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Monday, February 16, 2009

An excellent specimen of bluting for Darwin

This is a telling performance of pro-Darwin hatred of one's fellow citizens because - as a matter of simple fact - Lamarckism (a quite different theory of evolution from Darwinism) is making a comeback:
ACCORDING TO a survey conducted recently, 75% of British people don't get Charles Darwin. Astounding. That's three from four. That's most of the two-legged beings you are liable to meet. That's almost everyone at the check-out. That's most of your blood relatives.

It should come as no surprise, however. Reportedly, these folk harbour "doubts" as to natural selection. They incline instead towards myths with a comforting whiff of refutation and brimstone. They are otherwise persuaded, despite a ton of evidence. People, as ever, believe what they want to believe.

Perhaps, though, they also demonstrate, at a monkey-never-typing-Hamlet stroke, that there might be less to this evolution business than the brochures claimed. Chimps will be chimps.

Speaking as a monkey's uncle's less popular nephew, I don't mind. If I have read Darwin half-way right, employing both opposable thumbs to prop up the book, natural selection depends on a majority always missing the point. Then we kill and eat them.

Metaphorically speaking, obviously. I have no wish to chew your leg. But consider things from my evolutionary point of view. Here I am on a planet upon which, reportedly, two billion beings profess a Christian outlook. By my count, thumbs included, that's two thousand million mammals who are mildly mentally ill. Or blessed.
It seems to me that people like Ian Bell, quoted here, from Scotland's Sunday Herald (15 02 09) have long ago given up thinking, and are simply bluting for Darwin.

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Lamarck! Lamarck! Come back! All is forgiven. It's NOT all in our selfish genes!

According to Emily Singer at Technology Review, we are looking at "A Comeback for Lamarckian Evolution?: Two new studies show that the effects of a mother's early environment can be passed on to the next generation." (February 04, 2009):
The effects of an animal's environment during adolescence can be passed down to future offspring, according to two new studies. If applicable to humans, the research, done on rodents, suggests that the impact of both childhood education and early abuse could span generations. The findings provide support for a 200-year-old theory of evolution that has been largely dismissed: Lamarckian evolution, which states that acquired characteristics can be passed on to offspring.

"The results are extremely surprising and unexpected," says Li-Huei Tsai, a neuroscientist at MIT who was not involved in the research. Indeed, one of the studies found that a boost in the brain's ability to rewire itself and a corresponding improvement in memory could be passed on. "This study is probably the first study to show there are transgenerational effects not only on behavior but on brain plasticity."
Basically, the living conditions of mice and rats affected the apparent genetic inheritance of their offspring. Mice genetically engineered to have memory problems not only improved when their environment was enriched, but passed the improvement on to their offspring.

In the opposite direction, rats raised by stressed, abusive mothers showed modifications to their DNA, and grew up to be poor mothers. That might just be learned experience, of course, but
In the new study, researchers also had healthy mothers raise the offspring of stressed mothers, and found that the problems were only partially fixed. That suggests that the changes "were not due to their neonatal experience," says David Sweatt, a neuroscientist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, who oversaw the study. "It was something that was already there when they were born." The research was published online last month in Biological Psychiatry.

The results of both studies are likely to be controversial, perhaps resurrecting a centuries-old debate. "It's very provocative," says Lisa Monteggia, a neuroscientist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, in Dallas. "It goes back to two schools of thought: Lamarck versus Darwin."
Here's an interesting observation from Singer's article:
"If the findings can be conveyed to human, it means that girls' education is important not just to their generation but to the next one," says Moshe Szyf of McGill University, in Montreal, who was not involved in the research.
Well, cultures that don't believe in educating girls do correlate highly with a low quality of life ...

Considering the ridicule heaped by Darwinists on Lamarckian theory over the years, this is just another example of why Darwin's theory is in trouble in what is supposed to be its hour of big triumph. In reality, it is mainly a triumph in the pop media and out-of-touch religious denominations and museums.

See also this article by Sharon Begley, co-author of The Mind and the Brain.

Remember - one gene codes for one protein? Also. you ARE your genes? And all that? Uh ...

Darwin's odd musings on circumcision. Believe whatever you like. He certainly did.


United Church of Canada celebrates Darwin - en route to oblivion

In the most recent edition of the Canadian Science Writers' Association's ScienceLink (Vol 28, No. 4, 2008) there is an interesting piece by Graeme Stemp-Morlock on the decision by the United Church Observer , the leading United Church-related magazine, to co-sponsor the Royal Ontario Museum's "Evolution Revolution" exhibit ($15,000 cash and $35,000 advertising):
If a small operation like ours was able to stand up without fear and proudly support this exhibit then we thought it would draw attention to the fact that huge corporations much bigger than ours were afraid to," said David Wilson, editor of the United Church Observer. "We were trying to say 'you don't need to be afraid.'"
(Note: I have not so far been able to find Stemp-Morlock's ScienceLink article online.)

I suspect that Darwin's racism was a factor in corporate disinterest. What if someone started quoting key relevant passages from Darwin's Descent of Man? Like that black people are closer to gorillas than white people are? Not prevaricating or explaining them away, just quoting what the old toff actually said - and honestly believed?

In the early Nineties, there was an enormous, career-limiting uproar at the Museum - including daily demos - around allegations of racism in connection with an exhibit from Africa. I don't imagine anyone wants more of that.

In any event, editor Wilson opines thusly:
I got the sense that evolution challenges religious dogma but not religion
I found myself musing on how the theory evokes the inherent beauty of a creation that is constantly and eternally evolving.
Wilson says that creation is "eternally" evolving, it is likely a slip of the tongue. That would be a non-theistic vision of life which is at odds with conventional science (which holds that the universe has a beginning and an end). He adds,
There is nothing in the Darwin exhibit that threatens or diminishes religion or people of faith.
which is interesting because Toronto columnist and literary lion Robert Fulford got the exact opposite impression:
In the 1860s, when the world was first compelled to deal with him, his theory was terrifying, world-shaking, religion-threatening. It still raises furious controversy.
Who's right? Well, they're both right, really. There is nothing specifically Christian or even theistic about "the inherent beauty of a creation that is constantly and eternally evolving," and the idea that Wilson expresses is more commonly used to construct a case for atheism. Which raises the question: What is the point of a church-related magazine getting involved? According to Stemp-Morlock, the staff was worried about "creationist chill."

Revealingly, Drew Halfnight writes this,
Though it may not have the profile or scope here that it has in the U.S., the tension between a Bible-based understanding of the origins of life and the science of evolution evidently does not stop at the border. That positions are not as clearly (or stridently) articulated in Canada as they are in the U.S. may only reflect our national distaste for confrontation.
Hey, wait a minute! If there is tension between a "Bible-based understanding of the origins of life" and "the science of evolution," how can it be that "There is nothing in the Darwin exhibit that threatens or diminishes religion or people of faith"? Something's not quite right here.

Now, with respect to politics, the 2007 Canadian Decima poll that Halfnight frets about in his article is pretty easy to interpret and explains the matter clearly:
In a trend that ... departs very much from the American scene, the people who intend to vote Liberal were much more likely than those who intended to vote either Conservative or NDP (leftist) to choose a "theistic" option - God either created humans or guided the process. Only 22% of Liberals thought God had nothing to do with it, but 31% of Conservatives thought that, as did 31% of leftist voters.

This is quite different from the United States, where most Republicans "doubt evolution" but most Democrats do not.
In short, for various cultural reasons, in Canada, 1) beliefs about origins are not determined along politically partisan lines, as they are in the United States, and therefore, 2) it is not in a politician's interests to sponsor the controversy (because as many votes could be lost as gained). That is the most likely reason that origins questions are not publicly controversial here.

Decima, I regret to say, did not ask about people's religious affiliations, which might have shed some light. Perhaps they will next time.

Meanwhile, will anyone be surprised to learn that the United Church of Canada's numbers have been tanking faster than a stone in the swimming pool? As one minister David Ewart writes,
In 2005, our Membership is 1.77% of the Canadian population. If this trend continues unchanged, we will be at 0.0% of the Canadian population by the year 2022.

Our reported Membership for 2005 was 573,000 a decline of 46% [from the high point in 1965].

Compared to where we thought we’d thought be in the 1960’s, we are missing 1,200,000 members. Or, to put it another way, our congregations should have 3 times more members and attendance than we currently have.
No surprise there, if we go by this incident. It suggests that the United Church has ceased to have a worldview that would characterize a church.

Actually, if they took Church out of its name, they might have more luck, because then they could Unite around whatever they actually believe in (like "the inherent beauty of a creation that is constantly and eternally evolving")?

See also: "Recent polls relevant to the intelligent design controversy."

And "A science writer explains her interest in the intelligent design controversy to other science writers"

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If you accept the argument in Descent of Man, you accept a racist argument

Here's a good piece at Uncommon Descent by Flannery, "Darwin’s 'Sacred' Cause: How Opposing Slavery Could Still Enslave" (16 February 2009), in which he addresses Adrian Desmond and James Moore's effort to airbrush Darwin's racism - one of many such - in Darwin's Sacred Cause: How a Hatred of Slavery Shaped Darwin's Views on Human Evolution.

In Darwin's day, "polygenists" believed that the races had separate origins, and "monogenists" believed that we all have the same origins. Monogeny is, for example, the view advanced in the Biblical story of Adam and Eve. Darwin didn't believe Adam and Even had existed, but he did believe that we evolved from a common ancester with apes.

However, the notion that therefore Darwin wasn't a racist is completely unfounded (go here for racist statements in his Descent of Man. ). Flannery writes, "In fact, it could easily be argued Darwin cleared out the polygenists to give way to a new generation of racial discriminators and engineers." Precisely.

Quite honestly, I find current Darwinist efforts to get the old Brit toff off the hook for racism embarrassing. Far from differing from his generation's racist beliefs, Darwin wanted to provide solid scientific support for them. And to the extent that anyone accepts the argument in Descent of Man, they accept a racist argument.

Has anyone noticed how Darwinists carefully protect themselves from having the issue framed bluntly in those terms?

Part of their technique is to confuse racism with support for slavery. Many racists have opposed slavery, as Darwin did. As a social institution, slavery creates many evils. For example, young men can force slave women to have sex with them, and produce children that they do not regard - and are not expected to regard - with paternal care.

That, by the way, as British sociologist Hilary Rose has pointed out, makes nonsense of Dawkins's claims about selfish genes. Much misrepresentation in this area depends on people simply not knowing or not noticing certain well-established facts about human nature, because the institutions that reveal them - slavery, for example - are no longer current in their part of the world.

Incidentally, recognition (or otherwise) of fatherhood does not depend on race. Russian aristocrats ignored their children by serf women who were of the same race as themselves.

Lastly, while slavery was a race-based institution in the Southern States, in other times and places, slaves and serfs have often been of the same ethnic group as their masters. The link between slavery and racism - forged naturally in our minds because of that history - is incidental. It is also very convenient to those who would airbrush Darwin's racism by pointing to his opposition to slavery.

The question is, why do they need to do this. Why can't they just admit it and move on?

One reason might be that they do in fact accept the argument in Descent of Man, which means that ...

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