposite, an ardent critic of religion, especially in the most harmful aspects of it in relation to public policy.  He is also an advocate for the hypothesis of what in neuroscience has been called “the God module”, a module which enable many people to believe in God, life after death or a world beyond our own.

Yet, recently he published a book I wholeheartedly recommend called, The Better Angels of our Nature.

The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker

The main argument of his book will seem very strange in light of the many battles, wars, and terrorist acts which occur every day …  He thinks that violence in the world has declined.  Yes!  No kidding!  Violence in the world has really declined!  Even violence in religion has declined, and Pinker, as critic of religion he is, is honest enough to recognize its decline … which confirms his point!  After talking about all of the unethical parts of the Bible, he then says:

If you think that by reviewing the literal content of the Hebrew Bible I am trying to impugn the billions of people who revere it today, then you are missing the point.  The overwhelming majority of observant Jews and Christians are, needless to say, thoroughly decent people who do not sanction genocide, rape, slavery, or stoning people for frivolous infractions.  Their revenrence for the Bible is purely talismanic.  In recent millenia and centuries the Bible has been spin-doctored, allegorized, superseded by less violent texts (the Talmud among Jews and the New Testament among Christians), or discreetly ignored.  And that is the point.  Sensibilities toward violence have changed so much that religious people today compartmentalize their attitude to the Bible.  They pay it lip service as a symbol of morality, while getting their actual morality from more modern principles (Pinker, 2011, pp. 11-12).

Much later, when he talks about more objectionable material from the New Testament (although less violent than the Old Testament), and the most unethical attitudes from early Christians (especially after Christianity was adopted as official religion by the Roman Empire) he states:

Once again, the point of this discussion is not to accuse Christians of endorsing torture and persecution.  Of course most devout Christians today are thoroughly tolerant and humane people.  Even those who thunder from televised pulpits do not call for burning heretics alive or hoisting Jews on the strappado.  The question is why they don’t, given that their beliefs imply that it would serve the greater good.  The answer is that people in the West today compartmentalize their religious ideology.  When they affirm their faith in houses of worship, they profess beliefs that have barely changed in two thousand years.  But when it comes to their actions, they respect modern norms of nonviolence and toleration, a benevolent hypocrisy for which we should all be grateful (Pinker, 2011, p. 17).

The only aspect where I part from Pinker’s company has to do with the statement that Christianity has “barely” changed its doctrine.  Quite the contrary, as Hans Küng has pointed out in his work on Judaism, Christianity and Islam, although some of their paradigmatic core principles are preserved for millenia, the ever-changing historical reality of Christians (Jews and Muslims) and interactions among themselves have made them adopt a variety of philosophical and theological standpoints.  In Christianity the Bible was not seen the same way by everyone during its Neo-Platonic stage, nor its Aristotelian stage, not even during the Protestant Reformation or the Counter-Reformation, not even today.

The part about the “benevolent hypocrisy” should not be taken to be an ill-willed criticism against Christians.  After all, we are all hypocrites in one level or another, as many cognitive scientists know very well.  Yet, in many cases it cannot be said that this is because “readers ignore passages”.  Many theologians were perfectly aware of such passages, yet provided rational philosophical and theological basis to confront them or deal with them.  Unfortunately, not many believers read these theologians.

What these Series are About

Yet, why is the Bible the way it is?  Why are there hateful passages?  In fact, why are there contradictions in the Bible?  How can we understand these contradictions?  Didn’t anyone notice that these passages were there?  Militant atheists love to laugh at these passages to embarrass Christians in the process.  Yet, such behavior contributes little to the conversation. 

I want to explore the Bible from a very unusual standpoint, from an evolutionary standpoint.  Yes, mostly from a Darwinian standpoint.  The degree of violence we find in the Bible (and antiquity in general) will be described more accurately as the result of biological evolutionary processes.  The eventual process of change in religion (in many cases for the better) can be understood as the way cultural evolution interacts with biological evolution in order to benefit greater and greater groups of humans.  Contrary to what has been stated, religion has been a great force of group cohesion, yet it is not the only one.

In my next blog post, I will present a brief summary of current Darwinian evolution, especially the parts regarding our present discussion.

On a side note, I was always dissatisfied with official Catholic theology on revelation.  Although the theology worked on and elaborated in the Second Vatican Council is a great advance, it is not enough.  I hope that much of the reflections I have to offer will serve, in the end, a scientific and philosophical basis for a more adequate unerstanding of the Bible, and what do we mean when we say that it is God’s Word.

 

References

The New Jerusalem Bible.  (1989).  NY:  Doubleday.

Pinker, S.  The better angels of our nature:  why violence has declined.  US:  Viking.

Schwager, R.  (2000).  Must there be scapegoats?  Violence and redemption in the Bible  NY:  Crossroad.

White, M.  (2011).  The great big books of horrible things.  The definitive chronicle of history’s 100 worst atrocities.  NY:  Norton.

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Book Review: “The Darwin Economy” by Robert H. Frank

On December 28, 2011, in Economy, by prosario2000

"The Darwin Economy" by Robert H. Frank

In my dreams would I have imagined that I would read a book like this, especially during my research regarding applications of Darwinism to social.  I know that in some tangential way, Darwin’s theory of evolution was related to the way we create economic systems.  Darwinian natural selection has to do with the competition among individuals and groups for scarce resources.  Humanity’s economic systems have to do with the distribution of scarce wealth.  Also, we have to look at the fact that we inherit much of our behaviors from our ancestral animal behaviors regarding scarce resources.  Yet, economic systems are conventional and, in a way, unrelated to nature.

Yet, there is a challenge being made by Robert H. Frank in his new book, The Darwin Economy: Liberty, Competition, and the Common Good.  He predicts something rather odd:  in a hundred years from now, if you ask professional economists who do they consider the father of their own discipline, instead of Adam Smith, most of them would say “Charles Darwin”.

Charles Darwin??!!!

Yeah, Charles Darwin!

Before you place Frank in a psychiatric facility (at least in your imagination), he invites us to take a look at the way Darwin describes natural selection processes.  He reminds us of Darwin’s initial development of multilevel group selection, and how individual interests relate to group interests.  For example, how did the gazelle accomplish its current average speed?  Classic Darwinian natural selection would tell us that it is the result of species warfare.  Nature selects gazelles who have the ability to escape predators using fast speed.  In this case, through reproduction, the fastest gazelles pass on genes that will benefit the group.  In this case, individual interests and group interests agree completely, since the group on average is better able to escape predators.

The same happens at the economic level.  Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” of the market works perfectly in this case, because the competition among individuals or among companies benefit both individuals and groups.

Yet, there are other scenarios.   The cover of Frank’s book tells us all about it.  Consider the bull elk.  They have antlers which function as weapons in order to compete with other males for female.  The winner, gets to pass on genes.  So, from the point of view of the interest of the individual bull elk, the bigger the antlers, the better!  This leads to the prevalence of larger and larger antlers. Yet, the process cannot continue ad infinitum.  Having very big antlers is a disadvantage from a group standpoint:  large antlers increase the risk of getting stuck among tree branches in densely wooded areas, hence the risk of being eaten by wolves.  If those genes are passed along, they would compromise the group.  In this case, individual and group interests diverge.

The same thing happens with the economy.  Too much competition among individuals or corporations can lead to the sort of negative externality which can be a real problem, even a threat, to the group.  In this case, when too much competition happens, and the interests of the individuals and groups diverge, Smith’s “invisible hand” breaks down.

Frank even adds another imaginary, amusing, but interesting statement.  If bull elk were to be asked in a referendum whether to reduce their antlers by half, they would overwhelmingly favor it!  Of course, such experiment cannot be carried out with actual bull elk, but we can do so with humans.  We don’t have antlers, of course, but we are often found in competition, sometimes too much competition.  Frank gives the example of an actual experiment being carried out with hockey players. Thomas Schelling, an economist, has pointed out the fact that when hockey players are individually given the choice of using their helmets or not, they usually tend not to wear helmets, yet, when they are asked to vote to implement a rule for the group to wear them or not, they invariably vote in favor of wearing helmets.   Why is that?   If you make individuals choose whether or not to wear helmets, they will choose not to, because not wearing a helmet increases a player’s advantage.  Maybe he can see or hear better than players who are wearing helmets.   As a result, those players who use to wear helmets will now choose not to, to gain that advantage.  At the end of the day, no one will wear helmets, and everyone would end up having equal advantage.   The downside of not wearing helmets, though, is that everyone is at risk of serious head injury.  Everyone is worse off.  This is similar to the bull elk having horns too big, there is excessive competition.  So, when hockey players are asked whether to implement a rule requiring everyone to wear helmets, they will vote in its favor.  A simple nod or loose agreement among players is not enough, they need a collective mandate.

The same thing happens to states.  During the Cold War there was a huge amount of waste due to the arms race.  In this sense, the U.S. and the Soviet Union were incredibly wasteful.  In order to control that, they couldn’t control that race just with winks among their representatives and diplomats, but rather by signing treaties to slow the pace of  competition or to disarm very harmful weapons.  The treaty would include checking on each other’s facilities in order to be certain that this would be carried out.   That’s how they could use enough money for education, health care, utilities, and so on, without spending it most or all on the arms race.

Frank argues persuasively that, contrary to what many progressives think, many of the ills of the economy are not produced by the prevalence of monopolies and oligopolies, but rather by too much competition.  Libertarians are usually right when they say that government is wasteful.  Yet, excessive competition can be incredibly wasteful too, in ways that are many times more harmful than government.  Just one example (of the many offered in the book) when rich people celebrate parties for children’s birthdays.  Here another element creeps in the competition process, the degree in which people spend on those kinds of parties is not based on absolute position, but on relative position.  As a result, if you are a millionaire who celebrates their fifteen years-old birthday with a $5 million party, perhaps your neighbor will want to do it better and spend $6.5 million party for his fifteen-years old.  This process will go on indefinitely leading to big waste of money.  This is not a hypothetical situation, this really happens!  At the end of the day, the children will be just as special, nobody is happier no matter how much money has been spent, so the money is … wasted … literally!

In these cases, Frank does not suggest that we forbid $5 million parties, but rather establish a steep progressive consumption tax that will persuade rich people not to spend too much.  The state or federal income obtained through this consumption tax will serve for roads, bridges, security, firefighting, police, and so on. This will benefit both the rich and the poor.  Frank argues that if you are a smart rich man, you would love to live in a place with those sorts of rules and laws.

Of course, libertarians and people of the Tea Party will say that all tax is theft, that we should diminish the government.  Interesting thought, but, as Frank points out, we need to tax something.  If we don’t tax, there can’t be a state, if there is no state then another country will invade … and you’ll end up paying taxes to that country.

Frank shows that in many cases, taxes are a unintrusive way to stir corporations and businesses away from the sort of harmful behavior which arises due to too much competition.  The problem that we have now is that we are usually taxing the wrong thing:  the payroll tax or the savings tax.  Yet, we don’t tax harmful behavior enough.  We usually penalize them, but don’t tax them.

The author of The Darwin Economy uses this Darwinian framework to evaluate the economy.  Unlike bull elks or gazelles, who can’t communicate and cannot act in ways which are against their nature, we can make better choices.  Darwin helps us evaluate these competitive dynamics that occur even in the economy, lets us evaluate the problem, while simultaneously helping economists point out possible ways of solving these problems. Within this framework, Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” insight is just a special case of a broader and more general understanding of competition. There are criticisms to both progressives and libertarians alike.

He applies this reasoning to lots of cases:  such as pollution control, employees competition for better salary and safety, housing, alcohol, among many other aspects o the economy.  It is also an invitation to many in the right wing to really think about how taxes can be beneficial for society as a whole when done the right way.  Tax should not be a forbidden subject, especially in the United States.  Let’s scap taxes to all useful activities, and tax to discourage activities, especially those which can cause harm to others:  noise, carbon dioxide, road congestion, etc.  Have a progressive consumption tax, not an income tax.

This is a fascinating book and I highy recommend it.  For me, it has been very illuminating.

Video – Part I

Video – Part II

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Como ustedes saben, he hecho disponible en mi página de internet una lectura con fines educativos titulada: "¿Por qué somos seres morales? Una perspectiva biológica". Hoy hice disponible la versión 2.2 del escrito.

Lo que es distinto de esta versión de la anterior es fundamentalmente un énfasis en selección de grupos. Al principio de la sección titulada "Condiciones Ambientales para el Desarrollo del Sentido Moral" puse una cita del mismo Charles Darwin en el que propone la selección de grupos como la explicación ambiental de cómo los seres humanos adquirimos un sentido moral. Además, en las notas finales, añado que este tema de selección de grupos, aunque es aceptado hoy día por la mayoría de los evolucionistas, es un tema controversial y señalo algunas referencias que pueden ayudar a los estudiantes a comprender mejor los aspectos controversiales. Por otro lado, también proveo fuentes para que los mismos estudiantes puedan aclarar sus dudas en torno a la selección de grupos, ya que, por lo visto, aún en las mejores universidades del mundo, algunos de los mejores evolucionistas presentan una extraordinaria caricatura y representación maliciosa de dicho concepto (véase, por ejemplo, la Clase número 3 del curso abierto de la Universidad de Yale titulado: Principles of Evolution, Ecology, and Behavior por Stephen C. Stearns).

Nota Aclaratoria: El curso de Stearns es buenísimo y lo recomiendo para cualquier persona que desee comprender con lujo de detalles la teoría de la evolución neo-darwiniana y gran parte de la evidencia a su favor. Sin embargo, entiendo que suscribe un punto de vista ingenuo en torno al llamado "conflicto genético" como alternativa a la selección de grupos y una mala exposición del punto de vista de selección de grupos.

Incluí entre las fuentes al libro de Conor Cunningham, Darwin’s Pious Idea, por entender que, a pesar de que él es teólogo, él comprende muy bien el debate que se está dando entre los biólogos hoy día en torno a este tema. Él hace una breve, pero extraordinaria, exposición de los orígenes del debate en torno a la selección de grupos: tanto el origen de la idea en las obras de Charles Darwin, como la formulación ingenua conocida como el análisis Wynne-Edwards, su rechazo en la comunidad científica a favor de la selección por parentesco, para que resurja (como dicen en inglés "with a vengeance") la selección de grupos a la luz de nueva evidencia a favor de esta perspectiva.

A la misma vez, añado como fuente un artículo publicado en la revista Nature titulado "The Needs of the Many", que explica brevemente la mayor parte de los aspectos del debate .

Finalmente, añadí también la referencia a un artículo publicado en la revista académica, Evolution, titulado "Eight Criticisms not to Make about Group Selection", porque ayuda a distinguir entre la concepción de selección de grupo que los opositores sostienen y lo que la selección de grupos (no-ingenua) realmente sostiene.

Para leer o bajar ¿Por qué somos seres morales? Una perspectiva biológica en distintos formatos, pueden ir a esta página.

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Tema aparte: Para posibles objeciones al uso de la selección de grupos en el escrito educativo por ser un tema controversial.

Mis Conclusiones en Torno a la Selección de Grupos

Soy un cristiano evolucionista (un teísta evolucionista), en calidad de filósofo de las ciencias trabajo también temas relacionados a la teoría de la evolución, pero no soy evolucionista en el sentido de que no soy un biólogo evolucionista. He estado estudiando la teoría de la evolución orientándome bastante con autoridades en el tema. Utilizo como referencia principal el libro de texto (universitario) Evolution (2nda. edición) de Douglas J. Futuyma, un estudioso evolucionista mundialmente reconocido, además del curso de Stephen C. Stearns que mencioné anteriormente. El libro Evolution contiene una discusión importantísima en torno a selección de grupos, aunque lo entiende como una suerte de selección de parentesco, y que me da a entender su cientificidad porque tiene un alto poder explicativo y los modelos que provee pueden ser cuantificados, lo que hace que esta propuesta sea falsable (en términos popperianos). Otras autoridades como E. O. Wilson (cuya formación en este campo no puede ponerse en duda), David Burnie, David S. Wilson, entre otros, endosan abiertamente la selección de grupo. Incluso, el artículo de "The Needs of the Many" cita a un antiguo opositor de la selección de grupo, Andy Gardner: "Everyone agrees that group selection occurs". En el caso de este artículo y del libro de Futuyma, selección de grupo a múltiples niveles parece explicar un tipo de adaptación especial de organismos, aunque parece que no otras.

Mientras más leo del tema, más me doy cuenta de que la razón del debate se debe a que distintos evolucionistas sostienen perspectivas incompatibles en torno a la evolución, lo que lleva a algunos a pensar que hace falta refinar la semántica de la discusión para que se aclaren muchas dudas teoréticas en torno al tema. Aún así, aparentemente, hoy día, la opinión predominante en torno al tema es que la selección de grupo realmente ocurre.

Hay otro factor importante en cuanto al conflicto: los prejuicios y unos puntos de vista transmitidos de una generación de académicos a otra ("received views"). Gran parte de este problema tiene que ver con la primera formulación de la teoría en el siglo veinte en la modalidad Wynn-Edwards, que postula que las características de los organismos evolucionan "para el bien del grupo". A esto se le conoce como "punto de vista ingenuo de la selección de grupos". Hoy día, ningún proponente de la selección de grupos sostiene este punto de vista. Ningún organismo evoluciona características para el bien del grupo, sino que estas características prevalecen porque hay factores ambientales que lo permiten y que resulta en el mejor comportamiento entre los miembros de un grupo. Una vez estas características, en combinación con factores ambientales, posibilitan un comportamiento altruista o solidario entre los miembros de un grupo, la tendencia de ese grupo es a la de sobrevivir. Sencillamente, grupos en que prevalecen los solidarios y altruistas sobreviven sobre los grupos en que prevalecen los egoístas. En otras palabras, el comportamiento altruista es desventajoso dentro de los grupos (porque el altruista está en desventaja ante el egoísta), mientras que es ventajoso entre grupos (porque un grupo en que predomina el altruismo aventaja al que predomina el egoísmo). Eso lo explico con lujo de detalles en mi escrito educativo ¿Por qué somos animales morales?

Supuestamente, de acuerdo con la visión predominante ("received view"), William D. Hamilton propuso la selección de parentesco como una medida para explicar el altruismo en especies tales como las hormigas o las abejas. Esta perspectiva se ve entre mucho como una extensión de la selección genética y una alternativa a la selección de grupos. De acuerdo con los oponentes de la selección de grupos, los comportamientos que son resultado de la evolución solamente se pueden entender en términos de selección de genes. Esta perspectiva tuvo su máximo empuje con la propuesta del "gen egoísta" de Richard Dawkins en su famosa obra The Selfish Gene. ¿Qué dice la "selección de parentesco"? Que, usualmente, los organismos hacen que sobrevivan los genes suyos mediante su comportamiento altruista al sacrificarse por aquéllos otros que comparten su propio código genético. Hamilton también proveyó una famosa ecuación que describe cómo esto ocurre y que parece confirmarse a nivel experimental. Muchos despreciaron la versión ingenua de la selección de grupo y abrazaron las ideas de Hamilton.

Lo que los evolucionistas en general no saben, y que fue bien documentado por David S. Wilson en su blog, Hamilton no formuló la selección de parentesco como alternativa a la selección de grupos, sino que más bien los que se oponían a la selección de grupos tomaron la propuesta de Hamilton para no abrazar cualquier versión de la selección de grupo. En su mente, ellos equiparaban la visión ingenua de selección de grupos con la de cualquier otra propuesta similar. Es iluminador observar cómo Hamilton concibió ulteriormente su propia propuesta cuando se encontró con otra fórmula matemática hecha por George Price que suponía la selección de grupo. El mismo Hamilton admitió que su propuesta de selección de parentesco no es otra cosa que una forma de selección de grupos. (Para más información, leer este artículo).

Este prejuicio contra la selección de grupos empeora aún más cuando tomamos en cuenta cuáles son las voces públicas (fuera de la academia) más importantes para la divulgación de la teoría de la evolución. La voz más conocida es, sin lugar a dudas, la de Richard Dawkins. Le tengo una tremenda admiración a Dawkins en términos de cómo él hace exposiciones bien lúcidas de aquellos detalles de la teoría de la evolución que son difíciles de exponer al público, además que me resulta un intelectual bien agradable con un celo por las ciencias que realmente admiro y que, en muchos aspectos, quiero emular. De todas las obras de Dawkins, siempre recomiendo las siguientes: The Selfish Gene, The Blind Watchmaker, Unweaving the Rainbow, Climbing Mount Improbable y The Greatest Show on Earth. De hecho, en mi escrito educativo, utilizo los libros de Dawkins como referencia.

Lo que lamento de Richard Dawkins es dos cosas. La primera es que utiliza la teoría de la evolución como una bandera contra la religión y a favor del ateísmo, lo que ha hecho la vida de cuadritos para aquellos de nosotros que queremos enseñar la teoría de la evolución al público. Contrario a lo que la mayor parte del público parece creer, Charles Darwin y Thomas Huxley, despreciaban este tipo de abuso de la teoría de la evolución.

La segunda, es que la voz de Dawkins tiene una carga de autoridad pública desproporcionada, lo que lleva al público a pensar que lo que él sostiene en sus libros y en su página de internet (con todo y lujo de detalles) es el consenso de los evolucionistas. Es cierto que la mayor parte de lo que él expone en sus libros es plenamente correcto en torno a los detalles de la teoría de la evolución. Sin embargo, no todos los evolucionistas están de acuerdo con su punto de vista de selección genética (o su metáfora del gen egoísta). Por ejemplo, Simon Conway Morris, evolucionista hartamente reconocido, considera que esta metáfora es simplista y que no da cuenta de la enorme complejidad de los procesos evolutivos. Sin embargo, la voz de Dawkins en cuanto a este tema, especialmente en cuanto a sus más ávidos lectores, se asemeja mucho a la de los seguidores de alguna figura religiosa, que creen que la autoridad de su "líder" es casi universalmente aceptada, cuando, en realidad, sus puntos de vista tanto en la religión como en otros asuntos no son realmente compartidos por la inmensa mayoría de los evolucionistas. Es más, muchos resienten el hecho de que haya hecho de la evolución su bandera anti-religiosa.

Uno de los temas en los que Dawkins no goza de mayoría es precisamente en el tema de selección de grupos. Él abraza la selección de parentesco y la selección genética como alternativas a la selección de grupo. Inevitablemente sus expresiones contra aquéllos que favorecen la selección de grupo, específicamente sus palabras decepcionantes contra E. O. Wilson y, especialmente, contra David S. Wilson, han llevado a una gran parte del público (no de los científicos) a pensar que Dawkins está en lo correcto. Desgraciadamente los dos Wilsons no gozan de la misma popularidad de Dawkins, pero, aún así, David Sloan Wilson ha mostrado por qué Dawkins está rotundamente equivocado. La selección genética promovida por Dawkins y la selección de parentesco no conflijen con la selección de grupos, contrario a lo que parece insinuar Dawkins (véase las respuestas de D. S. Wilson a Dawkins aquí y aquí). Utilizando la metáfora del gen egoísta, un gen podría sobrevivir mejor si utiliza como "vehículo" a organismos sociales cuyo comportamiento altruista permite la supervivencia de un grupo o una especie. ¿Cuál es el problema? El problema es que Dawkins desea que el metafórico egoísmo del gen sea fundamento exclusivo del proceso de evolución y selección natural, y que explique, a su vez, el comportamiento altruista. Desgraciadamente, si los genes individuales compiten con otros genes individuales, la evolución moral no hubiera sido posible, así como Thomas Hobbes ilustró en el caso de los hombres: la moral no se puede desarrollar en una "guerra de todos contra todos". La selección genética sí ocurre, pero la selección de grupo es un mecanismo por el cual la selección natural hace que sobrevivan grupos en que predominan altruistas y solidarios, lo que a su vez permite el desarrollo del sentido moral en muchos de los primates, incluyendo al ser humano. Ésta y otras razones muestran por qué, aunque la metáfora del "gen egoísta" es útil, puede ser simplista en un gran número de casos si no se tienen en cuenta otros procesos evolutivos. David Burnie, una autoridad de la evolución, también caracteriza a esta metáfora como simplista por la sencilla razón de que los genes no luchan o compiten entre ellos, sino más bien los organismos. Es más, a veces es competencia entre grupos a diferentes niveles. Otras críticas aparecen en la obra de Cunningham, Darwin’s Pious Idea, que contiene aún más críticas de otros científicos y eruditos en el tema, incluyendo las críticas de Jan Sapp, Simon Conway Morris, K. Weiss, S. Fullerton, entre otros (pp. 41-78). Como filósofo, también Cunningham le echa más sal a la herida cuando afirma que la distinción "gen/vehículo" re-establece una especie distinción cartesiana mente/cuerpo que no es deseable en las ciencias. Yo también añadiría, con un poco de mayor malicia (lo confieso), que el concepto de memes también vuelve a introducir otro elemento indeseable para las ciencias: la creencia en la posesión diabólica o demoníaca … "no es que creas en la religión por impulsos racionales, sino porque los memes religiosos te han poseído"; para Daniel Dennett "nuestro yo es también un meme".

Éstas son las razones por las cuales decidí introducir el tema de la selección de grupo en la discusión del escrito educativo que escribí para mis estudiantes. Recuerdo que como el escrito está disponible bajo una licencia libre, cualquiera que use este escrito puede modificarlo si lo considera apropiado. Aún así, espero que la gente entienda perfectamente por qué creo que el poder explicativo de la selección de grupo para dar cuenta de la moralidad de los seres humanos es bastante grande. La validez del argumento es sólida. Como siempre, estoy abierto a cambiar mi parecer si el argumento está bien explicado. A fin de cuentas, no debería predominar el fundamentalismo en la filosofía, en la teología ni en las ciencias.

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This article is part of a series of articles on the subject of evolution, ethics and spirituality:

Parts: I, II, III, IV, V, VI (1), VI (2), VII, VIII (1), VIII (2), IX (1), IX (2), IX (3), X (1), X (2), X (3), XI (1), XI (2), XI (3), XII, XIII, XIV, XV, XVI, XVII (1), XVII (2), XVIII, XIX, XX

Evolution, Ethics, And Spirituality: Part XXI — The Stuff You Give Away without Losing (I)

(The entire analysis from here on is based on this proposal by the philosopher André Comte-Sponville with some modifications of mine)

Comte-Sponville's Stratified Model

Gossip!

Bah! I hate celebrities! Hmmm … let me correct that. I hate all the gossip about celebrities. I’m not interested in reality shows about celebrities either. Don’t people realize that when there is a camera around, the show is not "real" anymore?! I can care less about celebrities’ marital life, divorces, drinking habits, drug habits, religious habits, etc.

Let me correct that. Actually I am drawn to that kind of information, but I think that the situation in Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, Japan, and so on are more important than celebrities. I also believe that we should think more seriously about many economic and social issues. We can leave celebrities’ scandals aside. However, in commercial TV in general, the discussions about all of these subjects is retarded, mostly for people’s entertainment. That’s why I hated MySpace when it turned into Celebrity Gossip land. Who cares?! I wonder if people actually saw Lions and Lambs and thought deeply about its message.

Yet, one of the reasons (but not the main one) why TV networks are so darn successful in ratings is that they have studied the psychology of people who watch. And they know how to make people interested in the small things in life: about celebrities, fashion, baseball, and fishing. Not that at least baseball or fishing have no merit of their own, or are not worth watching or knowing, but we have to wonder about the news priorities in people’s minds. A great part of it is media manipulation, sometimes in ways we can’t even suspect. Hey … it’s a game!

Much of our "needs" are artificially created by these networks. It is, as Chomsky says, it is the philosophy of futility. Part of those artificial needs is …. knowing about celebrities … gossip!

But let’s confess it, we are suckers for this kind of gossip. Who wouldn’t want to know when is the next Youtube video Tom Cruise is going to appear doing or saying something crazy. Think about when Tom Cruise revealed on Oprah that he was going to marry Katie Holmes.

and aaaaaallll the fun after that!

Oh! Oh! And did you enjoy that famous Tom Cruise Scientology video? Everyone thought he was crazy for real! I really loved watching this …

… and all of the fun after that!

Oh! C’mon … you loved these videos! Didn’t you?! Yes, and I did too.

Yet, there is something wildly peculiar about this Tom Cruise-Scientology video which was not funny in the long run … at least for a lot of people. Issues about this particular video in Youtube would unleash something that would really … really cost a lot for Master Card, PayPal, Visa, Amazon.com, even PostFinance, a Swiss bank. Recently it has become a headache even to some homophobic fundamentalist hate-groups in the U.S. In fact, the consequences of this video is of international proportions.

Now … why the heck would a weird Tom Cruise-Scientology video have such huge consequences? Well … that’s part of the problem. The common ground for all of these events is simply Anonymous …

Cultural Problem-Solving Branching

Do you recognize this mask?

Mask of V for Vendetta

This is the famous mask of V for Vendetta, a great movie. Today, this mask also represents Anonymous. And by Anonymous, I don’t refer to an unknown author, but to a group, an organized group of unknowns on the net. Usually hackers who are engaged now in "hackivism". This is their flag:

Flag of Anonymous

The organization appeared in 2003 more or less as a form of entertainment, until they started focusing on some targets, practically for purposes of criticisms or social reasons. Yet, the Tom Cruise-Scientology video led Anonymous’ hackivism and activism to a whole new level.

This video upset the Church of Scientology, because it was never meant to be disseminated in Youtube, and they made a copyright claim on it. Youtube removed it from the Internet in January 2008, but in that same month, Anonymous sent a message through Youtube against the Church of Scientology because of Internet censorship. After that, they flooded the Church of Scientology with DDoS (denial-of-service) attacks, phone calls, faxes, and so on.

The Church immediately threatened them, and accused Anonymous of being a group of cyberterrorists and child molesters.

Note: Anonymous itself has nothing to do with child molestation. The problem is that the Church of Scientology tends to accuse its opponents of being child molesters. That’s their favorite accusation when they harass people.

After an appeal made by Mark Bunker, a movie producer and director, Anonymous dedicated itself to make peaceful protests against the Church of Scientology. This operation is called Project Chanology, which is a whole operation of protest and orientation on the web about the harms of that particular Church.

But why the mask? It is very well known that the Church of Scientology has practiced a policy of harassment against protesters. L. Ron Hubbard, the Church’s founder, established that people labeled by the Church as "suppressive person" were fair game. If you attack the Church of Scientology, and they declare you a suppressive person, be aware that it will literally engage in an intelligence operation and see who you are, where you live, they’ll sue you to bankruptcy (regardless of whether the accusations are true or not), and even go to your boss to tell him or her that you are a "child molester", or an "alcoholic", or an "adulterer", etc. Hence .. the mask! A very carefully chosen mask. The members of Anonymous hide from Scientologists who might harass them, and let them know that Anonymous is protesting, and what they stand for.

Yet, this whole new level of Anonymous activism drives that group to a whole new level of hackivism that even have corporations and governments extremely worried … far more worried than Wikileaks as a matter of fact. When Wikileaks was censored on the Internet by Amazon, Master Card, and other companies, Anonymous went on to hack their servers, and drive those companies and governments crazy.

This is just one illustration of what happens in culture. One single video can generate lots of fun, criticisms, activisms, hackivisms, you name it. Each solution formulated within our culture can generate several branches of a problem-solving process (in Popperian terms).

Cultural Evolution

As I have argued before, this resembles Darwin’s description of speciation, but in other ways it is not a Darwinian version of evolution. I already mentioned in one post that culture is mostly (although not completely) Lamarckian, but there are other differences between evolution by natural selection and culture.

Darwinian evolution occurs because of lack of resources, if there were no scarcity of available energy in nature, there wouldn’t be any "struggle for existence". There is in principle scarcity of resources a species can thrive with. Species compete for those resources and adapt accordingly. Yet, culture is different. Cultural objects have a peculiarity due to our inherent drive to know stuff. We are driven to gossip, because the information gives us an adaptive advantage in case it is true. Each gossip is delicious, and we enjoy it when we hear it. The media knows all of this very well. Youtube thrives on it. Our pseudo-need to know about the latest gossip about celebrities happens to be a result of an adaptation … of a Darwinian sort. Yet, the way culture spreads and operates is different from Darwinian processes.

What is "knowing" (in an informal sense of the word)? To "know" is essentially to grasp information with our minds. That’s all cool, until you realize what is particularly different than species competing for scarce resources …

Giving Away your Cake, and Keeping It! (To Eat It … of Course)

If you don’t understand what information has to do with scarcity (or lack of it), let me quote you Thomas Jefferson (in a letter to Isaac McPherson in 1813):

If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.

There may be scarcity of food or territory, but there is no scarcity of information. This observation made by Thomas Jefferson, was observed by many people before him, particularly St. Augustine. As a great Neo-Platonist that he was, St. Augustine did recognize the abstract meaning grasped by souls (minds) and is shared by everyone.

What I am saying right now is being grasped by you, dear reader, and you can tell everyone else about it. Maybe you can tell your friends to read these words, and there will be more minds grasping my message. But get this! It doesn’t matter how many people grasp the information, I will never lose it

Let me correct myself again … I can lose it if I ever have Alzheimer’s, or am treated with shock therapy … or, as it happens so many times, I forget!

Yet, as G. W. Hegel, Karl Marx, and Karl Popper recognized, culture has a pretty good way of having a life of its own. Each new information shared by many heads generates a Popperian problem-solving process far more aggressively and faster than in nature. In the realm of living things, natural selection is restricted because of scarcity of resources, and its problem-solving process is mostly improper. But in culture, the problem-solving process is a proper one, it is abstract, and it is understood by many minds. Each idea, concept, or expression has a way of generating a whole series of results … just like a Tom Cruise-Scientology video.

For purposes of our discussion, I would like to place this cultural problem-solving process mostly in the techno-scientific realm. This placing has the defect that it places the other strata as being somehow "outside" of culture, when in reality they are also cultural processes. Yet, it has the advantage of treating cultural processes as a sort of economy, which operates on its own, and which is regulated by the juridical-political stratum (see illustration at the top of this blog).

Our distribution of physical wealth is an economy based on principles consistent with our human nature, following rules based on the idea that resources are scarce, and that selfishness should be the main driver of the economy. Yet, when it comes to an economy of information, the rules are different, because the objects being distributed by minds are not based on scarcity at all. Our selfish human nature is revealed in the distribution of scarce goods, but our generosity as part of our human nature is revealed when distribution of goods are not scarce. Interesting irony about our human nature isn’t it?!

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¿Por Qué Somos Seres Morales? Una Perspectiva Biológica (Versión 1.0)

DNA

Hoy hago disponible, finalmente, la versión 1.0 de mi escrito "¿Por qué somos seres morales? Una perspectiva biológica". Se corrigieron errores de estilo, el formato se hizo más consistente y se aclararon algunos pasajes confusos en el escrito.

El cambio más importante del escrito se halla al final del texto, porque incluye información en torno a la selección de grupo. Versiones anteriores de este escrito sólo proveían las mutaciones del cerebro como explicación del surgimiento del sentido moral. Sin embargo, hay que ponerlo en contexto de selección natural, de los órganos del cerebro como una respuesta evolutiva a estímulos ambientales. La selección de grupo es la herramienta teórica que nos permite explicar el desarrollo del sentido moral desde un punto de vista ambiental.

Como siempre, invito a todos a echarle una mirada al escrito y a utilizarlo si así les parece. Agradezco a todos aquellos que quieran informarme sobre errores de estilo o de contenido.

Recuerden que éste es un escrito para propósitos educativos y que lo escribí para mis estudiantes de FILO 4021 (Principios de Ética) que enseño en el Recinto de Cayey, Universidad de Puerto Rico. Como siempre, libero este escrito bajo dos licencias libres:

Ambas licencias cumplen plenamente con las definiciones de obra cultural libre y de conocimiento abierto. También ambas licencias prohiben el uso de restricciones digitales o cualquier tecnología que restrinja al lector la reproducción o modificación del documento.

Para propósitos de modificación del texto, proveo el texto en Open Document Format (ODF), un formato transparente que puede ser leído y modificado por el suite de oficina LibreOffice. El lector o usuario es libre de modificar el texto siempre y cuando siga las determinaciones de la licencia que él o ella escoja para publicar su modificación. Espero que este texto sea útil.

Bajen el Documento Aquí

Versión PDF
Versión PDF

Versión ODF
Versión ODF

Recuerden que la letra que utilizo para la versión ODF es Linux Libertine. Recomiendo la instalación de esa letra antes de hacer las modificaciones en ODF.

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Aquí tengo disponible la versión casi-casi-definitiva del material en torno a los orígenes evolutivos de la moralidad del ser humano. Este escrito, titulado "¿Por qué somos seres morales?: Una perspectiva biológica". He hecho algunas correcciones al texto para que el contenido sea claro para el estudiante que se familiariza con el tema por primera vez.

Los cambios más importantes tienen que ver con la explicación del origen de las nuevas especies por especiación. Añado contenido y representación gráfica que explica con mejor detalle la especiación, no como una historia lineal de transformación de una especie a otra, sino más bien como un árbol o un arbusto.

También añadí una explicación más detallada de un concepto clave en la teoría de la evolución que explica la estructura del cerebro: el concepto de exaptación. Añadí una gráfica que explica bien cómo ocurre la exaptación y utilizo como ejemplo uno de los iconos del movimiento del designio inteligente (intelligent design), el motor del flagelo bacterial.

Añadí también al final del texto unas fuentes para que los estudiantes puedan buscarlas en la biblioteca y en la Internet, además de una sección de preguntas, que incluye un vocabulario para el texto.

Una nueva característica del texto es que pongo en negrillas los términos importantes que los estudiantes deben aprender y pongo en itálicas las definiciones de estos términos. Finalmente añado dos o tres fuentes adicionales a la bibliografía.

Recuerden que éste es un escrito para propósitos educativos y que lo escribí para mis estudiantes de FILO 4021 (Principios de Ética) que enseño en el Recinto de Cayey, Universidad de Puerto Rico. Como siempre, libero este escrito bajo dos licencias libres:

Ambas licencias cumplen plenamente con las definiciones de obra cultural libre y de conocimiento abierto. También ambas licencias prohiben el uso de restricciones digitales o cualquier tecnología que restrinja al lector la reproducción o modificación del documento.

Para propósitos de modificación del texto, proveo el texto en Open Document Format (ODF), un formato transparente que puede ser leído y modificado por el suite de oficina LibreOffice. El lector o usuario es libre de modificar el texto siempre y cuando siga las determinaciones de la licencia que él o ella escoja para publicar su modificación. Espero que este texto sea útil.

Versión PDF
Versión PDF

Versión ODF
Versión ODF

Recuerden que la letra que utilizo para la versión ODF es Linux Libertine. Recomiendo la instalación de esa letra antes de hacer las modificaciones en ODF.

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Creationism, ID Thriving on Lies, Ignorance and Fallacies

(cont.)

Expelled:  No Intelligence Allowed

Expelling Expelled

I think this section will be the last post where I will discuss matters pertaining Intelligent Design (ID). I think that enough people have written enough about this movie, but I wish to illustrate Ben Stein as the sort of dishonesty that I frequently find in both Creationism and ID. Before continuing, again, I don’t think that Steve Fuller, Michael Behe, Stephen Meyer, William Dembski, and some other ID thinkers are dishonest people. I know that they are sincere in their belief and wish the advancement of science. But again, that doesn’t make them correct regarding their views on science, needless to say that it won’t excuse Stein from being so incredibly dishonest in this movie. This movie is propaganda in the worst sense of the word.

Supposed Expelled People from Academia

One of the things that Ben Stein wants to defend is "academic freedom". In U.S. jurisprudence, academic freedom involves two things: (1) the protection of a college teacher from undue pressures by the administration; (2) freedom of teachers to speak their mind. This is precisely derived from the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and protects education, even unpopular views, from antagonistic forces against academia. However, contrary to the impression given by Stein in the movie, this freedom also implies several responsibilities: among them, not being arbitrary, and respecting meritocracy (each teacher should earn his or her position according to his o her merit). Just as freedom of speech does not allow you to yell "fire!" in a theater, so academic freedom does not allow you to teach something unscientific as science in a science class. A science teacher who encourages a college or university to display a Creationist museum to "scientifically educate" people about the origin of the world should be expelled.

Having said that, maybe you will have the slight impression that I will be extremely happy that university, colleges and other institutions expelled certain people portrayed in … Expelled … for favoring ID. See … it is a bit more complicated than that. Let’s see each of these people who were allegedly "expelled":

  • Richard von Sternberg: The allegation is that Sternberg was fired from the Smithsonian Institute because he dared publish an article by Steven Meyer on "how life began". ( ~ Sad face ~ ) Yet, as it turns out, the paper in question was not about "how life began", but it was about the Cambrian Explosion. And he was not fired from the Smithsonian as he claims in Expelled. Congressmembers Mark Souder and Rick Santorum alleged that there was a "massive conspiracy" in the Smithsonian against Dr. Sternberg, and Soulder wrote a report on the incident whose original URL addy has been removed (http://www.souder.house.gov/_files/AppendixtoReportIntoleranceandthePoliticizationofScienceattheSmithsonian.pdf). Fortunately, we do have access to certain online posts about it (the next best thing given the circumstances), like Ed Brayton’s article on the subject. As it turns out, contrary to what Stein claims in the movie, Mr. Sternberg did not follow the peer review process which is indispensable in all academic journals. To all of us academics, we know from the outset that this is highly irregular. He was not employed by the Smithsonian at the time, he was working for the National Institutes of Health. He was appointed by the Smithsonian for an unpaid position, and had access to the National Museum of Natural History for research. By the time Meyer’s paper was published, he had resigned from his position as journal editor six months earlier. Some firing! By the way, did I say that the Smithsonian renewed his status as Research Collaborator for three more years in 2006? Wow! His life is ruined indeed! ( ~ sniff!!! tears ~ ) Poor martyr! And I know that Stein was sooooooo concerned! It seems, though, that Sternberg is lying through his teeth.
  • Caroline Crocker: She claims that she was fired (or according to Ben Stein, beheaded) for just "mentioning" ID in slides she was showing he cell-biology students. According to her, for that reason alone she was expelled from George Mason University. First, she did not just mention ID, she was teaching Creationism and scientifically discredited Creationist statements (she even shows some of the slides), and her science students were outraged. She was not immediately expelled from teaching, she was able to finish the semester. She was under contract at the time, and the university was not obliged to renew it. She was not fired. Now she is employed at the Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness (IDEA), a pro-ID organization.
  • Michael Egnor: He supposedly enraged Darwinists to the point of their wish to "exterminate" his career by … saying foul things about him in his blog! Why is that? Because he dared to say in his blog that doctors did not need to study evolution in order to practice medicine. Well, he was not fired from his job, he was not expelled, nothing has been made to his career. If you say something controversial in your blog (as I am doing now) and people respond in a nasty way, and then whine … all I have to tell you is: "Welcome to the Internet!" Lucky for me, I regulate comments in my blog! It is the advantage of being a blog administrator! I can’t control what others say about me in other blogs, though.
  • Robert Marks II: According to Stein, he was "forced" to return grant money because he said something about ID in his website. As it turns out, the reason why his website was shut down temporarily was because it was hosted by Baylor University. The administration was concerned that ID would be linked to Baylor, and it did not want to be associated with it. Baylor granted Marks his wish for Baylor to host his website, as long as he didn’t use the term "laboratory" to describe what he was doing there. The website in question was totally unrelated to his research in Baylor, hence it served no academic purpose. By the way, he was never expelled from anywhere. He is still holds his position as full professor of the School of Engineering and Computer Science (see?! … his website has NOTHING to do with his academic research).
  • Guillermo González: Supposedly he had problems in Iowa State University because of his book on ID, despite, according to Stein, a "stellar research record" which included the discovery of several planets! Wow! How could you fire someone like that?! Unless … that’s false. He has never been credited with the discovery of any extra-solar planets at all during his stay in Iowa University. He claims that he was denied tenure, which placed his career in jeopardy. In the academic world we know that such denials happen all the time. During his stay in Iowa State University, he had made absolutely no valuable research at the time, no articles, no nothing. He only supervised one graduate student for dissertation, and that’s it. Doing almost nothing about what makes you have tenure usually will lead to … no tenure. Why would he be given tenure? And yes, he published his book on ID, and that may have influenced … why? Usually if you publish a book describing your perspectives, but is not based on any actual research … guess what? … it won’t count for tenure!
  • Pamela R. Winnick: According to Stein, Winnick, as a reporter, was pressured to take sides in favor of evolution, but that she preferred to remain neutral. This is completely untrue. Her articles are completely in favor of ID since 2000. In 2001, she interviewed Michael Behe, and refused to make any hard questions to him. Then she heavily criticized PBS’ Evolution series (I highly recommend them), because they did not cover ID, falsely claiming that ID had been favored by prestigious universities on scientific grounds. Later, in 2005, she wrote another article which was completely anti-evolution. She has done the same in the Weekly Standard and the Wall Street Journal. Is this being "neutral"? And what is interesting … she was never fired from her job. She still write articles in the Post-Gazette. Figure that!

The Pseudo-Conflict: Science v. God

The movie is set up so that it appears that there is actual conflict between evolution and a belief in God, and we can see that structure all the way in the movie. All of the pro-evolution people interviewed in the movie are professed atheists. And even when there are atheists in the movie who are friendly to religion (D. Eugenie Scott and Michael Ruse), the movie focused on religion’s foes: Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and P. Z. Myers.

Why didn’t Stein interview Kenneth Miller, or Francis Collins (the head of the Human Genome Project), or Francisco Ayala, or many other renowned scientists who have made very significant contributions to science, are Neo-Darwinists, and also believe in God? The editors of Scientific America asked Mark Mathis (the film’s co-producer) why didn’t they include these pro-evolution religious scientists to the discussion. His answer was that: "Ken Miller would have confused the film unnecessarily." What?! I think that by not including these scientists, the film purposely confuses the public.

This is confirmed by the fact that Stein interviewed Dawkins’ foe, Alister McGrath. Stein shows that McGrath effectively argues against Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion, but for some reason he forgets to say that McGrath is pro-Neo-Darwinian evolution and that he is a deep admirer of Dawkins’ books where he discusses evolution. He even loves Dawkins’ first masterpiece The Selfish Gene. Where he does not agree with Dawkins is in the way he deals with the subject of God and theology in general, and criticizes (rightfully) Dawkins’ concepts of "memes" and "virus of the mind".

The same thing happens when he interviews John Polkinghorne. He is one big promoter of process theology, which is an evolution-embracing theology. Why doesn’t he ask Polkinghorne about his views on evolution? Why does he only ask him about the so-called "warfare" between science and religion?

As a Christian, and Roman Catholic, this makes me furious. This is a complete distortion of the states-of-affairs of present-day relationship between science and religion.

Weird Interviews

I was intrigued by the fact that Stein believed that it was appropriate and very, very wise to interview Jonathan Wells regarding the validity of ID. Isn’t he one of those scientists who deny that HIV causes AIDS, despite all of the evidence for it? Interesting!

Oh, and by the way, he is a Unificationist, and he says that it was in the Unification Theological Seminary, and reflecting on the teachings of Sun Myung Moon, that he discovered that it was his mission in life to destroy Darwinism. Wow! There is a scientific motive! (?!) He’s soooo very objective regarding his statement that Darwinists distort evidence purposely. Do you want to count on this guy to do science?!

Later, Wells says in the movie that he does favor the idea that some species change over time, but his objection to Darwin was that his book was called The Origin of Species. Yet, apparently he never even read the book, because he says that Darwin wrote a book about the origin of species, implying that somehow Darwin dealt with the question of abiogenesis, the matter of how life began. News-Flash: Darwin never dealt with the problem of abiogenesis. When he was talking about the origin of species, he was talking about speciation, the way new species appear from earlier ones. Ah! And by Stein assenting to Wells’ statement, he reveals he never read Darwin at all. A little piece of advice: when you do a great enterprise, such as … I don’t know … making a documentary … be sure to read and know your stuff before doing the documentary.

He also interviews David Berlinski …. considering that he is also an AIDS denialist, global-warming skeptic, I wonder if such an interview was wise too. Among his many "brilliant" statements we find that he mis-characterized Jon von Neumann as being an evolution skeptic, while in reality he was all for Darwinian evolution. He also disputed whale evolution and made all sorts of interesting calculations about it, but he admitted that he did not have any evidence to back that up (he never looked at the genetic evidence, for instance). Too bad! Oh, and Ann Coulter, that despicable person who shows her face many times on so-called "TV-news" (FOX News is not a news network), says she was tutored by Berlinski (and Dembski). Wow! That will certainly add his scientific credibility on the matter!

Much later in the movie, Stein interviews Dr. Marciej Giertych, a population geneticist, who claims that Darwin says that "information" (genetic information?) increased over time, but that such thing was not possible, because nothing in genetics shows increase on information. Wow! That is some claim, except that it is not true. (I’m sorry that me … a philosopher … have to correct a population geneticist). First, Darwin never talked about information. Secondly, increased genetic information has been observed empirically. For example, some years ago (1975), some scientists discovered something they considered highly improbable: bacteria growing on nylon. The problem was that nylon is a purely synthetic substance and bacteria won’t grow on it … yet, there it was! What happened? Through genetic study of the bacteria they realized that what happened was that through mistakes in DNA replication of a certain sequence led to increase DNA information. This mutation made bacteria produce a substance called nylonase, which is an enzyme that lets bacteria digest nylon. In other words, increase in DNA information has been empirically tested (see Prijambada, et al. (1995) and Yomo, et al. (1992)). This is not the only case this occurs.

I love the fact that to counter-argue with Richard Dawkins, Stein says that Dawkins misleads the public when he says that no one sane or knowledgeable person would doubt evolution if they look at the evidence. Well, I would have to side with Dawkins this time in such a claim if the best Stein has is all the pro-ID people he interviewed.

Constant Caricaturing of Informed Scientists

I hate the fact that Stein prefers to make fun of knowledgeable people. When he says that Stanley Miller did his experiment and failed, he said that "many" abandoned his line of research. Who are the "many" people he’s talking about? Stanley Miller and many other labs do continue making an abiogenesis research, some in more or less the same line as Miller’s.

He interviews Michael Ruse, one of the world experts on Darwin and evolution, formed biologist, today philosopher of biology. Ruse says that a popular theory of abiogenesis is that life probably began with crystals. Stein mockingly showed a magician with a crystal ball to make fun of the theory. For those who don’t know chemistry: a crystal is a substance whose molecules align or form a regular pattern. For example, graphite (which is used commonly in pencils) is a crystal because the Carbon molecules form a consistent hexagonal shape, diamonds are crystals, ice-water is crystal too (the water molecules align when they are below zero), and so on. By mocking Ruse regarding crystals, Stein is confessing his own ignorance on the subject, and further he kept showing such overwhelming foolish ignorance by insisting that he didn’t see how do you get from "mud" to "living being". "Mud" has never been discussed in abiogenesis.

Further, he purposely distorts the theory of panspermia to mean that life was seeded by aliens. Such a statement is blatantly false! The panspermia theory says that probably a meteorite carrying life came from space. This is one of the best expressions of Stein’s dishonesty.

He also questions Eugenie Scott when she says that one of the best kept secrets is that many religious people are OK with evolution. Despite Stein’s comments in this respect, this statement is true. However, he paints this as if it is a conservative v. liberal sort of debate. Yet, for instance, in Dover, Pennsylvania, the vast majority of Christians who defended evolution there were not liberal. Some of them were hard-core conservatives. In one of Ken Miller’s speeches on evolution and ID in Ohio, the hostess of the activity said that a great number of people supporting evolution were conservatives, and liberals in that state were not as active in defending teaching evolution.

Finally, I wish to state that despite the positions expressed by P. Z. Myers, Dawkins and Dennett in their interviews with Stein, the fact is that they stopped believing in God as the result of their acquaintance with evolutionary theory, this is just their experience. Other people have responded to Neo-Darwinian evolution differently. Kenneth Miller has stated that he believes in God in part because of evolution, Darrel Falk says that evolution has enriched his religious convictions and spiritual life, Alister McGrath sees evolution as a product of the Creator God, and so on. In my personal case, evolution has enriched my relationship and understanding of God, as well as to understand our own humanity and ways to look for solidarity, not only with the rest of humanity, but with every living being on this planet.

Misrepresenting the Law

Stein questions the tendency to address the issues regarding Creationism and ID in court. Well, he is very intelligent, and should know that the U.S. Constitution says that there is a separation of Church and State. Public schools cannot teach anything religious, because that would mean that the state is teaching a particular religion as being true. If ID turns out to be religious and not a scientific theory, then its teaching in science school is a violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution, since the state is injuring children who have the right to freedom of religion.

ID claims it is not religious, yet it still has to show that it is science. It has not shown that under any stretch of the imagination. Buckingham and Bonsel were religiously motivated when they promoted ID in school. Teachers and students’ parents were injured when the School Board decided that ID should be taught, it was a violation of the First Amendment. Case closed!

Unquestioning Devotion to Darwinism: Nazi Germany???!!!

Stein proceeds to make this reasoning, which is nothing but a chain of non-sequiturs: evolution leads to atheism, atheism leads to no ethics, no ethics leads to fascism (Nazi Germany and the extermination of Jews). There is absolutely no sociological or historical basis for this.

He uses Berlinski’s "wisdom" to brighten his mind, when he says that Darwinism is not sufficient for being a Hitler, but it is "necessary". How does he know? Because he read Hitler’s Mein Kampf and "Darwinism is there" (whatever that means). This view is promoted by Richard Weikart with his book From Darwin to Hitler. He is a known member of the Discovery Institute, as is Berlinski. I’m not going to say that each member of the Discovery Institute holds this view (I have no evidence for it), but it is highly suggestive.

Before blaming Darwin for gross anti-Semitism and fascism, I wonder if we should first follow Our Lord’s advice. Christians should look first at our log in our own eye (remember my previous post?). For instance, how did this whole anti-Semitism thing begin in Europe? Romans were anti-Semitic, and Christians did not do much to make it go away. Quite the contrary, we Christians embraced it! Remember the Crusades? When Pope Urban II called for a Crusade to fight against the "enemies of Christ and every race on this Earth" (he referred to the Moslems), this had an effect over all of Europe. One of the reactions was to kill Jews. Why Jews? German warlords reasoned the following way: why do we need to travel all the way to the Holy Land, if we have the "enemies of Christ" right here with us? What was the result? The first Holocaust ever! In 1096, the Jews in Spier, Worms, Manz, Cologne, Trier, Metz, and other towns were simply assassinated by people going to the Crusades. The Pope didn’t intend for Jews to be killed, and yet, Christians took the initiative of killing them without mercy. So, each time that the Pope called for a new Crusade, Jews would be killed. The Crusades were the ones which led to institutionalize anti-Semitism in Europe, an attitude which reached the twentieth century.

Forgive my pedantry, but I wish to point out that the Crusaders had no knowledge of Darwin or evolution by then. The Crusades began in the eleventh century, while Darwin lived in the nineteenth century. So, Berlinski’s assertions are simply false.

In fact, if we want to be honest, the vast majority of people who read Darwin would never create a Nazi government, nor would they kill Jews or condemn them to concentration camps. They would never favor someone like Hitler in power. Neo-Darwinism does not imply fascism, nor Nazi ideology.

In the cyberworld there is a term for this: Godwin’s Law. The law says the following: "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 100%." Ben Stein’s movie is nothing more than a glorified instance of Godwin’s Law. It is a reductio ad Hitlerium by excellence.

Conclusion

Expelled is nothing more than propaganda by Ben Stein. I’m deeply sorry, because I consider Stein to be intelligent, but he did show he is willing to mislead, lie and deceive in this movie. With this article, I close the subject of evolution v. ID.

I’m going to continue talking about the brain, human nature and culture in our next posts.

References

Prijambada, I. D., Negoro, S., Yomo T., Urabe, I. (1995, May). Emergence of nylon oligomer degradation enzymes in pseudomonas aeruginosa PAO through experimental evolution. Applied Environmental Microbiology, 61, 5, 2020-2022.

Yomo, T., Urabe, I., Okada, H. (1992, May). No stop codons in the antisense strands on the genes for nylon oligomer degradation. Procedures of the National Academy of Science of the United States of America, 89, 9, 3780-3784. doi: 10.1073/pnas.89.9.3780

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Humans’ Complicated Way of Seeing and Thinking

(c) 2010 Pedro M. Rosario Barbosa

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.

A Preacher on the Road …

Last year, I found the most amazing book called Thank God for Evolution. It stressed the importance on "marrying" science and religion in order to transform our lives, and the world. Bold claims! Here is the author: Michael Dowd.

Michael Dowd

If he looks like a preacher, that’s because he is. He is an ordained minister who preaches wherever he is invited in the United States. He used to be a young-earth Creationist, today he is a renowned preacher for evolution, not only of living things, but of evolution of the universe as a whole. He married an atheist called Connie Barlow, who is a biologist who is today struggling for the environment. One day, he told her that he wished to live on the road in order to preach a new perspective on God and creation, one meta-religious view which integrates evolution. He was surprised when she agreed. So, an act that almost makes us remember Christ’s call to "leave everything and follow Him", both of them left everything and dedicated to preach this new view of God. Today Dowd considers himself a crea-theist, while Barlow considers herself a cre-atheist. They preach the Gospel according to St. Charles … Darwin, of course.

They have a van, which they use to travel everywhere in the United States. On the side of it you’ll find the following image:

Image

Dowd says that this image alone is enough to make people wonder. Of course, when he drives in the south of the United States, some people are not amused by it. According to him, he even gets some "interesting" gestures from people. When he pulled over to park his van in Lawrence, Kansas, a biology professor said: "Oh great! Now you piss everybody off!"

I have to confess that I was skeptical about his book when I picked it up. I was already acquainted with several efforts by some "spriritual" people to mix science with spiritual beliefs. I’m not fond of Deepak Chopra’s use of quantum physics, which tends to confuse rather than clarify. I’m not particularly crazy about What the [Bleep] do We Know? (much less about Down the Rabbit Hole), which is filled with misinformation and pseudoscience, and I most certainly despise The Secret, which is a scam in my opinion.

But here comes the interesting part: with the exception of academic books, I usually ignore book recommendations on the book, be it by The New York Times, or The Boston Globe, or Salon.com, etc. Usually, they never help me distinguish between a good book or a bad one. Salon.com recommended the Da Vinci Code only to write nasty articles about it afterwards.

Dowd’s book is the exception to the rule. Who endorses the book? Eugenie Scott (the director of the National Center for Science Education [!]), Michael Shermer (publisher of Skeptic magazine [!!]), Francisco Ayala (renowned scientist [geez whiz!]), John Haught (renowned Catholic theologian), five Nobel Prize winners (Craig Mello, John Mather, Thomas Schelling, Frank Wilczek, and Lee Hartwell), among many other credible people. So, I thought that the book may be worthy of being read.

When I opened it and gazed at it, the following two illustrations surprised me:

Quadrune Brain IQuadrune Brain II
[Drawing by Nancy Margulies, reproduced with permission]

It is interesting that this illustration appears in the chapter on original sin. Dowd claims in this chapter you cannot realize grace or sin if you don’t pay attention to your brain. According to him, the brain contains the "Great Story" of evolution. In order to "realize" original sin (this is, understand original sin in a way that is universally valid), we have to understand the Lizard, the Furry Li’l Mammal, the Monkey Mind, and the Higher Porpoise. As I kept reading it, I started smiling at the explanation he gave in the book regarding our brain.

Ah! And I bought the book …

Some People are Blind, and Yet, They can See!

Neuroscientists carry out all sorts of weird experiments every day. For instance, they carry out experiments on whether a blind man can see motion. This is not something that they come up because they have nothing to do. On the contrary, they are studying a well-documented phenomenon called "blind-sight". This phenomenon is due to the way the brain is "wired up". To help you with the explanation, I give you the following illustration.

Human Brain

Now, here is an illustration of how our eyes are connected to our brain:

Brain/Vision
[Modified version of an illustration of the brain by Patrick J. Lynch.
It includes illustration of the eye by
Joël Gubler and Jakov.
This illustration can be reproduced under the terms of
CC-BY-SA 3.0.]

From the eyeballs there are two separate pathways to the brain, one which goes to the thalamus, and then ends in the occipital lobe of the brain (black), while another one goes to the brain stem, and from it goes to the parietal lobe (green). The former is where the visual cortex of the brain can be found, the area used for conscious sight. This is the area that lets us see the objects around us. It is very important to point out that the other pathway goes to the brain stem, and from it there is a path to the higher centers of the brain.

The fascinating thing about the higher centers of the brain is that they are concerned with reaction to stimulus from a visual field, it directs your attention to something significant. People with blind-sight have the problem that one of the pathways (represented by black in the illustration) is non-functional, either because of an accident or a stroke, but they have the other pathway intact. As a result, they can "see" motion and react to it, but they cannot consciously see.

The funny thing is that many reptiles today cannot see the way we humans see. You may ask why do they have eyes in the first place? The answer is that reptiles can see motion, direction, and orientation of the eyes towards something significant. Even the novel and movie Jurassic Park exploited this trait for Tyrannosaurus rex. The reason why lizards can be so accurate in capturing flies with their tongue is not because they see them "just" as we do, but because they see motion and they react.

This reptilian quality that our brain carries out a subconscious or unconscious mental activity. Imagine that you are driving. You may be consciously focused ahead of you, or on the music that you are listening to, or in a conversation you are carrying out in the car, and so on. Your mind is focused on those activities, yet you keep driving perfectly well without problems, being aware that some stuff is happening in the periphery. Why is that? This is due in part to that "reptilian" trait, of being able to react if something unexpected happens in the street in the periphery of our attention. This unconscious activity of the brain will let us have a minimum attention on the street at a subconscious level, while we are consciously focusing on other things. It seems to be a survival mechanism. It not only lets us drive, but also let us walk. Thanks to it, we do not stumble with everything we find (unless our thoughts are too lost in space).

The Complexity of the Eye and the Brain

One of the arguments presented by Creationists or Intelligent Design (ID) proponents is that evolution itself cannot account for the complexity of the most complex organ that we have, which is the brain. I don’t blame them for thinking this. V. S. Ramachandran describes our brain this way:

… it has been calculated that the number of possible permutations and combinations of brain activity, in other words the numbers of brain states, exceeds the number of elementary particles in the known universe (Ramachandran, 2004, p. 3).

Even it has been argued that evolution cannot account for the complexity of something as perfect as the human eye. This is not surprising either, since vision is the sense that we all preer most. Aristotle in the Metaphysics begins by talking about human’s thirst for knowledge, and that evidence of this is the importance we give to our senses, especially the sense of sight. It is said that only an "intelligent designer" can account for a complexity that lets us function so well. I want to argue the opposite: the degree of complexity of the eye and the brain are exactly the sign that they were not intelligently designed, but forged by continuous mutation and adaptation.

Most of us marvel at our eyes, but not everyone is impressed. Hermann von Helmholtz, a physicist, took a look at the way the eye is arranged, and he was dismayed. His thought was that humans are able to build today better lens and cameras which do a much better job than the human eye! Helmholtz stated the following about the human eye:

If an optician wanted to sell me an instrument which had all these defects, I should think myself quite justified in blaming his carelessnesss in the strongest terms, and giving him back his instrument (quoted in Dawkins, 2009, p. 353).

Let’s look at the human eye.

Human Eye

[Illustration of the eye by Joël Gubler and Jakov.]

In the case of the eye we can look that the light enters through the pupils (on the left of the illustration) through the pupils so that it can be perceived by the retina (the fine dark-green line at the right). Immediately we notice that something is wrong with the architecture. For instance, the retina seems to be attached to another layer (represented in red) at the back of the eye. In reality, these two are not attached to each other. In some cases, as we age, the jelly inside the eye liquifies, and it can cause the retina to tear. This liquid then fills the in between layers, so that it creates a retinal detachment.

In the retina itself we can find other significant problems. For instance, there is a little dip which is our "blind spot". This is created by a set of nerve endings which curl up right behind that spot and create a pathway to the brain. But it gets weirder than this because the image perceived by the eye is inverted. Most of us notice this when we took anatomy and biology class in middle school or high school, but we never reflect on this as an imperfection in the eye.

Think about that. There is a blind spot in our eyes, yet, we have no "blind spot" in our vision. We can see everything "just fine"! This happens because our brain "fills" the gap in our vision. Let’s do the following experiment. When looking at the following image, cover your left eye, fix your right eye at the star and slowly move towards the screen. At some point you will notice the spot on the right disappear.

Blind Spot

Why does this happen? In order to compensate the loss of vision due to the blind spot, our brain fills whatever it cannot see due to the blind spot. That means that to compensate for the blind spot, the brain has to develop structures and signals. The blind spot, which is an imperfection of the eye, complicates the brain. If there were no blind spot, there would be no need for these brain sturctures.

The same thing happens with the "inverted" image that stimulates our retina. There should be brain structures to "invert" the image "inversion" by the eye. Once again this particular imperfection of the eye complicates the brain.

Another imperfection of the eye is its inability to perceive the vast majority off the radiation spectrum. We can only see a very small part of the radiation spectrum. And it assigns colors to different frequencies our eyes perceives. This further complicates the brain. Many people think that objects "have color". In reality, objects have no color themselves, they emanate light frequencies that reach our eyes, and our brain interpret these frequencies as colors.

Last, but not least, there is one major imperfection of the human eye. If you look at the way our retina is internally structured, you notice something very peculiar. If you design a camera to perceive everything very well, you try the best for the photosensible part of the camera to be exposed to the light. This is not the case with our retina. There are photocells (cells responsive to light) in the retina, but ironically they are away from the light. There are cells with several nerve endings in the side of the retina that receives the light, and these nerve endings deliver the information of the light to photocells inside the retina. Then this signal from the photocells goes to the nerves at the blind spot, to then send the signal to the brain. So, the brain not only has to compensate for the blind spot, but it also needs to compensate for the imperfection of having the photocells in the wrong place in the retina. Needless to say that the ill-designed retina complicates the brain further.

It is not a surprise that if you take into account all the regions of our brain dedicated to vision (thirty regions), they are a bit more than 1/3 of our brain.

Why in heaven’s name are our eyes so ill-made? Unfortunately neither Creationism nor ID can solve this problem. In the case of ID they would have to suppose that the designer must be REALLY stupid, a position not acceptable by Creationists in any way. Now, if we look at the evolution of the eyes, we can understand perfectly why the eye is the way it is.

See … nature is a "blind watchmaker", it is not "trying" to create an eye. It is not "trying" to create an ear, or teeth, or limbs. Evolution is a long process of gene mutation and natural selection. Metaphorically speaking, what nature does is not create an organ out of the blue, but slowly "use" mutation of the genetic code that is already there, and evolution "builds" from that genetic material that makes the phenotypical traits change enough so that through exaptation it creates a new organ.

Even if we were lacking fossils, we can look at different sorts of organisms alive today and present a theoretical model on how the human eye evolved. Why can we do it? Because many of the organisms alive today did not need to develop eyes the way we have in order to survive, they developed other means of survival that did not require a completely evolved human eye. We could ask: "if nature designs every species to survive, then why those organisms that don’t have eyes did not evolve eyes? Besides, it would have more survival value." Remember that since nature is not a conscious designer, it does not seek to "maximize" survival of each organism. Natural selection just lets be the mutations that are adequate (not perfect) for survival.

We can pick several organisms that could represent different stages of the evolution of the human eye. Here is the model itself:

Evolution of the Human Eye
[Illustration created by Matticus78]

Dan Eric Nilsson was the person who proposed this model. We can find many organisms in nature which represent these different stages of the evolution of the human eye. (a) From a set of photocells in an organism, nature would favor any tendency for those photocells to form a sort of cup that would give the organism more visual information on the surroundings. (b) The cup-structure would help shade the photocells from aspects of the environment. This "eye" can do little more than detect movement, such as in the case of flatworms. (c) That cup-structure made possible an additional measure for creating a "pinhole" that would control the amount of light it received by the "photocells", just as we see in the chambered nautilus. Essentially it helps focus light up to a point. (d) This made possible the development of an enclonsed chamber, (e) and later some lens filled with liquid jelly, which helped eyes to focus light more sharply on the photocells, we can find this in many animals such as birds and mammals. (f) As the eye kept filling with jelly and water, the images grew sharper, and sharper, until we (and many mammals) have the eye that we have today.

But What about the Brain?

A Messy Way Through our Mental Operations

Contrary to what many people think, the brain is not a simple organ. Quite the contrary. Some neurologists think the brain as a composite organ, while others think of it in terms of a system of organs. These organs of the brain are not very well organized either. If you didn’t know better about the relation between vision and the brain, you would swear that the logical place for vision is just at the frontal lobes of the brain. In fact they are all the way back.

Those parts of the brain that deal with motor skills and sensory areas are not well organized either. How are these sensory and motor organs spread in these areas of the brain? Let’s look at the Homunculi drawn by the famous neurologist Wilder Penfield:

PreCentral GyrusPostCentral Gyrus
[Illustrations of the Primary Somatosensory Cortex (left) and the Primary Motor Cortex (right)
by
Life Science Database Archives in Japan and available under a CC-BY-SA 2.1 JA]

Sensory and Motor Homunculi
[Illustration in Penfield & Rasmussen (1950): click to enlarge]

It should be noted that, after a thorough study of the brain, it has been found that the faces in these homunculi are actually inverted: the jaw and mouth are closer to the fingers, and the eyes are away from them.

We could ask, why is this so important? These illustrations help us realize something very important: brain development does not follow the reasoning of an intelligent designer. And these illustrations in turn help us explain why did we evolve certain behaviors, some of which we are not even aware of. For instance, Charles Darwin noticed that when some people are cutting with scissors, they clench and unclench their jaw mimicking the motion of the hand. Why is that? Again loot at the homunculus of the primary motor complex, noting that the face is actually inverted, the fingers (particularly the thumb and the index) are right next to the mouth and the jaw. The neural proximity of these areas can explain that kind of behavior (Ramachandran, 2004, p. 79).

Not only that, but it can also explain the phenomenon called "phantom limbs" so to speak. What is a phantom limb? Many people who have had accidents, or have been subject to surgeries, have lost an arm, or a leg. After it happens, they report that they still feel the arm or hand: they feel that they are waving goodbye, or petting their cat, or grabbing objects. What is interesting about this phenomenon is that when they are touched in some areas of the face, or even in a part of the arm that is not off the body, they can actually feel the same sensation in their phantom limb (especially phantom fingers and phantom hand). The reason is that both the part of the somatosensory cortex that controls the sensations of the hands are just next to the arm and to the face (again, remember that the face of the homunculus is inverted). So, when a person loses an arm the part of the somatosensory cortex of the arm and the hands are "hungry" for sensations. So, they literally invade the part of the cortex of the face and the jaw. So, when you are touched on the face or the jaw, you will feel the same sensation in the phantom hand or arm.

"The Great Story" in Our Heads

Now, according to Michael Dowd and his wife Connie Barlow, our brain tells us the Great Story: the story of the whole of reality, that reality called God. This story includes our evolution as a species. As I said before, they illustrate it like this.

Quadrune Brain

Now, why in the heavens would I buy a book that would represent the brain in an apparently weird, even childish manner? The answer is: it accurately represents how our brain evolved! It is actually based on a refinement of a model of the brain called the "Triune Brain" as it has been developed by the neurologist Paul D. MacLean. His proposal of the Triune Brain has been modified slightly due to the importance of the frontal lobes of the brain, as we shall see later, turning it into the Quadrune Brain proposal. Let’s begin with the exposition, shall we?

The Lizard Legacy

Lizard Legacy

The first significant evolutionary stage when our ancestors evolved from amphibians to reptiles is what Dowd calls "The Lizard Legacy", or as McLean called it: the R-Complex ("R" for "reptilian"). This complex consists in the brain stem and the cerebellum. Remember the phenomenon of "blind-sight"? Why do we have a reptilian quality of reacting and directing our eyes at something that seems important? The part of the brain that deals with that subconscious process is connected to the brain stem … precisely part of our R-Complex.

According to McLean, the R-Complex has to do with the most basic sexual instincts, impulse to search for food, and territoriality. Also, it reacts towards whatever is interpreted as a threat either to it or its territory. Hence, one of the most basic traits of the R-Complex is that in it resides the ability we have to aggressive behavior when we think we are threatened in some way, or if we are going to attack. Finally, because it is concerned with territorial protection, its conception of nature is hierarchical, there is a tendency to dominate others in order to protect itself or its territory. Also it deals with our ability to involuntarily breathe, respond to stimuli, and even "acquired muscle memory" (so to speak).

Furry Li’l Mammal

Furry Li'l Mammal

Dowd calls the next stage of our brain development as "Furry Li’l Mammal", also called the "paleomammalian complex", or as MacLean and neurobiologists call it: the Limbic System. It is a complex made up of the hippocampus, septum, thalamus, hypothalamus, insula, cingulate cortex, and amygdala.

This is the emotional region of the brain. This limbic system is shared by all mammals alike. Why is being a mammal linked to emotional states? There is a difference between mammals and reptiles: mammals in general care for their offspring, reptiles usually don’t. Emotional states can help bond parents (especially mothers) and offsprings. Love, in the emotional sense of the word, originates in the Limbic System. It also provides the biological basis for emotional responses to certain sense-stimuli, especially taste and smell. There is also a part of the limbic system dedicated to emotional responses to sexual stimuli.

The Monkey Mind

Monkey Mind

For Dowd there is also what he calls "The Monkey Mind", but called by neurobiologists "Neocortex". Dowd borrows the term "Monkey Mind" from Buddhism to somehow describe what the Neocortex does: calculation (e.g. it calculates risk or safety). However, this term is somehow imperfect, because in Buddhism’s case, they see the Monkey Mind as describing often capricious, uncontrollable, or confused behavior. On the other hand, our Neocortex lets us have an organized way to view the world, since it has spatial and mathematical reasoning, it makes language possible, it contains the higher functions that deal with what we perceive and our motor commands (as we saw in the case of the primary motor cotex). Conscious thinking and experience seems to take place in the Neocortex, as well as our ability to abstract from experience and forge abstract notions and concepts.

However, the term "Monkey Mind" may describe accurately how our brain evolved, since the development of the Neocortex came to be as our mammal ancestors evolved into primates. Humans have the most developed Neocortex in the animal kingdom.

Our Neocortex has been adapted to evolving two hemispheres. The left hemisphere controls operations of the right side of our body, and also engages in analytic and rational thinkin. The right hemisphere controls the left side of our body, and also engages in intuition and creativity.

Higher Porpoise

Higher Porpoise

Finally, Dowd calls the most developed part of the human brain (where our nerve cells concentrate the most) the "Higher Porpoise". MacLean assumed that the frontal lobes were part of the Neocortex, as indeed it is. However, careful studies have led some neurobiologists to make an essential distinction between the frontal lobes of the brain and the rest of the Neocortex. Some o them call "Executive Brain" to the frontal lobes of the brain. When this part of the human brain is recognized, MacLean’s proposal of the Triune Brain becomes the Quadrune Brain Model.

This is the part of the brain that carries out what Elkhonon Goldberg calls "executive functions", the most complex operations of the brain. According to Goldberg we can find in it four very important operations of the human brain: intentionality, purposefulness, self-awareness, and complex decision making. This has been developed only in humans, and, according to Goldberg, it is what makes us human. This is the part of the brain that can actually drive us into action, make moral commitments, make moral decisions, and even refrain us from expressing all of the impulses from other areas of the brain, especially the Limbic System and the R-Complex. It is also the part of the brain that lets us build a plan we are going to carry out in the future.

Our Evolved Brain

Just as we can correlate many stages of the evolution of the human eye with many organisms around the world, it is this methodology that lets us identify different evolutionary stages of the human brain. And we also find that each one of these stages has a very significant component of human behavior, especially regarding survival. We cannot regard all of these regions of the brain or all these stages of evolution as just "separate" operations. Each one of these regions and stages of the brain has an organic relationship with the rest of it. This organic interaction of the organs of the brain that makes it a system is what is the origin of human nature.

Without evolution, there is no human nature. The brain is very important evidence for exaptation, since much of the organs (or parts) of the brain once developed make the whole system have a new function, a new behavior. It shows evidence that it was not intelligently designed, but it is an important evidence that it has been designed by evolution. Everything in our brain has evolved according to natural selection, giving us an enormous advantage over many other organisms. Indeed, human intelligence and mental states have made us one of the most successful organisms on the face of this planet. So successful, in fact, that we represent a very real threat to the existence of other organisms everywhere in the world. This is an issue we will talk about in a future article.

Reference

Aristóteles. (2008). Metafísica. Madrid: Alianza Editorial.

Ayala, F. J. (2007). Darwin’s gift to science and religion. Washington, D.C.: Joseph Henry Press.

Carter, R. (2000). Mapping the Mind. US: University of California Press.

Damasio, A. (1994). Descartes’ error: emotion, reason, and the human brain. US: Penguin Books.

Damasio, A. (1999). The feeling of what happens: body and emotion in the making of consciousness. San Diego, NY & London: Harcourt.

Darwin, C. (2004). The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. US: Penguin. (Originally published in 1879).

Darwin, C. (2008a). On the origin of species by means of natural selection of the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. NY: Bantam. (Originally published in 1859).

Darwin, C. (2008b). On the origin of species: the illustrated edition. D. Quammen (Ed.). NY & London: Sterling.

Dawkins, R. (1996). The blind watchmaker: why the evidence of evolution reveals a universe without design. NY & London: W. W. Norton & Company.

Dawkins, R. (2004). The ancestor’s tale: a pilgrimage to the dawn of evolution. Boston & NY: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Dawkins, R. (2009). The greatest show on earth: the evidence for evolution. NY: Free Press.

Dowd, M. (2007). Thank God for evolution: how the marriage of science and religion will transform your life and our world. US: Penguin.

Falk, D. R. (2004). Coming to peace with science: bridging the worlds between faith and biology. IL: InterVarsity Press.

Futuyma, D. J. (2009). Evolution. US: Sinauer Associates.

Goldberg, E. (2001). The executive brain: frontal lobes and the civilized mind. Oxford & NY: Oxford University Press.

Goldberg, E. (2009). The new executive brain: frontal lobes in a complex world. Oxford & NY: Oxford University Press.

Jeeves, M. & Brown, W. S. (2010). Neurociencia, psicología y religión: ilusiones, espejismos y realidades acerca de la naturaleza humana. España: Editorial Verbo Divino.

Maturana, H.R. & Varela, F. J. (1992). The tree of knowledge: the biological roots of human understanding. Boston: Shambala.

MacLean, P. D. (1990). The triune brain in evolution: role in paleocerebral functions. Springer.

Penfield, W. & Rasmussen, T. (1950). The cerebral cortex of man. NY: The Macmillan Company.

Pinker, S. (1997). How the mind works. NY & London: W. W. Norton & Company.

Ramachandran, V. S. (2004). A brief tour of human consciousness. NY: Pi Press.

Ramachandran, V. S. & Blakeslee, S. (1998). Phantoms in the brain: probing the mysteries of the human mind. NY: Harper Perennial.

Rebato, E., Susanne, C., & Chiarelli, B. (eds.). (2005). Para comprender la antropología biológica: evolución y biología humana. España: Editorial Verbo Divino.

Sagan, C. (1977). The dragons of Eden: speculation on the evolution of human intelligence. NY: Ballantine Books.

Servos, P., Engel, S. A., Gati, J., & Menon, R. (1999). fMRI evidence for an inverted face representation in human somatosensory cortex. NeuroReport, 10, 7: 1393-1395.

Shubin, N. (2009). Your inner fish: a journey into 3.5-billion year history of the human body. NY: Vintage Books.

Varela, F. J., Thompson, E. T., & Rosch E. (1992). The embodied mind: cognitive science and human experience. US: The MIT Press.

Forget About Monkeys! We Came from Fish

(c) 2010 Pedro M. Rosario Barbosa

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.

Missing Link? What do you Mean “Missing”?
-Richard Dawkins

The Missing Link Regarding On Pandas and People: “Cdesign Proponentsists”

Remember we talked about the ID book On Pandas and People? During the Dover case, philosopher Barbara Forrest was scheduled to appear on trial regarding the background on that textbook. Many critics of ID thought that in essence ID was Creationism repackaged. There is a difference between both views. Creationism is the doctrine that creation happened the way the Bible says it happened. ID on the other hand can admit the existence of a very old Earth, but due to the high improbability of life happening, some intelligent agent (be it God, gods, extraterrestrials, and so on) intervened for life to be possible. ID, in this sense, sounds far more scientific than Creationism. Michael Behe, for instance, adopts this view in science. Since he produced the “irreducible complexity” principle, and neither ID proponents admit the concept exaptation, necessarily it requires that every new organism be created whole. Yet, critics did not believe that there was no relationship between both views. On Pandas, they found the “missing link” between those two different ways of looking at creation.

During the Dover trial, the plaintiff wanted to show that Pandas was essentially religion disguised as science. Pandas‘ publisher was subpoenaed and was asked for any drafts connected to the textbook. In a few months, the plantiff’s lawyers received two boxes full of papers and drafts related to Pandas’ publication. Forrest dug into all of the almost seven thousand pages they received. Beneath them all, there were two drafts of Pandas that were quite significant. She was very surprised and was amused when she read them. She called Kenneth Miller and said: “Ken, you are not going to believe what I’ve found in these drafts!” She told him about their content, and Miller was asking himself: “Haven’t these people learned anything from the Nixon administration. Burn this stuff!”

What did Forrest find? Well, as it turns out the two drafts in question were written at different times. One of them was written before 1987, the other was written after it. Why is 1987 relevant? Because that is the year the Supreme Court decided that teaching Creationism was essentially teaching religion, and that teaching it in public schools was a violation of the separation of Church and State, hence unconstitutional (Edwards v Aguillard, 482 US 570 (1987)). The first draft, which was written in 1987 before the Supreme Court decision, defined Creationism this way:

Creation means that various forms of life began abruptly through the agency of an intelligent Creator with their distinctive features already intact — fish with fins and scales, birds with feathers, beaks, and wings, etc.

But the draft written just after the decision defines ID this way:

Intelligent design means that various forms of life began abruptly through an intelligent agency, with their distinctive features already intact — fish with fins and scales, birds with feathers, beaks, and wings, etc.

So, for all purposes, it is almost exactly the same definition. One is worded in terms of Creationism, and the other is worded in ID language. But this is not the funny part.

Apparently what ID proponents did was to use their word processor and carry out an extensive “search and replace” operation throughout the text, substituting the word “creation” and similar terms with “intelligent design”. In doing so, apparently they did so in such a hurry, that they left a mistake. In one of the cases, they tried substituting “creationists” with “design proponents”. The result was the “missing link” between creationism and ID in Pandas: “cdesign proponentsists”. In the Kitzmiller v. Dover case, the draft showed Judge John Jones III that there was a “transitional form” between a creationist textbook and an ID textbook.

What did Darwin Mean by “Missing Link”?

Besides The Origin of Species, Darwin wrote another very important work called The Descent of Man, Selection in Relation to Sex, where he formulates hiw own views regarding the origin of humankind. He stated there that possibly primates, including us, originated from Africa. And also he hypothesized that humans and the rest of the primates share a common ancestor which is now extinct. He talked about the “missing link” between earlier forms of primates and humans.

The term “missing link” has been abused by both, those favoring Creationism and those favoring evolution. Sometimes it assumes that every single newly discovered form of life has to have a transitional form (a missing link). Richard Dawkins complains about this stating that in many cases evolutionists have met the goal of showing a transition form between one earlier life form and a later life form, but Creationists and ID proponents are unsatisfied. Why? Because both of these groups have a logical-strategic means to avoid recognizing these transition forms as transition forms.

Notice that in none of my earlier articles about evolution we talked about fossils. Dawkins and many others have pointed out that we know evolution to be what most probably occurred even if we had no fossils. They would hold fossils as a nice bonus. The evidence for evolution is overwhelming. It is based on the morphology of bones, fetal development, genetic material, neurology, structure of the organs, studies on speciation on monocellular organisms and some multi-cellular organisms, and so on. Several observations on the bacterial flagellum, comparative works on the factors involved in blood clotting among animals, on the eyes-structure, on customs adopted by organisms, lead with almost absolute certainty that evolution through natural selection is the strongest theory. For this reason, Dawkins compares the labor of scientists and a biologists as one of the detective arriving to the scene of a crime, and the way the evidence appears before us leads us to different theories of what happened. After long guesswork by proposing by conjecturing and refuting, we are led to who was probably the perpetrator of the crime.

The Problem of Transitional Forms

But then, there are fossils. And ironically Creationists and ID proponents love fossils. One might wonder why. Dawkins compares these groups to a defense attourney. Using the analogy of the evidence gathered at the scene of a crime, he tells us a short story:

Creationists are deeply enamoured of the fossil record, because they have been taught (by each other) to repeat, over and over, the mantra that it is full of ‘gaps’: ‘Show me your “intermediates”!’ . . . Let’s again make use of the analogy of the detective coming to the scene of a crime to which there were no eye witnesses. The baronet has been shot. Fingerprints, footprints, DNA from a sweat stain on a pistol, and a strong motive all point towards the butler. It’s pretty much an open and shut case, and the jury and everybody in the court is convinced that the butler did it. But a last-minute piece of evidence is discovered, in the nick of time before the jury retires to consider what had seemed to be their inevitable verdict of guilty: somebody remembers that the baronet had installed spy cameras against burglars. With bated breath, the court watches the films. One of them shows the butler in the act of opening the drawer in his pantry, taking out a pistol, loading it, and creeping stealthily out of the room with a malevolent gleam in his eye. You might think that this solidifies the case against the lawyer astutely points out that there was no spy camera in the library where the murder took place, and no spy camera in the corridor leading from the butler’s pantry. He wags his finger, in that compelling way that lawyers have made their own. ‘There’s a gap in the video record! We don’t know what happened after the butler left the pantry. There is clearly insufficient evidence to convict my client.’

In vain the prosecution lawyer points out that there was a second camera in the billiard room, and this shows, through the open door, the butler, gun at the ready, creeping on tiptoe along the passage towards the library. Surely this plugs the gap in the video record? Surely the case against the butler is now unassailable? But no. Triumphantly the defence lawyer plays his ace. ‘We don’t know what happened before or after the butler passed the open door of the billiard room. There are now two gaps in the video record. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, my case rests. There is now even less evidence against my client than there was before’ (Dawkins, 2009, pp. 145-146).

This amusing analogy shows exactly what is wrong with Creationists and ID proponents. Sometimes, evolutionists fall into what I call “the inductive trap”, that is, that you arrive at a theory via “data accumulation”. Anti-Darwinians simply thrive on it, as we have just seen. As I have said before (Part II), theory always comes first and will tell the scientist which data are pertinent, which aren’t. The second problem is that you can have all the “pertinent” data that confirms your theory, but the theory itself might still be wrong. Aristotle’s theory of gravity was overwhelmingly confirmed by evidence: solid objects have the tendency to move to its natural state. Yet, it was wrong. Even Newton’s theory was itself was wrong, as Einstein showed.

Evolution through natural selection has a special status regarding this issue. As we keep digging for fossils, we keep finding intermediate forms. In fact, there are so many fossils of intermediate forms that they create heated debates among paleontologists (e.g. “Is this the fossil of a mammal-like reptile or a reptile-like mammal?!”) But there is a very important trait of evolutionary theory: between two life forms there could be an intermediate form. Unfortunately this leads the opponents of evolution to say: between two different life forms there must be an intermediate form. So, let us say that we have two different life forms in two stages in prehistory. If a intermediate form is found, then we have three life forms, and it would require two new intermediate forms. If a paleontologist finds them, then it would require four intermediate forms, and so on. So, every time a paleontologist finds a transitional form, in a an anti-evolutionist mind, it will mean that there is less evidence for evolution.

Solving the Induction Trap

This is due to the induction trap: from a frequentialist point of view of probabilities, each instance cannot verify by itself a theory. Karl Popper made this criticism in Conjectures and Refutations and has received very little attention in the scientific community. For Popper, induction is never the way to go in scientific practice. An accumulation of data never says anything about the forces behind anything. First you must posit a theory or a theoretical body to then try to test it experimentally and try to refute it.

But he also discovered something very important, if we focus on the content of theories, we cannot fall into what I call the “induction trap”. When we talk about the “content” of a theory we are talking about the amount of state-of-affairs (facts) that the theories themselves are accounting for. For Karl Popper, from the point of view of the logical content of theories (he called it “logic of probabilities”) we should formulate theories that are less probable. What does Popper mean by that?

Let us suppose that we have three hypotheses:

  • hypothesis (a) = “today rains”
  • hypothesis (b) = “tomorrow will be sunny”
  • hypothesis (ab) = “today rains and tomorrow will be sunny”

The letter p will represent “probability”, and Ct will represent “content”. We can represent the relationship among these hypotheses the following way:

If Ct(a) ? Ct(ab) ? Ct(b), then p(a) ? p(ab) ? p(b)

In laymen terms, what does this mean? Let’s say that the probability of a happening is 50%, and the probability of b is 50%. So, far so good. Now, what is the probability for both a and b to actually happen? Actually much less. So, the more content a theory has, the less probability for it to happen.

Still, why should we prefer a theory that is less probable? Here is the kicker: If we start from a frequentialist view of probability, sometimes there is no way to decide which theory is better: the Aristotelian, or the Newtonian, or the Einsteinien theories of gravity. We could observe solid objects fall 100% of the time, with perfect confirmation for all of these theories. But what makes the Newtonian theory better than the Aristotelian theory? The content of Newtonian theory, the amount of phenomena the theory is supposed to account for, is greater! Aristotle can only explain one phenomenon, the gravitation of solid objects and their tendency to go down. On the other hand, Newtonian theory can explain that and it can explain the tides, planets’ orbits, the next arrival of Halley’s comet, and so on. Einstein’s theory, though, was better! It could account for all of what Newtonian theory accounted for, solved Mercury’s orbit, and explained why light bends close to massive objects, the Doppler effect, the second twin paradox … you name it!

So, the frequentialist point of view of scientific theories (looking how many times a theory is confirmed) is useless to decide which scientific theory is the best. The most successful scientific theories must require:

  1. That they be the simplest possible, and at the same time have greater explanatory power, i.e. their content should be as great as possible.
  2. Although we don’t start from a frequentialist point of view, these theories must have a high degree of corroboration. This means that these scientific theories should be heavily tested, and if they survive any attempt at refutation, then they should be adopted.

How does this solve the inductive trap that Neo-Darwinists and their opponents fall into? Neo-Darwinism should focus on the theory itself and all it accounts for: fossils, the way genetic code is structured, the way our bodies are structured, the way embryos grow and develop, behavioral patterns, and so on. Our focus is not on how many intermediates paleontologists find. Our focus should be on what Neo-Darwinism accounts for. What is one of the advantages ofNeo-Darwinism over ID or Creationism? In that the former accounts for more natural phenomena, including transitional forms. ID and Creationism are not able to account for the appearance of transitional forms. Too bad, so sad!

“Missing Links” between Ancient Primates and Humans?

Give me a nickle for every person who has been taught to believe that Darwin said that humans come from monkeys, chimpanzees or gorillas. Darwin never said so, and no evolutionist claims it. For some reason, when I invite much of these people to read Darwin’s The Descent of Man, they never do so on the basis that too much time has passed, and that the book is obsolete by now. When I ask them to read lots of works on the primates which were our ancestors, then they say that it is “full of frauds” because of the Piltdown Man (a fraud), which for many years was presented in the press as “the missing link” between ancient primates and humans. They also cite the Nebraska man, the Rhodesian man, among some others. But Creationists miss the point about science: it is a self-correcting field. In Part II we discussed scientific theories that can serve as a jigzaw puzzle to understand given phenomena. This is true of Neo-Darwinism. Evolutionists themselves were the ones who discovered that the Piltdown Man was a hoax.

On the other hand, people who favor Creationism or ID have not been able to show that much of the fossils available world-wide of our ancestors are indeed frauds. Such fossils include: Australopithecus afarensis, Homo habilis, Homo ergaster, Homo rhodesiensis. There are other fossils of primates which could be candidates for our ancestry, but we don’t know for sure: Homo rudolfensis, Homo georgicus, Homo erectus, Homo antecessor, Homo cepranensis, among others. Thanks to genetics, sometimes, those we thought were our ancestors are no longer considered such by paleontologists. This is the case of Homo neanderthalensis. Nenanderthals coexisted with ancient humans (sometimes called “cro-magnon”), but seem to never interbreed with them, which indicates that both were separate species. Some scientists theorize that humans drove Neanderthals to extinction, but we do not know for sure. The research and puzzle-solving goes on, and on.

At this level of research, though, many paleontologists agree that there are no “missing links” between ancient primates (such as Australopithecus afarensis) and Homo sapiens. What we need to solve is how we organize these fossils in a manner that is consistent with all the other evidence available.

By the way, paleontology has confirmed that we don’t come from monkeys, gorillas or any other primate alive today. Capiche?!

Why are You the Way you Are? You Came from Fish!

During the Dover trial, there was a great discovery of a very beautiful intermediate. This intermediate showed that we didn’t come from monkeys, but that we certainly came from fish! This explains why our bodies were built the way they were built. You may think that your body is too complicated to have evolved. Maybe, maybe it is not too complicated.

Of course, the way I was taught biology, it seems that fish had fins, and then they evolved limbs after they climbed out of the water. However, if you think about it, it does not make any sense. Do you see your goldfish using fins to climb out of the water to land? Have you seen salmon or tuna doing that? Fins are not enough to get a fish out of the water, it is not developed for that. It sucks for walking, but it works well for swimming.

The answer to this riddle would be found in 2004, when a transitional fossil was discovered. Here it is!!!

Neil Shubin and the Tiktaalik

No. It’s not the guy in the left. He is Neil Shubin, the paleontologist who discovered the fossil, the one in the right (which seems to be smiling too).

The fossil he is holding is called Tiktaalik roseae, which was discovered in 2004, in Ellesmere Island, close to Greenland, just when the resources Shubin had available were about to run out. He is a paleontologist deeply interested in how organisms developed limbs during the course of evolution. Here are artistic representations of Tiktaalik.

Tiktaalik

Tiktaalik

As you can see, this is a perfect transition fossil between fish and amphibians. You cannot even ask a better one if you want to. Amphibians in the late Davorian Age have flat heads, with eyes in the top, with necks, which separate the shoulders from the head, and limbs with elbows and hands. Tiktaalik has a flat head with eyes on the top, with shoulder bones slightly separated from the head, but its head has limited mobility. But the interesting thing I wish you to notice are its fins. Let us look at its bones.

Tiktaalik's Fins

This looks like a mess of bones, even though when it shows an organization. There is a big question regarding how Tiktaalik got this new fin from earlier fin structures. Look at the following image:

Evolution from Fins to Limbs

(From Boisvert, et al., 2008
a. Euthenopteron, b. Panderichthys, c. Tiktaalik, d. Acanthostega)

This picture shows a transition from fins to a hand in the fossil record. As you can see, the bones of Tiktaalik’s fins correspond to the fins of the Euthenopteron, but also of the Acanthostega. If you look at Acathostega’s limb you’ll notice that it is already an arm that serves to walk around. Tiktaalik’s fins, though, didn’t serve to walk. Most of what Tiktaalik can do is push up.

Although not evident in these images, if you look at the fins of the Euthenopteron or any fish, you’ll notice that there are long webs coming out of the bones and make up most of the fins. But if you look at Tiktaalik (again, not evident in this image), you’ll see very short webs coming from the bones. So that means that Tiktaalik’s fins were not made to swim the same way that a fish does, but at the same time it is not developed enough to make it walk or crawl. What does this mean regarding our knowledge of how a limb evolved from a fin?

The key lies in genes themselves. Remember, natural selection does not select anything phenotypical. What is selected is a particular genetic arrangement. So, whatever made fins change into hands is of genetic in origin.

There is this specific gene called Sonic hedgehog that directly deals with fins in some animals (fish) or limbs on other animals (reptiles, mammals, etc.). Experiments using the same gene from mice on sharks have spectacular results of giving shark fins a bone structure similar to that of Tiktaalik. As Neil Shubin would say, you can give a shark a hand, very literally.

Acanthostega

Furthermore, when you look Acanthostega, you see a transition from Tiktaalik to amphibians. Acanthostega is mostly amphibians, but it still has gills, which means it can breathe underwater, something that amphibians cannot do. The legs that Acathonstega has were the ones that made amphibians get out of the water and walk on land. And from those limbs, human limbs evolved.

What does this all mean? Our limbs are nothing more than evolved fins. That essentially we are evolved fish out of water. More importantly, from such fish, amphibians evolved, which would lead to reptiles. As I will show in my next article, we would not make rational decisions without the reptilian part of our mind.

References

Ayala, F. J. (2007). Darwin’s gift to science and religion. Washington, D.C.: Joseph Henry Press.

Boisvet, C. A., Mark-Kurik, E., & Ahlbert, P. E. (2008, December). The pectoral fin of Panderichthys and the origin of digits. Nature. 406, 636-648. doi: 10.1038/nature07339.

Darwin, C. (2004). The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. US: Penguin. (Originally published in 1879).

Darwin, C. (2008a). On the origin of species by means of natural selection of the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. NY: Bantam. (Originally published in 1859).

Darwin, C. (2008b). On the origin of species: the illustrated edition. D. Quammen (Ed.) NY & London: Sterling.

Dawkins, R. (2009). The greatest show on Earth: the evidence for evolution. NY: Free Press.

Futuyma, D. J. (2009). Evolution. US: Sinauer Associates.

Miller, K. (2008). Only a theory: evolution and the battle for America’s soul. U.S.: Viking.

NOVA. (2007). Judgment day: intelligent design on trial. [DVD]. Video can be watched online in: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/id/program.html.

Popper, K. (1979). Objective knowledge: an evolutionary approach. Oxford: Clarendon Press. (Originally published in 1972).

Popper, K. (1999). The logic of scientific discovery. London & NY: Routledge. (Originally published in 1959).

Popper, K. (2000). Realism and the aim of science. London & NY: Routledge. (Originally published in 1983).

Popper, K. (2002). Conjectures and refutations. London & NY: Routledge & Kegan. (Originally published in 1963).

Rebato, E., Susanne, C., & Chiarelli, B. (Eds.). (2005). Para comprender la antropología biológica: evolución y biología humana. España: Editorial Verbo Divino.

Shubin, N. (2009). Your inner fish: a journey into 3.5-billion year history of the human body. NY: Vintage Books.

Exaptations and the Dover Case

(c) 2010 Pedro M. Rosario Barbosa

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Maybe Darwinism is the most prevalent theory
out there today, but it is a theory. It isn’t a law
of science, it isn’t a fact. It is just a theory.

-Alan Bonsell
Ex-Member of the Dover School Board

Intelligent Design is a science stopper.

-Kenneth Miller
Co-author of Biology, published by Prentice Hall

A Decisive Moment in the Case

The Dover Area School District and the school board of the Dover High School, in the small community of Dover, Pennsylvania, were sued by Tammy Kitzmiller and other parents who thought their constitutional rights were being violated. The school board of the Dover High School was pretty angry over a text book used by the science teachers. Written by two authors, Kenneth Miller and Joseph Levine, the book Biology, published by Prentice Hall, was regarded as annoying, insulting and dangerous.

Biology - by Kenneth Miller and Joseph Levine

According to some of the now ex-members of the board, the reason why they hated this text is because Darwin and evolution were discussed throughout the book without considering other competing “scientific” theories. One of the things they did was to place a disclaimer on it that said the following:

This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered.”

Much later, other textbooks appeared out of nowhere. An unknown person sent a box full of textbooks called On Pandas and People, which presented an alternative point of view: something called “Intelligent Design”.

Of Pandas and People

Intelligent Design (ID) is not traditional Creationism (the doctrine that God created the world in six days about 6,000 years ago). ID basically states that organisms appeared on Earth fully formed by an “intelligent designer” (God, gods, extraterrestrials, and so on). Some of the parents of the Dover High School students felt their first amendment constitutional rights were being violated, they were trying to teach religion in a public school instead of science.

The trial was presided by Judge John Jones III. Now, let me give you a background on this guy. First, he looks like this:

Judge John E. Jones III

This is a judge with a very conservative record: very devout traditional Lutheran, was chairman of the Liquor Control Board form 1995 to 2002, tried to privatize state stores, banned the Bad Frog Beer because of an interesting gesture it made (the finger!), and was appointed by Pres. George W. Bush recommended by none other than Rick Santorum. Let us remember that Santorum declared himself in favor of ID, and President Bush said that “the jury is still out on evolution”. Certainly if anyone would rule in favor of ID and the school board of Dover High School would be Judge Jones!

It is time for closing arguments. After an intense trial, and the testimony of scientists, philosophers, parents, teachers, and members of the school board, there was nothing left but to close.

One of the defense attourneys of the school board stated during his closing argument: “Your honor. I don’t know if you have noticed that this trial lasted forty days and forty nights.”

And the judge interrupted, gave him a smile and a wink, and said: “But it wasn’t by design.” This was a clue of what was going to be ruled in the end. You may read the full text of his ruling, it is an amazing document! A masterpiece! Click here to download it.

Why in the heavens would a hardcore conservative, religious judge rule the way he did?

God vs. Science? Conservatives vs. Liberals?

One of the big problems the judge found so unacceptable regarding ID, is that usually the people who propose it establish a false dichotomy between the belief in God and science, specifically the theory of evolution through natural selection. The judge found this unacceptable. If anyone has any questions about the religious background (or lack of it), it should be noted that most of the parents who sued the school board and all of the science teachers who refused to teach ID are Christians, some of them very active in the Church, and even running Bible school programs. One of the scientists who argued in favor of evolution in the Dover case is a traditional Roman Catholic, Dr. Kenneth Miller, and another person who assisted these parents in the case was John Haught, a well known theologian.

It would also be wrong to say that this is a conservative vs. liberal issue. Most of those who sued the school board are also hard core conservatives. In fact, some other communities have had the experience that conservatives were more fervent defenders of evolution than liberals, when Democratic support was sorely lacking. Why would conservatives favor evolution instead of ID? The reasons explained by the judge were those of a true conservative:

In an era when we are trying to cure cancer, when we are trying to prevent pandemics, when we are trying to keep science, math, and education on the cutting edge in the United States, to introduce and teach bad science to ninth grade students makes makes little sense to me. You know, garbage in, garbage out. It doesn’t benefit any of us, who benefit daily from scientific discoveries. (NOVA, “Judgment Day”)

The theory of evolution is a scientific theory that has been tested rigurously for many years now, and in itself makes no claims about God or political ideals of any kind. Of course, the theory of evolution is not consistent with the literalist view of the Bible, but it can be fully compatible with other religious views about God. We will discuss this in a future part of these series on evolution, ethics and spirituality.

Testimony of Dr. Kenneth Miller

There were two scientists who testified at the Dover trial, but for the purpose of our discussion I wish to talk about Dr. Miller’s own contribution to the case.

As we have said before, Dr. Miller was co-author of the biology textbook in case. He tells the story of how, in his small community, he was the commissioner of the girl softball program. One day, the highschool adopted the Biology textbook, and teachers and parents saw his name on the cover and his picture was inside the book. One of the other coaches in the softball program was all emotional and said: “Ken! Ken! You wrote the book that we are using in the high school!” Miller smiled, with much pride and said: “Yes, Bonnie. I did!”. Then she told him: “Funny thing is you don’t seem that smart.” Miller last comment when he tells the story is: “You may make of that as you will.”

Miller used to be a Goldwater Republican, is a traditional Roman Catholic, renowned cell biologist, and one of the most ardent defenders of evolution. As an ex-Republican he was interested in the 2008 Republican debates for the primaries to elect their candidate for President of the United States. During one televised debate, the host asked all of the Republican pre-candidates if any of them did not believe that evolution was true. Three of the pre-candidates raised their hands: Tom Tancredo, Sam Brownback and Mike Huckabee. Later, Ron Paul said that if he had heard the question correctly, he would have raised his hand as well.

Miller felt disappointed at Huckabee, because he was his favorite pre-candidate. He looked at why Huckabee did not think evolution was true:

In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth. A person either believes that God created the process or believes it was an accident and that it just happened all on its own … If anybody wants to believe that they are the descendants of a primate, they are certainly welcome to do it.

Miller thought long and hard about that last sentence, and he sincerely wanted to see Governor Huckabee during the primaries campaign and say:

“You know, Governor, you are a great candidate, I love your candor, and your sense of humor … But Governor, between you and me, I have to tell you sir … you are a primate. And so are your mom and dad. Therefore, you did descend from primates.”

Humans are indeed primates, says Miller, and this is not Darwin’s fault. It was a classification made by Carl von Linné (or, as he called himself, Linnaeus Carolus). Linné was a creationist, and he made it very clear in a very modest claim: “Deus creavit; Linnaeus disposuit” (God creates; Linnaeus arranges). He lived before Darwin, but he was the father of the classification of living beings. He was the one who classified humans are being primates.

The Whole Case for ID: Irreducible Complexity

Of course, Huckabee belonged to a group of people within the Republican Party who embraced a form of ID. The Dover case was indeed about evolution against ID. The scientist whom the plaintiff relied on most was Michael Behe. Behe in his book, Darwin’s Black Box, formulated a principle which is regarded today as the cornerstone of the whole ID movement: the principle of irreducible complexity. For Behe, we see purposeful design in nature, a design directed to assume a function that serves that organism to survive. If we look at the intrinsic mechanisms of an organism, we find that if one part of the system is missing, then the system itself would cease to function. When this happens, it is said that the system itself is “irreducibly complex”. This necessarily means that all parts must be there simultaneously for it to work properly. Since evolution through random mutations and events cannot make such a “perfect” system for that particular purpose, the choice left is to suppose an intelligent designer. This designer can be God, or spirits, or fairies, or extraterrestrials, but they cannot be made by unintelligent evolution.

Examples of this? Behe, being a biochemist, was amazed at the structure and performance of the flagellar bacterial motor. Those bacteria with a flagellum are propelled by a very sophisticated motor that rotates the flagellum making the bacteria displace itself. Look at it and be amazed:

Bacteria

Bacterial Flagellar Motor

As you can see, these structures are very well built! At the bottom we see the image of the flagellar motor as reconstructed visually by NOVA, for the Episode “Judgment Day”. The bacterial base is one very sophisticated motor, one that existed before men inveted motors. Let us see this motor closely:

Flagellum Base Diagram

Now, I don’t care whether you believe in ID or evolution, you have to simply MARVEL at this. No wonder this served for a long time as the poster child for ID, especially as a case of irreducible complexity. And Behe is right, if you take one of these pieces away, the flagellar motor would cease to function as propellar. The flagellar base is made up of 50 different proteins, all very well “arranged” to function as they do. Point made: it is simply almost impossible that pure random of combinations of proteins would form a very sophisticated bacterial motor. A bacterial motor is not evolvable.

This is a tough case for evolutionists to account for … or is it?

Not All Motors Are Created Equal: Some are Built from Earlier Stuff

Of course, a prima facie it would seem that the bacterial motor is irreducibly complex. However, Ken Miller replied to Behe’s argument for irreducibly complexity by stating that … well … the bacterial motor, as impressive as it may be, is not irreducibly complex. How did he show it? By looking at the evidence already gathered by many other scientists over the years, whose work were conveniently ignored by Behe during his testimony.

Miller showed on trial, based on well documented scientific findings, that you can take away parts, and it would still be functional. But let us be more specific about this claim. Again, the flagellar motor is formed by fifty different proteins. Miller argued: “let’s take some parts away … ummm… maybe ten … Nah! .. Maybe twenty … Nope! … Maybe thirty … Not enough! Maybe forty parts! Yes! Let’s take forty of those fifty proteins, and see what happens!” And all you have left with is this (another NOVA visual recreation):

Bacterial Type-III Secretory System

If this illustration looks a lot like the illustration of the flagellar bacterial motor, it is not a coincidence. This thing is an exact subset of the flagellar motor. Let us have a second look at both structures (NOVA visual recreation):

Bacterial Flagellum and the Type-III Secretory System

Now, what is this new thing at the right of the illustration? It is called the Type-III Secretory System. Is it functional? Yes, it is! But let us be honest. Does it rotate? Does it propel? No. What it does, though, is to secrete into a cell a poisonous substance. The bacteria of the bubonic plague is one example of this, it can be pretty nasty.

Despite this, much later, long after the trial ended, William Dembski, another major figure in the ID movement, protested Miller’s observation on irreducible complexity saying essentially that Miller missed the point. Why? Because despite the fact that the Type-III Secretory System is a subset of the flagellar motor, and that it is functional, it does not carry out the original function of propelling the bacteria. THAT is what Behe meant in the first place.

But in this issue, Dembski is the one missing the point!

Evolution 101 — New Term to Learn: “Exaptation”

If you are going to refute Darwin, it is necessary to know Darwin’s actual theory of evolution before make believe you are refuting him. Proponents of ID absolutely love the following passage in Darwin’s The Origin of Species:

If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down (Darwin, 1859/2008, p. 189).

Yet, for some reason, they forget to quote the next sentence: “But I can find out no such case” (Darwin, 1859/2008, p. 189). He then proceeds to state a series of ways these “highly improbable” complex organs evolved. He noticed that in many species, the same organs can assume different functions in different species that are respectively advantageous for them. Sometimes the same organ can carry out two functions at once. Sometimes two different organs assume the same function, and so on. He gives several examples of this, which I will not discuss here, but invite you to read The Origins of the Species. How ever vaguely, Darwin was proposing in that specific section the idea of what is now called exaptation (previously called “pre-adaptation”).

What is an exaptation? It means that the way complex organs evolve is that from simpler organs that carry out different disparate functions, because certain random mutations and changes in the environment, they combine to form another organ or system that assumes a new function. Do you want an example? The bacterial flagellum!

It may well be that both the base of the bacterial flagellum and the Type-III Secretory System share a common ancestor. But, it may also suggest, due to the degree of complexity among both, that the Type-III Secretory System may be the base flagellum’s ancestor itself, since it has all the proteins that conceivably through mutation and combining itself with other proteins, could make the flagellum come to be.

To make matters worse (for ID that is), the rest of the 40 proteins that would transform a Type-III Secretory System into a bacterial motor exist in other parts of the bacterial cell as simpler structures assuming other functions (just as Darwin described in general): type-II secretory system, axial proteins, ion transport, and signal transduction.

So again, the notion of irreducible complexity breaks apart in light of the evidence: the idea that the components of a flagellum cannot be functional until they are assembled into a flagellum is simply wrong.

Another example we can see of exaptation (and refutation of irreducible complexity) stems from blood clotting. According to Michael Behe, if you look at the blood clotting cascade, we can see design. Remove one of the components of the cascade, and you realize that blood can no longer clot. Therefore, it is another example of irreducible complexity.

Blood Clotting Cascade

(Illustration by Jay D.)

I won’t go into the details of this diagram, suffice to say that each component that you see here in Roman numbers are proteins necessary for blood to coagulate. Behe says that they must be there for the whole thing to work. Evolution could not have produced the system, because all of the factors must be there at the same time for it to work. Of Pandas and People gives this specific example as evidence of ID.

However, Miller could show in the trial that this is not an example of irreducible complexity. It is true that in the case of humans, if any of the components are missing, the blood will not clot. Is it true of other animals? Miller showed what would happen if we eliminate factor XII. This factor XII is very important for humans, because that is the one protein that starts the cascade. Does any other organism lack factor XII and still have a functional clotting system of proteins? Yes! As it happens, whales lack factor XII, because they are not needed for animals that live in the ocean. Now, let us eliminate factors XII and XI, what happens? The puffer fish lacks these factors, and yet, they have a perfect clotting system.

From an evolutionary standpoint, what do scientists theorize happened? Our ancestors came from the ocean. As they adapted to the air and being on land, they developed through natural selection a more complex clotting system, the one we humans have today. Exaptation is considered here, because, from comparative genetic analysis, we know today where did these factors come from. Again, they were proteins that assumed a role in our ancestor’s organisms, and which, through exaptations, combining itself with other proteins already formed in the clotting system, assumed a new function.

The same can be argued of another example, the immune system, eyes, arms, teeth, bones, and so on. It doesn’t matter.

Everything in humans is the result of this long evolutionary process. As we shall see, exaptation is precisely the evolutionary mechanism that forged what we consider today to be “human nature”, even its capacity to make moral decisions.

References

Ayala, F. J. (2007). Darwin’s gift to science and religion. Washington, D.C.: Joseph Henry Press.

Darwin, C. (2008). The origin of species by means of natural selection of the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. NY: Bantam. (Originally published in 1859).

Futuyma, D. J. (2009). Evolution. US: Sinauer Associates.

Hess, P. M. J., & Allen, P. L. (2008). Catholicism and science. Westport: Greenwood Press.

Miller, K. (1999). Finding Darwin’s God: a scientist’s search for common ground between God and evolution. NY: Harper Perennial.

Miller, K. (2008a). Kenneth Miller on Evolution and Intelligent Design. FORA.tv. Online video: http://fora.tv/2008/08/18/Kenneth_Miller_on_Evolution_and_Intelligent_Design.

Miller, K. (2008b). Only a theory: evolution and the battle for America’s soul. US: Viking.

Musgrave, I. (2004). Evolution of the bacterial flagellum. Why intelligent design fails: a scientific critique of the new creationism. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.

NOVA. (2007). Judgment day: intelligent design on trial. [DVD]. Video can be watched online in: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/id/program.html.

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