Saturday, April 14, 2007
Here is my review of Cyril Aydon's biography of Darwin.
Thursday, April 12, 2007
Click here for the pope article.
It's wonderful that no matter how exhaustively we may explore one subject in the classroom, the real world never fails to add new fodder to our debate. This week in the news, the Pope wrote in the German book Creation and Evolution that evolution involves "questions that reach beyond the methodological possibilities of natural science." Clearly, the tensions between science and the church are still just as alive as they have always been.
"I find it important to underline that the theory of evolution implies questions that must be assigned to philosophy and which themselves lead beyond the realms of science... the theory of evolution is not a complete, scientifically proven theory," said the Pope.
This method of shooting down theories harks back all the way to the post-St. Augustine era when any scientific doctrine except for the Aristotelian view was seeen as heretical. Scientists from Halley to Copernicus all had their run-ins with official Church dogma.
The watershed moment in the liberalization of the Catholic Church was Galileo's trial in 1633. Although it did not completely end Church persecution of scientists, it did much to discredit the Church as the gatekeepers of scientific discovery. Humbled by the incident and losing energy to right against scientists who had since taken up Galileo as the first martyr for science, the Church eventually published an abbreviated version in 1741 which admitted, in a way, that they were losing their control on this issue. Since then, John Paul II has actually expressed regret over how the Galileo case was handled as recently as 1992.
Over the years, the Catholic Church, in staunch opposition to evangelical Protest churches, has seemed to accept or at least tolerate evolutionary thought. In reviewing the Vatican's Index of Prohibited Books which censored books for Catholic parishioners until it was abolished 1966 had early scientific writings like Galileo or Bruno on its censor list, but, interestingly enough, no Charles Darwin. In fact, they censored the works of Erasmus Darwin, yet deemed his grandson's works compatible enough with church doctrine. John Paul II even said in 1996 that evolution was "'more than just a hypothesis" and that it complied completely with the orthodox view of the beginning. If he had remained alive for a couple more years, he may have been able to rewrite the official church dogmas.
Unfortunately, the new regime is much less receptive to scientific ideas that was the former. Pope Benedict, in addition to rejecting evolution, is also noted for firing the Jesuit director of the Vatican Observatory, Father Coyne, last year after stating that intelligent design was not a real science. These rather conservative viewpoints coupled with his recent controversies in regards to Islam, all point to the same trend - the new Pope is VERY conservative.
I am not advocating taking an imprudent approach to science. It is not unreasonable to ask for a preponderance of evidence before an entire scientific paradigm is thrown out with all of its work. However, as John Paul noted, evolution clearly has an already incredible amount of data on its side while alternative views have failed to produce even a shred of evidence. It will be exciting to see exactly which academic track Pope Benedictchooses over the course of his reign.
"Reply" to this message and leave your name (and thoughts, and such) if you're interested. The more the merrier.
A note from Josh: Also join the Darwin Safari Overseas group on Facebook. I started a before and after travel discussion, so we can talk about this a bit more privately. Thanks!
Also, how do people feel about either Florence, Rome, or Venice. Too far for just a few days?
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
An interesting “New and Hot” that I discovered relates the philosophy of Nietzsche to the Darwinian ideas of evolution. I know that some people expressed interest in the Impact that Darwin has had on many aspects of society, so when I saw this paper I thought people may find it interesting. It appeared in the Journal of Nietzsche Studies in 2002. It is quite comprehensive, but for anyone interested, this paper written by Gregory Moore, explains the philosophy of Nietzsche and intertwines the discussion with evolution and biology. According to the paper, Nietzsche’s philosophies are Anti-Darwinian, and as a contemporary, Moore argues that his philosophy represents a reaction to Darwin’s theories. Here is an interesting passage from the paper:
“Nietzsche's rejection of survival as a primary biological imperative is a key component of his anti-Darwinian theory of evolution. But long before he sought to replace the instinct for self-preservation with his own conception of the will to power, he tried to find other ways to account for the behavior that Spencer and others attributed to this superfluous and teleological principle. In a note written in 1880, for example, he writes: "There is no instinct for self-preservation. Rather, to seek what is pleasant, to avoid what is unpleasant—this explains everything which is attributed to that drive" (KSA 9, 6). Like Spencer, Nietzsche believes that the universal allure of pleasure and avoidance of pain can be used to explain human conduct (and, a fortiori, morality) as an extension of more primitive animal behavior. In contrast to Spencer, however, he holds that the acts that give rise to pleasure and pain are not goal-directed; they are, rather, merely "playful expressions of the impulse toward action" (KSA 9, 11)."
The paper also elaborates on ethics and morality and a passage that I found interesting explains how Darwin presented morality in his book, “Descent of Man”. Before reading this paper, I hadn’t realized that Darwin presented natural selection and human behavior in a moral light. Here is an interesting passage:
“Although Darwin believes that a moral sense originated through the natural selection of those tribes in whom the social instinct was strongest, he recognizes that this primitive ethic gradually developed into a "higher morality" through the effects of habit, rational reflection, and religious instruction. Not "the survival of the fittest" but "as ye would that men should do to you, do ye to them likewise" has come to be regarded as the true maxim of human conduct. Nor is moral progress at an end. "Looking to future generations," Darwin prophesies, "there is no cause to fear that the social instincts will grow weaker, and we may expect that virtuous habits will grow stronger, becoming perhaps fixed by inheritance. In this case the struggle between our higher and lower impulses will be less severe, and virtue will be triumphant." 6 This theistic notion of evolution as an ever-upward progression away from earlier forms of animal life and toward spiritual and social perfection came to be inseparable from the way Darwinism was received and interpreted.”
For more information the website where I found the paper is :
You can also find it by researching through the Stanford library website and access the publication directly.
My account on Amazon wont let me post my review on the website, but here is my review of the Autobiography of Charles Darwin posted here:
I would give Darwin’s Autobiography four out five stars. Darwin provides a thoroughly interesting and readable account of his life, and a unique window into the man behind the theories and ideas so familiar to us today.
He traces his life from his childhood education up to his late life. Darwin focuses on the aspects of his life that have influenced his theories and publications, rather than focusing on every event of his life, and by doing so he succeeds in writing a concise but useful account of his life. It is interesting to compare Darwin’s Autobiography to that of his contemporary, Benjamin Franklin, whose autobiography takes a drastically different approach. Franklin presents himself as a model of how to succeed, and although he uses humor, his writing takes on a distinctly pompous tone. Darwin’s autobiography reflects his scientific mind because his language contains none of the flowery pros of Ben Franklin. Darwin even admits to the evolution of his own mind from one that appreciated poetry and music to one that was more scientific.
The most interesting aspect of his Autobiography for me is the way he integrates familiar figures like Lyell, Wallace, Henslow and Sedgewick into his account. I have heard of all these people in isolation, but by bringing them all together, Darwin really brings the reader back in time. He shows how different ideas and prominent figures influenced him. The description of his relationship with Lyell provides a particularly interesting window into Darwin’s life and the scientific culture in England in the nineteenth century.
Basically, I found this article interesting because it gives a different position than what I've felt to be the usual evolution/ID dichotomy seen in the news when portraying science vs. religion. Basically, Benedict's stance is that science can't explain everything, yet he praises scientific progress and says that "science has opened up new dimensions of reason." Benedict feels that science and religion need not clash and has written a book about "theistic evolution," which is basically the idea of intelligent design, that something designed the rational mechanism behind evolution.
I think its interesting to parallel this attitude on science vs. religion to what has often been a heated debate in news media in America, of this irreconcilable divide.
On a lighter, somewhat more bizarre note, did anyone know that there exists an "Origin of the Species in Dub," a reggae mix of some of the chapters of the Origin? It's kind of funny but really cool that well, people think the idea of evolution is interesting enough to make music out of it. It was created to celebrate Darwin Day 2005. Here's all the videos.
Finally, here's my review on amazon for Darwin's autobiography.
Alex Rosenberg's "Darwinian Reductionism" Under Fire
The May-June 2007 issue of American Scientist contains John Dupré’s review of Darwinian Reductionism: Or, How to Stop Worrying and Love Molecular Biology by Alex Rosenberg.
Dupré fears that Rosenberg’s adherence to strict physicalist reductionism (“Darwinian Reductionism”), where “everything is ultimately determined by what happens at the physical level—and that this entails that the mind is ‘nothing but’ the brain,” is based upon a failure to understand why most philosophers of biology have abandoned such reductionism rather than a new revelation. As Dupré points out, most philosophers have abandoned this view because, among other reasons, genes have a “many/many” relationship with phenotype.
More specifically, his [Rosenberg’s] portrayal of the genome as a program directing development, which is the centerpiece of his reductionist account of biology, discloses a failure to appreciate the complex two-way interactions between the genome and its molecular environment that molecular biologists have been elaborating for the past several decades.
Dupré excoriates Rosenberg for thinking of natural selection as an actual physical law rather than mere differential death. (Natural selection is, of course, the latter and much more akin to the "Stuff Happens" bumper sticker on the TV version of Forrest Gump.) Finally, Dupré also goes after Rosenberg for thinking “genes literally embody a program that produces development,” for seemingly adhering to the notion that 95% of DNA is “mere junk,” and for not keeping very current on molecular biology. For more, see the rest of Dupré’s excellent but tough review “Is Biology Reducible to the Laws of Physics?”
Also here is the link for my review of Darwin's autobiography on Amazon: here
According to Nature’s March 14, 2007 “News In Brief,” just last month the diaries of Charles Darwin’s wife Emma were released online. The diary includes details about daily life in the Darwin family, such as about grocery costs, visitors, and illnesses.
This new source of information is interesting on a few different levels. First, it would definitely be an interesting exercise to compare Charles’ and Emily’s daily accounts. What would Charles include and Emma leave out and vice versa? What more can we learn about who Darwin was from these firsthand accounts? Second, it is interesting to note how Darwin’s fame is contagious. I imagine that now that these records are available to the public, historians and others interested in Darwin will analyze these diaries for more clues on to the personal life and thoughts of the famous scientist. Could Emma have ever imagined that her daily diaries would one day be under such scrutiny? Third, just as Darwin intended for his audience to be his children and grandchildren, what audience did Emma write for? If Emma had intended for her diaries to be personal accounts of events not to be read by others, she may have been frank about the daily ongoings, thoughts, and feelings.
With yet another source of information about Darwin’s life, another dimension has been added to the complicated yet intriguing challenge of pulling together the facts to reconstruct his life and thoughts.
Click here to directly acces Emma’s diaries.
Click here to read my Amazon book review on The Autobiography of Charles Darwin.
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
Darwin didn't really know any better, did he? After all, he lived in the 1800s – ideas about cranial localization probably seemed intuitive. That was my reaction, at least, but Darwin's relationship with his half-cousin Francis Galton, the father of eugenics, apparently has a history of being used against him.
While this article, from Salon, titled “Louisiana calls Darwin a racist” is not that new, it shows the Louisiana legislature taking this tack in 2001, arguing that Darwin “'teaches that some humans have evolved further than others,” providing “the main rationale for modern racism.”
The debate about this measure (which was passed, forcing the teaching of evolution come with a disclaimer) is interesting. Proponent pin the blame for racism squarely on Darwinian evolution. Critics argued that instead of drawing attention to “weaknesses” in Darwinian evolution, the measure was intended to weaken the teaching of evolution in Louisiana public schools.
I think that these critics are right; it's important to take into consideration the same historical context that led Darwin to not discount phrenology outright when examining his ideas about non-European peoples. This is certainly not a defense of those views, but is an apology for them.
What I find interesting, though, is that this is another example of a debate about Darwin's character being used against the theory of evolution. Should it make us uncomfortable that a long dead scientist made some comments implicitly suggestive of eugenics? Probably. But why do me, and many others, feel the need to defend Darwin's character? Why does Darwin's shadow still fall on the evolution debate? It's an interesting question; I'll let you know after I think about it some more.
In lighter news, creationists believe in pseudoscience too, explaining that peanut butter disproves evolution. I don't know where this clip comes from, but it's another interesting argument against evolution. Via boingboing.
Together we set out to capture the essence of music at the most fundamental level. We ended up assembling literally hundreds of musical attributes or "genes" into a very large Music Genome. Taken together these genes capture the unique and magical musical identity of a song - everything from melody, harmony and rhythm, to instrumentation, orchestration, arrangement, lyrics, and of course the rich world of singing and vocal harmony. It's not about what a band looks like, or what genre they supposedly belong to, or about who buys their records - it's about what each individual song sounds like.So I think it's kinda cool, and I've personally been using it a lot over the last few months. Basically you create your own radio station and then tell pandora what sort of music you like to listen to. From there, the radio station automatically gives you suggestions for future songs based on songs that you've rated highly before. But it's not just a simple matter of "everyone who likes Tupac also likes 50 Cent". The website supposedly breaks down each song into extremely primitive components and analyzes the salient qualities of each song and decides what it is about the song makes you want to listen to it.
From this, the radio station sort of evolves according to your tastes. With each additional song, the station gathers more information and better adapts to your particular music tastes. It's an interesting idea.
Check out my Amazon review for the Autobiography. Hope it's posted now.
“Muslim immigrants in Europe tend to be from the poorer, less educated strata of society – analogous I suppose to Mexicans in America. Creationist literature is a way to fight the secularizing or Christianizing influence of those societies, while letting people feel like they are engaging with the technical and technological advancements around them.
When I asked about the influence of Harun Yahya (a group that publishes creationist literature) and other forms of Muslim creationism in America, Edis pointed out that Muslim immigrants to America tend to come from the wealthier, more educated, and often more secular strata of society. They tend to be more comfortable integrating religious interpretation to their scientific knowledge, and attempts to force science to conform to the Quran tend to be less appealing to them.”
The full article can be found here:
A few of the ideas it presents seem to contradict one another, but overall I found it really intriguing.
and finally, my review is up with everyone else's at: http://www.amazon.com/Autobiography-Charles-Darwin-1809-1882/dp/0393310698/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1/102-0086157-8191363?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1176333522&sr=1-1
See you guys later!
A study recently published in Nature Genetics reports findings of recent human evolution which "reveal one of the most striking genetic footprints of natural selection ever observed in humans."
Sara Tishkoff, a researcher from the University of Maryland, found that human populations in Africa developed the ability to digest milk through a mutation which occurred sometime in the past few thousand years. Not all human ethnic populations are able to digest milk through adulthood - only Northern Europeans, whose ancestors domesticated catte, and East African populations that herd cattle. However, until Tishkoff's study, it was unclear how African populations developed this ability, since their genomes do not contain the same mutation that allows Europeans to digest lactose.
By resequencing DNA samples from a number of ethnic groups in Africa, Tishkoff found a mutation in cattle-herding populations that allowed those populations to digest milk that was distinct from the European mutation.
In both European and African populations, the mutation for lactose tolerance appeared at roughly the same time that cattle domestication became prevalent in those populations. Tishkoff's study thus provides an interesting example of how genes and cultures co-evolve.
You can read the article here to learn more about this study:
The actual Nature Genetics paper should be accessible from this website:
I wrote an Amazon review, though it's not showing up quite yet. When it does, it will be with all the other Amazon reviews for the first book that comes up when you search for "autobiography of charles darwin" on Amazon.com
The link for the show is http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/about/overview_series.html. The website has previews for each episode. The show kind of seems like a commercialized version of what we're doing for the quarter--i.e. evolving.
Dr. Bud Ruby is currently researching circadian rhythms--namely sleep/wake cycles--in Siberian hamsters. Circadian rhythms are daily cycles that are highly conserved throughout nature. While nearly every organism displays sleep/wake cycles, no one currently understands their exact role. Dr. Ruby's lab is studying their effects on both immunology and learning & memory.
My new and hot this week is from Evolution News & Views from the Discovery Institute.
Here's the link: http://www.evolutionnews.org/2007/04/pseudodarwinism.html
In this article, Michael Egnor tries to defend his view that Darwin had nothing to do with the discovery of the structure of DNA and the genetic code....or anything else really. This bio stuff isn't really my area of expertise, so I was hoping some of you humbio kids might have some interesting ideas about this. Egnor begins the article with a rebuttal of an argument made by biologist Reed Cartwright, whose response, to my never-ending amusement, can be accessed here.
Here is an excerpt from Egnor's article:
"This is the age of pseudo-Darwinism. Pseudo-Darwinism is the synthesis of Darwin’s theory and ‘anything you can think of.’ We have the synthesis of Darwin's theory and the discovery of the genetic code. We have the synthesis of Darwin’s theory and the biotech industry (transgenic organisms are designed and bred to produce human insulin—thanks to Darwin!). We have the synthesis of Darwin's theory and cancer research. We have the synthesis of Darwin’s theory and psychology (evolutionary psychology), Darwin’s theory and sociology (sociobiology), Darwin’s theory and culture (memes), Darwin’s theory and literature (literary Darwinism), Darwin’s theory and cosmology (multiverses), and Darwin’s theory and, well, everything (Dennett’s universal acid). None of these have anything to do with Darwin’s theory—the theory that all natural biological complexity arose by non-teleological variation and natural selection." (par. 9)
I'm not quite sure what to think about this...other than maybe they're both crazy. Any opinions?
Amazon review of the autobiography is up here.
See you next week,
So far I am very impressed with the postings
Here is a fun little item I came across on cane toads:
Not only is the story about the interrelationship of organisms - disturbed, but it rather convincingly disputes any notion that organisms that evolve in any niche are going to be the best suited for reproductive success in that niche.
It is also cool because these creatures are so bizarre.
Simpson's aficionados will recognize them as key players in the Australia episode.
Check out the little one on top of the big one.
But my favorite part is that they are taking over Darwin, Australia.
Even though this article comes to us courtesy of the The Gospel Herald, it gives a rather straightforward account of the recent uproar at Southern Methodist University over an intelligent design conference. Click here for the article.
In brief, a very conservative Christian group called the "Discovery Institute" is hosting an intelligent design conference this weekend at Southern Methodist University (SMU). In late march the anthropology, biology, and geology departments sent similar letters signed by the faculty objecting to the event. The letter from the Anthropology department read, "These are conferences of and for believers and their sympathetic recruits. They have no place on an academic campus." In response to this critism, the event's organizers invited the professors to speak which they just recently declined.
The fact that this conference is occuring at all is, of course, troubling in itself. But occurring, it is. The question then is whether it is appropriate to be held at an institution of higher learning.
It is understandable that the science professors were so incensed the presence of such a conference that clearly undermines some very basic principles upon which their entire fields rest. Clearly research has been conducted and scholarship advanced all under the basic principle that evolution is a fact. To have to defend this position would be as if the math department, after publishing for years on incredibly complex theories, was asked to host a conference asserting that 2+2 was not equal to 4. Why should these professors be asked to denigrate themselves by joining a pseudo-scientific "debate" that really is only a debate to a select group of religious fanatics?
Also, check out my Amazon Book Review of Darwin's Autobiography here.
One last "Also", Here are some cool Youtube videos that I found.
What a fascinating spin on the issue-- the reason it is difficult for Darwinists and intelligent design supporters have trouble finding common ground is that the Darwinists are afraid that they're wrong. According to the article, "it is disheartening" that science professors object to the intelligent design scientists and philosophers who wish to speak at a conference at Southern Methodist University. Bruce Chapman and John West, two supposed scientists at a think tank, complain that "unfortunately, would-be censors are trying to get the conference banned from campus by ludicrously comparing intelligent design proponents to faith healers or even Holocaust deniers." This is an interesting, if inflammatory, comparison. Few in the United States would dare to deny the existence of the Holocaust-- that would be ludicrous. Far from the comparison being ludicrous, as the writer states, I wonder if supporting intelligent design is indeed equally absurd as denying the Holocaust. Is it possible for a Holocaust denier and a non-denier (believer?) to find common ground to even begin a debate? Can evolutionists and intelligent design supporters "engage in genuine dialogue", as the authors believe they should? In both cases, the approach and evidence to the issue are so entirely opposite that it's hard to see how they could. Darwinists are not so much afraid to debate intelligent design proponents as unable.
"Flock of Dodos is the first feature documentary (84 mins.) to present both sides of the Intelligent Design/Evolution clash that appeared on the covers of Time and Newsweek in 2005. Filmmaker and former Evolutionary Ecologist Dr. Randy Olson tries to make sense of the issue by visiting his home state of Kansas. At first it seems the problem lies with intelligent design -- a movement labeled recently as "breathtaking inanity" by a federal judge -- but when a group of evolutionists convene for a night of poker and discussion they end up sounding themselves like...a flock of dodos." - Official Website
Go to the official website (http://www.flockofdodos.com/) and there's a funny trailer. I think it would be interesting to watch this movie. Reviews say that it presents a well-balanced argument for both sides of the debate even though the filmmaker is an evolutionist.
The "Flock of Dodos" title serves as a metaphor. Originally, when Portuguese sailors arrived at the island of Mauritius, they found that the dodo bird was a great prey because it was not afraid of humans and could not fly. And since the bird could not evolve in order to avoid predation, it became extinct by the 17th century. The movie attempts to find the contemporary dodos in the evolution vs. intelligent design debate; which belief will survive in today's society?
As a brief background, in 2005 both Time and Newsweek published articles discussing the intelligent design vs. evolution debate. Also in 2005, in the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District case, a US federal court ruled against the Dover (Pennsylvania) school district's decision to teach intelligent design (that some higher intelligence created the universe) in science classes as an alternative to the subject of evolution. The main argument was that because intelligent design had no supporting scientific evidence, it is "essentially religious in nature." (Wikipedia.org)
Here's a link for more information about intelligent design: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intelligent_design
Here's a link for more information about dodo birds:
Amazon.com review is up at http://www.amazon.com/Autobiography-Charles-Darwin-1809-1882/dp/0393310698/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1/002-5828627-0155228?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1176241364&sr=8-1
Monday, April 9, 2007
The above-linked article tells about the publication of the correspondence of Darwin and Asa Gray, the Harvard botanist who presented Darwin’s ideas in the United States. This article is interesting because in describing the contents of the letters, it highlights the challenges Darwin faced in convincing his fellow scientists of mechanistic evolution; many of them were religious and unwilling to accept a scientific theory that eliminated God as the designer of species. It also shows that some of those scientists still supported Darwin’s theory because they recognized that it was well grounded in scientific evidence, and that therefore it was most likely true. The article also mentions that a play has been written based on those letters. I was amused by the mention of the play because it shows how creative people can be when trying to teach history. Hopefully the play can help raise awareness of and respect for Darwin’s ideas; if introduced in this country it could help reverse the trend towards anti-evolution views.
On another note, here is the link to the website I mentioned last week that contains all of Darwin’s published works: http://darwin-online.org.uk/
And another tangentially related link: http://youtube.com/watch?v=2cpNjyVvqK0
This is a video segment called “Evolution vs. Creation” that starts out making a valid claim: that before blindly accepting evolution, we should learn the facts for ourselves. It deplores the tendency to believe in anything a person in a lab coat tells us, but does something just as dangerous as couching false statements in the guise of science. While claiming to be presenting the facts that people need in order to form their opinions on evolution and urging us to approach the information with an open mind, the woman in the segment clearly does not have an open mind herself. She says that everything in the Bible is accurate and can be taken for fact (an odd claim given that various portions of the Bible contradict each other) and claims that there is no empirical evidence for evolution. The segment also quotes a man who is supposedly a science teacher who says that he does not accept evolution because the accepted mechanisms and information keep changing, but that he accepts religion because the word of God has not changed in 2000 years. He cannot be much of a science teacher if he does not recognize that by necessity science constantly changes. It looks like this is only one in a series of similar segments. I find this segment quite worrisome because it shows how easy it is to trick people into believing false claims. With the existence of segments like this one, it can be no surprise that otherwise reasonable people can be persuaded to discount evolution in favor of creation.
Here is the link to my amazon review: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/customer-reviews/0393310698