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Do we instinctially interpret birdsongs as a sign that there are no predators present?

Do we instinctially interpret birdsongs as a sign that there are no predators present?


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I was outside today thinking how nice it was to hear the birds back from winter when I started thinking about the fact that we like bird song. It makes us happy in a very basic level, the sort of level that usually implies subtle evolved instincts. Thus I started wondering, why do humans all over the world naturally love the sound of birds?

The simplest explanation that came to my mind was because birds supposedly will flee or be quite when predators are around. Thus the presence of birds singing may indirectly mean a lower chance of predation. In other words it's less that were happy when birds are singing, as that were a little more on edge when they aren't singing.

However, that seems almost too easy an explanation. Has anyone more intelligent then a random computer geek who's just happy to be away from the computer for a few hours put any more effort into considering this? What is the generally accepted hypothesis?


Crows and gulls would probably also flee predators but their songs are definitely not really pleasant to listen to! I know it, they woke me up last week-end $ddot smile$. The canadian goose or the common starling (see here) are other examples of not really pleasant songs.

Too a selectionist view of evolutionary processes

It is important not to make the mistake to see anything as an adaptation (a result of natural selection only). Evolution is way more than natural selection and it encompasses tons of stochastic processes. This answer has a paragraph on the subject of not thinking of anything as a result of natural selection. This kind of over-consideration of adaptive processes in evolution is a common mistake especially when thinking about how human behaviour evolved.

Evolutionary psychology and evolution of appreciation of bird songs

The field of evolutionary psychology may interest you but note that it is a field that is sometimes still at the limit between psychology, philosophy and biology.

Appreciation of art as a by-product

Appreciation of art (like birds songs) and beauty is a pretty poorly understood subject yet. The first hypotheses came from Darwin and Gould. They pretty much argued that we enjoy sex, grasp facial expressions (kin recognition), have to like logical proof to appreciate learning and acquire language, efficient communication (cooperative hunting), appreciate put oneself into others thoughts (Machiavellian intelligence), etc… As a result of those selection pressure, we may have evolved, so-called by-products. A by-product is a phenotypic trait that hasn't been directly selected for but that has been selected via its correlation to some other phenotypic trait that is under positive selection and that is correlated. If this is true, then there would have a correlation between cognitive abilities and art appreciation and therefore a correlation between art appreciation and fitness.

Appreciation of art due to sexual selection

Some have argued that looking at the importance of art appreciation and intelligence in today's mate choice, it is likely that art appreciation may have been reinforced by sexual selection.

Either sexual selection may have reinforced a trait that was correlated to fitness ("evolution of appreciation of art as a by-product" hypothesis).

It is also possible that sexual selection may have selected for art appreciation without art appreciation being correlated with fitness but just because it asks for a big brain and lots of energy (brains consumes lots of energy) and being able to appreciate arts means that the individual has extra-energy to spare and is therefore very fit (handicap principle).


Chemical dialects

Most chemical signals between animals fall out of the parameter of human perception, and are therefore more complex to examine. So when studying animal communicative signals, studies have typically prioritized sound and sight.

But chemical "language" is the oldest and most widely used communication mode in nonhuman nature. Life spanning from bacteria to plants to beavers all communicate through this medium. So research like this new paper on lizard love signals represents a valuable opportunity for deciphering ways that animals communicate and perceive the world around them.

"What we've discovered is that within species there is important variation in chemical signals depending on your context: Who's trying to eat you, who wants to mate with you and who you're trying to compete with," said Colin Donihue, a postdoctoral fellow in biology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis and lead author of the new study.

Donihue also pointed out that nonhuman species have spent more than a billion years developing complex chemical languages. Only relatively recently have humans been able to decipher those methods of communication.

"With new technology though we're increasingly able to detect and identify these chemical compounds and this is leading to exciting new possibilities for understanding how species interact and evolve," Donihue told Big Think. "As these chemical assays become more common, cheaper, and easier to conduct, I think we're going to find that there are chemical communicators in the plant and animal world that are every bit as exotic and impressive as the bright feathers or intricate birdsongs that are currently the subject of so much research."

This is likely just the beginning for gaining understanding as to what nonhuman beings, like lizards, are saying to one another right under our noses.

This research was published on April 21 in the Journal of Animal Ecology.


What Doesn’t Kill Us with Scott Carney

I am here with Scott Carney, an investigative journalist and anthropologist who’s worked in some of the most dangerous and unlikely corners of the world. His work blends narrative, nonfiction, and ethnography. He currently is the Senior Fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism and a 2016-2017 Scripps Fellow at the Center For Environmental Journalism in Boulder. He has written What Doesn’t Kill Us, which is his most recent book. He’s also a New York Times bestseller of other works including The Red Market and A Death On Diamond Mountain. He was a contributing editor at Wired for five years. He has some new work he does at a company called Foxtopus. He calls himself the Chief Executive Octopus, CEO. Most people know him as being this successful New York Times bestselling writer. Scott, welcome.

I had Tolly Burkan on my show, the one who did the firewalking training for a lot of the people out there, including Tony Robbins and others. I’d like to talk about the control we have outside of our normal, what we think we can control realm. That’s a lot of what you deal with. Can you give me a little background? How did you get to this level of success? What led to your interest in journalism and anthropology?

I have always been interested in having adventurous, fun life, going out and doing things not necessarily for the money. At the end of my life I want to have a lot of great stories to tell. That’s been my passion since I was probably five years old. After college, I went in to do a PhD in Anthropology and I dropped out at the dissertation because I realized anthropology is not a great way to travel or to have adventures. It’s more a great way to sit and write a book that five people read inside the ivory tower. I still love those questions that anthropology asks, which were what is it about our cultures and our environments that make us human? I ended up making the switch over into journalism and I moved to India. I speak Hindi. I lived in India for about six years. At the beginning of my career, I was fascinated that every time I took a turn, there was this front-page breaking story happening. I broke major stories about organ trafficking. I was covering war zones. I was covering organized crime for Wired, Playboy, NPR. I was having a blast doing it. I loved being at that razor’s edge where consequences suddenly occur. By seeing things break apart, I also got this great view of how the world works.

What Doesn’t Kill Us: Anthropology is not a great way to travel. It’s more a great way to sit and write a book that five people read inside the ivory tower.

I’m writing a book on curiosity and you were talking about how you wanted these stories to tell and you liked to live on the edge. You at the age of five continued to be curious, where a lot of us stop being as curious. Was there someone in your family that promoted that? Did you come naturally? Did you have siblings who act like this, they want to go out and learn it all? Are you unique?

I had a great upbringing. I was always playing out in the woods. My parents were supportive of me. I had a great education. I entered into the world with one of the best hands you could be dealt. I also used every advantage that I had to continue following my passion. There are lots of the credit to my parents, my upbringing and all of that to get to where I am now.

I’m curious what your parents’ think of this interest you have that you write about and what you speak about in your lectures on TED? What you write about in your book is the ability to hack our bodies and use the environment to stimulate our inner biology. How did you become interested in that specifically? Can you tell that story of how you heard about Wim Hof and what led to that?

I had written a book, the main point of it was that extreme meditation and pursuit of spiritual perfection can drive you mad and even kill you. That’s where I started on this. I saw this guy on the internet, this picture of this more or less naked dude sitting in his underwear on an iceberg somewhere in north of the Arctic Circle. He was making these claims that he could teach anybody to have these almost super human powers to resist the environment. He also threw in some what sounded like total bogus stuff about controlling your immune system with the power of your mind. This was back in 2011. His name is Wim Hof. I wanted to get out there and debunk him as a charlatan before he got too famous because I know those messages are tantalizing.

I’ve written about this before, it’s within my wheelhouse. I flew out to Poland where he was running this training center. Wim Hof is Dutch, but cheap real estate was available in Poland for him. I meet him, I get off the plane and he’s this ruddy looking, short guy with sunburn and a big bulbous nose from probably years of alcoholism. I was like, “This is going to be the easiest job I ever had.” He even smelled bad. He looks like a homeless guy. I was totally not impressed by him. He drove me to his training center this is the middle of the winter. I’d been living in India and Los Angeles at that time, I’m used to hot weather.

We get there and I get to this dilapidated training center. The first thing I see is this dude outside on the snow bank planes, throwing ice on himself. He’s naked more or less, he’s got underwear on. He’s throwing this ice on himself and there’s this steam coming off of his body. I’m like, “What in the hell is going on here?” I was spending a week with him. I decided that Wim Hof, there’s weird stuff going around. Wim Hof believed what he was saying. I could tell in him that there wasn’t this artifice that I’d seen in a lot of other people, he passionately lived. I decided to give his training a chance.

Over the course of seven days, I ended up meditating on these icy banks of a river and melting the snow around me with my body heat. I climbed up this mountain in Poland in a pair of shorts and some hiking boots. It was two degrees Fahrenheit at the time. I was eight hours in the mountain. I was hot the whole way up. I was like, “This works.” I went going from somebody who was going to debunk this charlatan Wim Hof to a guy who guy was like, “I guess I have to go the other direction.” I spent off and on the next three quarters of a decade following his method and learning why it works. What was the magic of his training program, which is basically a breathing protocol and exposure to the cold? What was it that made this special? Were these super powers some prana and mana from heaven coming in, making you a magic unicorn? Are there evolutionary principles behind it that we can access?

What I found as a pretty science-based guy, there are evolutionary reasons why exposing yourself to variation in your environment bring out the human body ability to adapt. That adaption gives us resilience, gives us strength, and ability to exist in lots of different places. At the heart of it, if you think about where most of us live our whole lives. It’s 72 degrees Fahrenheit, perfect, air conditioned in the summer and heated in the winter narrow band of comfort. What Wim is saying is stretch outside of that comfort zone. Move your temperature and other things too into places that challenge you. By doing that you get strong and not only strong, but you get to do things that look impossible.

It brought to mind Leonardo DiCaprio in the water freezing to death. Did Leo have to die? Could he have used mind over matter to increase his temperature? Is there a limit to what we can handle?

At some point in the battle of man versus nature, nature is always going to win. It’s not like we can eject you into the vacuum of space and you’re going to be fine because you did some breathing methods and exposure. What this allows you to do is gain more resilience in these environments. You’re not invulnerable to them. You don’t become Superman, you become somebody who is pretty robust. I don’t remember the end of Titanic. Was he rescued at the last second?

What Doesn’t Kill Us: In the battle of man versus nature, nature is always going to win.

No, he had hypothermia. He died because he was in the water so long.

Did he die in her arms or did he sink below?

In the water, and then she let go and he was gone. I couldn’t help but think of that when I was listening to this. I’m fascinated in what you do because while I was in pharmaceutical sales forever, I have a medical background and PhD so I have the science thinking as well. I found it interesting what you were able to do and control. You also in your book have input from an army scientist. You look at different things. The autoimmune thing interested me because of my background. What can you do to improve in that respect and how do you do it?

There’s a lot of science behind it. Essentially, the idea is we have this nervous system that deals with stress pretty well. We evolved over the course of about 300,000 years dealing with difficult things in our environment. It triggers things like the fight or flight response when you see a threat, say a tiger. To some degree that’s linked to your immune system. The basic idea here is that in the present day, we have few stimuli coming in from the external world that give us a proper stress response. We stress out because we look at our 401(k)s and we’re like, “There’s not enough to retire.” We stress out because our health premiums are going up. We stress out because some paper’s being pushed around in the wrong order. We don’t have a physical release for that.

In the golden days, the threats weren’t these existential threats. They were actual people with spears throwing them at you or natural things that needed a physical response. We don’t have that physical response it’s triggering to some degree the immune system. What happen are our immune systems, you could liken them a pack of wolves. These macrophages, T cells and B cells are wolves going around attacking the predators in your body. These wolves don’t have proper threats anymore. We’re antiseptic, there are no germs around them and they don’t have things to chew on. Instead they chew on us.

This is the most medically accurate description I can possibly muster. Especially the immune system turns on itself because it’s not getting the proper inputs from the external environment. The science that proved this in the book is truly fascinating. There’s a paper in the Proceedings of The National Academy Of Sciences, PNAS, which is a respected science journal showing that Wim Hof was able to consciously turn off his immune system in laboratory settings. Not only that, he was able to teach other people to turn off their immune systems in a well-controlled laboratory test.

At Radboud University in Holland, this guy named Peter Pickkers, he’s an immunologist whose job is to design tests for anti-rejection drugs for if you’ve got an organ donor coming in from outside. Usually your immune system will eat that organ. It’ll be like there’s some foreign tissue in there, something I have to do to destroy. That’s a big problem for kidney transplants, heart transplants or whatever else. What you need to do is you need to design a drug that turns off your immune system so that the organ will not be rejected. To test those drugs, these are cycles for and various other pharmaceuticals.

If the test works, it means your immune system is off. What the doctors do is they inject you with foreign bacteria called endotoxin, it’s E. Coli but it’s been killed. It has the cytokines on the cell wall which indicate that it’s a foreign creature. Usually, a person injected with endotoxin will get a fever response. They’ll get achy joints, fever, headache, all the normal things you do when you’re coming down with the flu. 99% of people normally injected with endotoxin get those symptoms. If the foreign anti-rejection drug works, they don’t have those symptoms because their immune system was turned off. There’s the baseline.

Wim Hof said that he could stop his immune system consciously by using as ice training and his breathing protocols. They said that’s not possible. There’s nothing about the immune system that says that it works like that. Wim was well-known in Holland so they gave him a shot. He came into the lab and they injected him with endotoxin. He did some of his breathing protocols and some of his meditation, and he had no fever response. Not only was that, at worst he had only a mild headache. Even more interesting is that the blood they withdrew from him remains resistant for five days outside of his body.

This was a fascinating article that showed that there was something weird going on with Wim Hof. The obvious question about that is Wim just a freak, because it’s 99% of people will have the fever response? He’s in that one percent of weird variation. They did a second test. This happened the week after I was in Poland where he brought twelve or eighteen college students from Holland and they did the same week-long training that I did, which is environmental exposure and this breathing protocol that he does. They took those students back to the lab and there was a control group as well. They dosed all of them with endotoxin. Surprisingly almost miraculously, all the students had the same results that Wim had in the first time. This showed that the Wim Hof Method is not only teachable, but it’s teachable in a shorter period of time as a week.

This is amazing science. As I’ve hung out in the Wim Hof community, there are lots and lots of people showing remission, or at least more management of variety of autoimmune illnesses from Crohn’s disease to rheumatoid arthritis. There was a guy with Parkinson’s. It was to manage the symptoms of Parkinson’s even though Parkinson’s isn’t even autoimmune. It has this broad change in people. It’s also useful for diabetes weirdly enough because diabetes is about energy management to some degree. The Wim Hof method changes the way you process sugars and fats. It’s one of those general, overall helping your inner vitality thing. There’s a ton of science coming out about it but clearly not enough to change the world yet.

What Doesn’t Kill Us: There’s a ton of science coming out but clearly not enough to change the world just yet.

What do you do? Is it something that’s simple? Is it like when you’re in yoga and you breathe a certain way? What’s different about what he’s teaching?

You can learn it in about fifteen minutes. You can go online, YouTube, there are free courses everywhere. Essentially, it is putting yourself in a stressful and physical situation, and then resisting those external responses by turning off your fight or flight reflexes. For instance, if you jumped into an ice-cold bucket of water, your reaction is going to be to clench up. What your body is doing is saying, “I’m going to warm myself by flexing my muscles and use the chemical releases of my muscles to warm my body.” That is a fight or flight sympathetic characteristic response. What the Wim Hof method says is, “No, you’re going to jump into that water and instead of be going in fight or flight, you relax in that stressful situation.”

By doing that your body cannot use the shiver response because you’ve turned it off. It’s pretty easy to do that. Instead you have to use the metabolic response of turning up your metabolism to burn fat to generate heat. You switched from a sympathetic fight or flight response to a parasympathetic rest and digest response with the power of your mind. It’s that power of relaxing. You take a cold shower every day, that’s a step in that direction. It’s resisting that difficult sensation that we instinctually go to.

The second part of the method is this breathing method. You’re trying to hold your breath to the point where you need to gasp, and then extend that gasp point with your mind but not too far that you pass out. With a little bit of wiggle room in there. The way you do this is what we call super ventilation or hyperventilation. You breathe at a lying down position you don’t do this standing up. You lie down and then you breathe like this for about 30 breaths. At the end you exhale fully and hold your breath in that position for as long as you can.

What happens is you get dizzy, you get tingles in your fingers, and you got all of these different sensations. You find that you can hold your breath a lot longer than you expected. When I do this breathing in three rounds of that hyperventilation retention, I hold my breath for one minute on the first round, two minutes on the second round and three minutes on the third round. It’s not entirely easy but it’s surprising that you’re able to do this.

You can do all this and other than being able to hike Mt. Kilimanjaro without a shirt and things like that. What advantages do we have because we can do this? What can it do for you in the end?

It changes your environmental resilience. You’re more comfortable in hot and cold temperatures. You’re not immune to them, but that band of comfort expands. You’re more resilient generally in life. When you’re stressing out over that paper you’re pushing across your desk and you’re triggering no physiological response that eats at you on the inside. Which is giving you a physiological response you don’t get those negative side effects. You help reduce some of the causes for autoimmune illness. If you have an autoimmune illness, those are the fastest growing types of illness in the western world, this helps.

For me, I haven’t had many in my life. The one that I’ve had since I was young, probably one year old, I used to get canker sores, these big mouth ulcers. I started getting them when I was young, they afflicted me. They would get to the size of the diamond. It was quite painful, it was difficult to smile, difficult to talk. It would be a miserable one-week period every single month I’d get this.

Since I started doing the Wim Hof method, I don’t get them anymore. If I start feeling one coming off, I do a little bit more of the breathing and it goes away. It is astounding because I used every topical ointment, weirdo treatment out there to treat these and they never came back. I know that’s minor, but that’s my experience. You also see people with these grape and plum size knuckles from rheumatoid arthritis suddenly go away. That chronic condition goes away, people with Crohn’s disease, people with lupus and people with Lyme disease. It’s such a wide variety of things that are caused by your immune system attacking itself. There are no real side effects. Unlike a pharmaceutical approach, you’re not turning off your immune system in every aspect, just through specific ones.

I’m curious if some people are more susceptible to being able to do this? If some people are able to buy into than not? Some people can’t get themselves to buy into breathing for yoga or whatever it is. Did it work with everybody?

Anything that’s a practiced based approach, you need to have some buy-in. Otherwise you’re not going to put yourself into it. You’re not going to give it your full effort. Like me, I was skeptical. I went into this being like, “There’s no way this is true.” In a matter of a few days, I was like, “It’s true,” because the initial results are pretty obvious. Everyone reading this is thinking, “This dude is fine with the cold, but me sitting here at my air-conditioned desk, I am especially vulnerable to cold.” You were thinking that right now, your readers, I know you.

My first thing I thought when Tony Robbins said he takes an ice bath every day, I’m like, “I can’t do that.” That’s our natural instinct.

That’s the instinct for fighting. I know everyone is thinking this because that is what humans do. That is what I did. That is what everyone does. The thing is once you do it and you see that you had an emotional reaction to the ice, that wasn’t based on the reality of the situation. The first second of an ice bath is pretty hard. A few seconds later you’re like, “I can do this. I can manage this.” A little bit after that you’re releasing adrenaline, you’re releasing cortisol and you feel good. Just because we have this initial reaction to it, we don’t allow ourselves to expand into other areas that are potentially beneficial.

What Doesn’t Kill Us: How Freezing Water, Extreme Altitude, and Environmental Conditioning Will Renew Our Lost Evolutionary Strength

Many people could probably benefit from this. I know a lot of people have looked into wellness, mindset and a lot of things we’re talking about here. Your book should be fascinating for them. A lot of people want to know how they can get your book and how they can learn more about what you’re working on. Can you share a website?

It’s called What Doesn’t Kill Us. You can find my website at ScottCarney.com. Facebook and Instagram, that’s all there too. Check out my audio book. Audible has this deal where you can sign up and you get your first book for free. Go listen to it. Be active, go out and be doing something and listen to the book.

Thank you, Scott. I know a lot of people that have a lot of autoimmune diseases, I’ll definitely tell them about it. I enjoyed having you on the show.

Thank you so much for having me on, Diane.

You’re welcome.


This concise video examines the philosophical underpinnings to the issue of whether killing others for food is ethically defensible.

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what quality do humans have that make it wrong to kill them for food?

I can comprehend my own death and it is existentially painful.

It is debatable if pigs can comprehend their own demise, and you wouldn't be embarrassed to suggest they couldn't.

what quality do humans have that make it wrong to kill them for food?

For me, the answer to that question is "humans are sentient".

EDIT: Rather, what I mean to ask in return is: what quality do you believe humans have (or lack) that make it wrong (or right) to kill them for food?

Tons. Able to suffer, would really prefer to live, a prima facie right to life, we belong to communities of individuals whoɽ also suffer. Pretty much whatever youɽ think would qualify humans, we've got it.

Mostly the fact others in the group will hunt you down and try to eat you. Its not viable from an evolutionary perspective. Unless you can point out the cannibalistic cultures that have risen to the top in our time. They also complain about it.

I believe that it is not any innate feature of a human being that makes it “wrong” to kill them for food. It is their participation in “society” that makes them valuable.

The reason that killing animals is so dissimilar from killing humans is the fact that animals are not generally thought of as submitting to a social contract. Even animals which are a part of our society (pets and farm animals) are generally considered to be property. (Despite pets being anthropomorphized we refer to them as “my dog” and “your hamster”.)

These animals lack the autonomy of a human being and therefore are sometimes thought of as not being “sentient”. This is a failure of vocabulary, not interpretation. The idea is not that we deny the presence of thoughts or feelings, but rather that we recognize a fundamental difference in the relationship between the society (and by extension the world) and the individual.

In short, animals are not active participants in society and therefore are not protected by the same rules.


Zootopia Science Discussion Thread Part 5: Evolution in Zootopia

Yes, that’s right. We’re going to think about how it all could have come about. Sure Disney Magic™ is always an option, but where’s the fun in that? How could Zootopia have come about using what we know of natural selection, mutation and genetics?

Possible topics for today include:

How the heck could it happen? Namely is something like Zootopia even remotely possible. It's been covered in various threads, but this will let us have a real discussion about the possibilities

Adaptations in anatomy and physiology that could be seen: From hooves that can flex, to opposable thumbs, there are some changes that would need to happen for the movie to make sense. Do they make sense?

The effect of pred/prey relations on species and societal development. The idea that predator species in the past of Zootopis hunted other sentient species is kind of a dark road, but what effect would this have on their evolution and development as a society?

As always, I’ll start things off with a few notes, but then I’ll leave it up to everyone to see where this goes.

I'll be checking in on this tomorrow, and will answer as many questions as I can.

The next question is from u/WildeHopps

A bit of a different style question, but one regarding the evolution of their civilization as they approached the 20th century. How would they build skyscrapers compatible with all mammals? Having a large amount of elephants fifty stories up would cause havoc on the swaying of that building. So how do you think that their society evolved to match the living needs of mammals as cities replaced rural areas as the mass center of populations?

So this is more of a sociology and civil engineering question, but I'll make an attempt.

First of all, as was the case with us, there would have been A LOT of trial and error. mostly error.

Humans have quite the history of building things bigger, higher, "better", only for them to quite literally come crashing down. Over time we've learned from these mistakes. usually, and have overcome what were once considered insurmountable barriers to construction.

Making buildings to support such a wide array of mammals is definitely a challenge. On the small scale, a building designed to accommodate something like an elephant would be an arduous trek just to go from A to B.

In the early history, I envision mixed societies as being something that would only be seen in large cities, particularly those associated with trade. In the outlying regions, the architecture would be based on the needs of the major species represented. There might be an inn or common house that would have facilities for species of different sizes, but this would be rare.

For Zootopia and modern construction, it appears as though the designers did at least give some thought to the issues you describe. If you look at the skyline, you'll see that most of the tall buildings are narrower at the top, and wider at the base. This provides additional support, and would allow for more mass at the top floors.

However, I can definitely see there being a range of maximum occupancy values for buildings and individual floors. Similar to the ones used for fire codes, there could be signs indicating that nor more than X small mammals, Y medium mammals, and Z large mammals are to be in the same room/floor.

As for the smaller mammals, we've seen the use of rapid transit systems for them to cross larger distances, so this is probably the major accommodation required.

. but I do predict that in their equivalent to the mid 19th to early 20th century there were a lot of newspaper articles that had headlines like this:

February 10, 1876: Worlds Tallest Building Opens for Business!

February 12, 1876: TRAGEDY STRIKES! World's Tallest Building Collapses With Over 100 Confirmed Dead!

First, some background information regarding evolutionary theory.

Quite simply evolution is just change over time. For organisms on this planet, that change takes the fundamental form of mutations in the genome, which results in altered function or expression of genes. There are a bunch of different types of mutations that can occur:

Single nucleotide: During replication, the enzyme (DNA polymerase) makes an error and puts the wrong nucleotide into the genome.

Insertion: A portion of DNA is added to the sequence.

Deletion: A portion of DNA is removed from the sequence

Duplication: A region of DNA ranging from small di and trinucleotides, right up to entire chromosome arms, are duplicated. This can take the form of tandem repeats, where the duplications occur right beside each other, or can occur over different regions.

Repeat expansion: There are regions in the genome that are composed of stretches of repeating nucleotides. Normally these are between 2-4 base pairs long, and they repeat end to end. These are used for DNA fingerprinting, as mutations that increase or decrease the number of repeats are common enough that they can differentiate between individuals, but are conserved enough that familial relationships can be determined.

For each of these mutations, there’s a chance that they’ll occur in a part of the genome where they could change a gene. When they occur in the coding region (the part that encodes for the amino acid sequence of the protein), there are three possibilities.

The mutation changes nothing (silent)

The mutation changes the amino acid that’s incorporated into the sequence at this point (missense)

The change results in a stop codon, prematurely terminating the protein (nonsense)

In the case of insertions or deletions, there is also the chance for a frameshift mutation. In the coding region, the nucleotides are read in groups of 3, with those sequences corresponding with a particular amino acid. For instance ATG is the codon for methionine (in RNA the T becomes a U). If you have a sequence that reads ATGTGCAAAAGACATTAA it would normally encode for methionine-cysteine-lysine-arginine-histidine-stop. If we insert a single G after the methionine, we end up with ATGGTGCAAAAGACATTAA, and that same sequence now encodes for methionine-valine-threonine-lysine-threonine-leucine…and it would keep going because the stop codon was changed.

Most of the time, a frameshift results in a non-functional protein, but it can also provide a source of new variants. Overall most mutations are silent, and have no effect on the genes of an organism. Every now and then, you get a mutation that is deleterious, and if it’s bad enough, the organism won’t be able to outcompete others, resulting that lineage dying out. On the other side, every now and then you end up with something that give the organism an advantage, and over time, this new trait becomes the dominant allele in a population.

It’s important to note that sometimes losing a trait can provide an evolutionary advantage. Take the human example of lactose digestion. In most mammals, the enzyme lactase stops being produced after the mammal is weaned. Thousands of years ago, and probably in the region where modern Turkey resides, a mutation occurred in the lactase gene’s promoter region that caused it to be kept permanently in the on position. This meant that this individual (who we think was male) could consume dairy without any issues…which is a huge advantage and opens up new food sources.

The speed at which a trait becomes “fixed” in a population is directly proportional to the selective pressure that it addresses. Basically, if a change gives a big advantage to an organism, it is much more likely to become dominant in a shorter period than a trait that only has a transitory advantage.

In the case of the lactase mutation, it rapidly became the dominant allele in most of Europe, the Mediterranean, Eurasia, and only really stopped at the Himalayas. Interestingly, parallel mutations (but different ones) occurred in the Middle East and Africa, but not in the Far East or Australia. In a comparative blink of an eye (on an evolutionary scale) over 80% of Europeans became milk drinkers.

So that’s a basic overview of the kinds of changes that we’re dealing with. Small and big changes that can affect organisms. It’s important to know that these are random. Evolution is not a directed process, and the only thing that matters is if a change gives an advantage or a disadvantage to an organism. A common misconception is that evolution will lead to the best outcome. This is rarely the case, all that matters is that it is better than what was there before.

As for evolution in Zootopia, if we go with the hypothesis that the degree of evolutionary divergence is similar to real-world analogues, then the first thing that we have to deal with is the concept of multiple sentient species.

Sentience isn’t a single genic trait. It along with intelligence are multifaceted, but appear to involve multiple genes, and are correlated with development in the medial prefrontal cortex, and the medial posterior parietal cortex. Additional changes in the posterior cingulate cortex, anterior cingulate cortex, and insular cortex contributing towards self-reference and self-reflection.

As this is a complex trait, the odds of it evolving in multiple species simultaneously is very, very low. To date, there is only one species that we consider to be fully sentient (humans) and 7 others who have passed the mirror self-recognition test (where they are able to distinguish an image as representing themselves): Chimps, Orangutans, Bonobos, Asian Elephants, Bottlenose Dolphins, Orcas, and the Eurasian Magpie. This means that something like a virus (common Sci-Fi trope) or parallel evolution is unlikely to be the source.

So what can we do to resolve this?

Scientifically speaking, the best way to account for multiple sentient species is for an early form of sentience occurring back around 95-120 million years ago, particularly in the ancestors of crown mammal species. Mutations increasing the size and neuron count, particularly in the prefrontal cortex could spur this along, and with an early sense of sentience, it could also bring with it an increased propensity for a family unit to form, which could improve survivability, and also increase reproductive isolation between rival groups, thus accelerating speciation (to a small degree).

95-120Mya: Protosentience evolved in the therian lineages. These would then evolve into the marsupeals and crown mammals. Geographic and reproductive isolation provide the basis for the genetic divergence of these species.

65-95Mya: Geographic dispersal and continued speciation. The earliest divergence occurs when epitheria and Xenarthra lineages (anteaters, armadillos and sloths) diverged around 80Mya, and then the separation of Epitheria and Philodota (pangolins…and that’s all that survived). It’s important to note that these were the only major deviations prior to the next big event…and keep in mind that mammals were the new kids on the block, and were competing for resources with dinosaurs. But not for long

65-66Mya: The K-Pg extinction event (AKA Armageddon without Bruce Willis to save the day). Yes this is the famous event that spelled the end for the dinosaurs (well really they became modern birds, but give me some narrative license). This resulted in a whole lot of species going extinct, but this also resulted in a huge opening for other species to move in, and this is when mammals thrived. Various surviving family groups would have been able to take advantage of new territories, and there would have been a big selective advantage towards the development of some rudimentary tool usage at this stage, also driving the development of some changes to the forelimbs to become more suited to grasping and manipulating objects. Nothing extreme at this point, but any change that would give an advantage would help. The probable isolation of the various groups would lead to rapid adaptive radiation as each group falls under the selective pressure of their new environment. This is also where a strong selective pressure to begin to deemphasize the use of the forelimbs (or hindlimbs really. but that would be a bit odd) for movement, and giving greater emphasis on them being used for manipulating the environment.

65-40Mya: The insectivores are the first to branch out here (moles, hedgehogs, shrews), and their focus on a single main protein source kinda forces them to remain on the small side. For the remaining mammals the next big break occurs between the lineage that will become the carnivores and ungulates, from the rodents and primates….except the ancestor of that one choked on a bad berry and left the picture.

40Mya-30,000ya: This is where the major mammal groups would have evolved, and also where the real interactions would have occurred between mammal groups.

So that’s the most scientific possibility, but there are plenty of others. If the selective pressure was much higher, it could have driven speciation at a faster rate. …and yes the possibility of Zootopia being a designed society is still a possibility. Disney Magic™ and all that.

Iɽ like to try and make a TLDR for our less science-savvy people on here. Not to say people aren't intelligent, but science is hard, and it has lots of fancy words that makes cursory reading somewhat difficult for people to understand easily.

125,000,000 to 95,000 000 000 years ago, we get the foundation for sentience in ancient mammal ancestors. They are separated and isolated, so continue to evolve a bit on the path to become all the different species we know today, but they're all still mostly similar.

At this point in time dinosaurs still existed, and they were the big boys in town. They were the apex predators, and mammals at the time were small and mostly came out at night to avoid the big bad dinos.

2. 95,000,000 to 65,000,000 year ago, mammals continue spreading across the planet, and their evolution into all the different kinds of species continue. Most mammals were still relatively similar to one another, with only a few big breaks, with the pangolins becoming very different form the rest, as well as the armadillos, anteaters, and sloths. At this time carnivores didn't exist yet, because pretty much all mammals were prey for the dinosaurs, and mammals had to survive on whatever they could get their paws on. Mostly bugs, plants, and seeds, since fruits didn't exist yet, and mammals didn't make the best predators at the time.

3. 65,000,000 years ago. The Comet. The Cretaceous–Paleogene (K–Pg) extinction event.. A 10-km wide rock smashed into earth, pulverizing anything immediately under it, creating the Chicxulub crater, and causing the extinction of pretty much everything that was heavier than 25 pounds. Bye-bye T-rex.

It was a huge explosion, creates massive tsunamis, and sent dust and rock flying all over the planet. The dust blocked out the sun, killed off a lot of plants, and cooled down the planet significantly.

Mammals at that time had a few advantages. While dinosaurs were around mammals had to stay small to not get eaten, so we were better able to survive the impact. Mammals also were endotherm (making their own heat), possibly to work better at night, so they needed more energy than cold-blooded animals at the time. Needing more energy meant that other species could reproduce faster, but mammals worked better outside of the ideal temperature range. When the ash clouds choked the atmosphere and temperature dropped, mammals were in pretty good shape to survive the cold.

Also, fun fact, this is around when leafy trees began taking over, and replace the conifer forests. Fruits also appeared around this point.

4. and 5. 65,000,000 to 30,000,000 years ago, once the dust settled a bit, the world was changed forever. There were no more massive dinosaur predators to force mammals to hide, remain small, and come out only at night. Mammals could start spreading out with far less danger, adapting to new habitats, and eventually some mammals becoming the top predators themselves. Without the dinosaurs to hunt the mammals, mammals evolved into predators, and into prey. We basically took the dinosaur's place after they were gone. Mammals evolved into many different roles, predators, ungulates, insectivores, bats, whales, etc etc etc, and this is what created the species that we all know today.

The only exception was that one Haplorhini ancestor, who choked on a berry, fell out of his tree, and died not long after the comets, and like that apes never happened.

One possible thing to drive intelligence further was the need to adapt to so many different environments across the board, and how using tools could help mammals both adapt to their new homes, and to fight off the other mammals who became predators.

This picture in particular suggests to me that predator-prey competition might have driven tool use and intelligence faster too. Bunnies develop spears to keep predators away, and it could be that predators in turn learned tool use to better help them hunt.

Correct me if I'm wrong anywhere eng050599, and for anyone else, if you have questions, or want a scientific -> regular english translation, please don't hesitate!

For the record, eng050599 is far more qualified than me for the hard science, and I like to keep things a bit more fuzzy on the realism, but on a scale from 0-100% realism, eng050599 might fall more on the 99% side of things, and Iɽ be happy with 60-75%, depending on how I feel and what we're talking about, so take what I say with a grain of non-scientific salt )


Why Are Men So Violent?

It will not have gone unnoticed that men are more violent than women. Men perpetrate about 90 percent of the world's homicides and start all of the wars. But why?

A recent article in a prominent science journal contends that evolution has shaped men to be warriors. More specifically, the authors claim that men are biologically programmed to form coalitions that aggress against neighbors, and they do so in order to get women, either through force or by procuring resources that would make them more desirable. The male warrior hypothesis is alluring because it makes sense of male violence, but it is based on a dubious interpretation of the science. In my new book, I point out that such evolutionary explanations of behavior are often worse than competing historical explanations. The same is true in this case. There are simpler historical explanations of male violence, and understanding these is important for coping with the problem.

A historical explanation of male violence does not eschew biological factors, but it minimizes them and assumes that men and women are psychologically similar. Consider the biological fact that men have more upper-body strength than women, and assume that both men and women want to obtain as many desirable resources as they can. In hunter-gatherer societies, this strength differential doesn't allow men to fully dominate women, because they depend on the food that women gather. But things change with the advent of intensive agriculture and herding. Strength gives men an advantage over women once heavy ploughs and large animals become central aspects of food production. With this, men become the sole providers, and women start to depend on men economically. The economic dependency allows men to mistreat women, to philander, and to take over labor markets and political institutions. Once men have absolute power, they are reluctant to give it up. It took two world wars and a post-industrial economy for women to obtain basic opportunities and rights.

This historical story can help to explain why men are more violent than women. The men who hold power will fight to keep it, and men who find themselves without economic resources feel entitled to acquire things by force if they see no other way. With these assumptions, we can dispense with the male warrior hypothesis, which is advanced by Melissa McDonald, Carlos Navarrete, and Mark Van Vugt in the latest issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. These three psychologists imply that male violence is natural and inevitable, but all the evidence they offer can be explained by the simpler assumption that farming technologies allowed men to co-opt power over the course of human history.

  • The authors claim that men are more xenophobic than women, because they are wired to wage war. But this is also predicated on the historical account, because men control governments and handle foreign relations. It follows, too, that men start all wars.
  • The authors contend that, compared to women, men prefer social dominance hierarchies, which testifies to their innately competitive nature. But this is easily explained on the social story: in male dominant societies, men gain from dominance hierarchies, and women lose.
  • The authors note that men are more prone to cooperate when under threat than otherwise, which may suggest an instinct to form armies. But a simpler explanation is that, having obtained power, men are reluctant to cooperate except under pressure.
  • The authors cite a disturbing study in which men endorse war after being primed with a picture of an attractive woman, which suggests that male violence has a sexual motive. But the link between sex and violence may derive from the fact that sex is often coercive in male dominant societies.
  • The authors link the male warrior hypothesis to racism: white men, they say, show greater fear responses to pictures of black men, than do white women. But this is difficult to explain on any evolutionary hypothesis, since there would have been little ethnic diversity in our ancestral past. Racism is more readily linked to the social history of slavery, an industry run by men.
  • The authors also remark that women become more racist at times of peak fertility, suggesting fear of impregnation by foreign invaders. A different explanation is that menstrual peaks also bring out strong emotions, which lets latent racism come to the fore.

The male warrior hypothesis makes many predictions that don't pan out. There is no evidence that men prefer foreign women—the Western ideal is Barbie—and women often like effeminate men: David Bowie would not be sexier with an enormous beard. On the male warrior hypothesis, women should fear foreigners as much as men do, because foreign men are hardwired to attack them, but women are actually more sympathetic to foreigners. This may stem from their firsthand knowledge of discrimination. Women are also more cooperative than men, which makes little sense if men are innate coalition builders.

There are dubious presuppositions as well. The warrior hypothesis assumes there was constant warfare in our evolutionary past, but some anthropologists argue that ancestral populations were too sparse for frequent contact. It also presupposes that warfare increases male fertility, when it may actually reduce fertility for all. Fertility is probably maximized when men are non-violent and share in childcare, but in many societies men beat their wives, neglect their children, and practice sex-selective infanticide against girls. The authors perpetuate the myth that evolution prefers men to be polygamous and females to be monogamous, but we see every variation in other species. In chimpanzees, both sexes seek multiple partners.

Social history explains such facts by proposing that men have taken power by their greater strength, leading to violent competition and the abuse of women. This approach correctly predicts cross-cultural variation in gender differences. As women gain economic power, they cease being treated as male property, age differences between romantic partners shrink, and violence against women diminishes. On the flipside, women who gain power, like Margaret Thatcher and Condoleezza Rice, are often hawkish, suggesting that power, not gender, determines belligerence. Women in the judiciary dole out harsher penalties than men. And woman are committing more acts of domestic violence than previously recorded.

To reduce male violence, it is not sufficient to reform men, as the defenders of the male warrior hypothesis recommend. Nor will it suffice to empower women. This will reduce domestic violence, but not war, because women can be as aggressive as men. Warfare did not decline precipitously with women's suffrage, and during recent conflicts with Russia, 43 percent of Chechen suicide bombers have been women. Crucially, we must reduce the incentives for violence. In a recent book, Steven Pinker documents a radical reduction in violence with the rise of democracy and global trade, a comforting confirmation that social factors matter (for two reviews see here and here). I think Pinker's optimism may be overstated: global trade has done less to remedy the poverty that devastates lives of people outside the economic partnerships between wealthy nations healthy trading relationships can lead one nation to overlook the human rights abuses in another and there have also been dozens of attempts at genocide since the Second World War. In fact, Pinker too eagerly accepts the myth of the ignoble savage: the idea that humans are violent by nature. But his book does contain a crucial insight. He shows that patterns of violence can be dramatically altered by historical forces. Attitudes towards slavery, torture, and honor killing change over time, and this should make us realize that the biological contributions to violence may be greatly outweighed by the sociological.

Violence is a complex problem, which no simple biological approach can diagnose or remedy. Factors such as political instability, population density, and income inequality are associated with massive differences in violence across cultures, and these differences are observed while gender ratios remain constant. Of course, men still hold most of the power in the world, and it is no surprise, then, that they perpetrate most of the violence. But that too is a historical fact, not a biological given. If we focus on biology instead of economic and historical variables, we will miss out on opportunities for progress.


This Is Just To Say

July 6th, 2014 · No Comments

The Law of Conservation of Energy states that energy may not be created or destroyed, only changed in form. All creative endeavours are subject to the same Law. We do not create out of nothing but simply change or utilise mediums to produce an effect: a representation of the cognitive process which deigns us to place this next to that, chip away here or there, mix this with a cropped version of that, take this short story and rewrite it for the stage.

But why am I not satisfied with the thought only or the inner mind’s vision? Why do I seek to engage certain objects and often in ways they may have never imagined? Why does a particular scene hold a significance for me or lead me to think that to capture it would be an or the ultimate expression of my artistic thought? Why does a poem inspire me to manipulate its language for my own ends? And what makes me think that at any point what I am doing is creating? The piece (the work) is the material manifestation of the drive which leads me here—the passion which compels me to make art.

Some artists admit their predilection for collage or pastiche. We even have words like collage or pastiche to lend credibility to this sort of endeavour. But it is all as such. We are all simply changing that which was already there. Not some postmodern apathetic notion of the futility and unoriginality of existence in this time. It is a continuum upon which we sit. Ashes to ashes…paint to canvas. The matter remains the same only altered by the contortions we exact upon it. And despite its inclinations otherwise. To be an artist is to be despotic with ones tools. I make them do what I want them to do I change them in form.

When I put paint to canvas it remains paint and canvas. I have simply exacted a juxtaposition neither the paint nor canvas had the will or means to exact. I do not create, therefore, I rearrange. Art may not be created or destroyed, only rearranged in form. This is how I make art.

Such is true with the adaptation. Indeed, this Law of Conservation of Art insists that adaptation is inevitable. There is no reason why one might argue beyond personal proclivity that the media of raw language or visual representation is any more valid than an already extant piece of writing. Indeed, art must evolve in order to exist and this evolution requires, along with the altering of raw materials, that certain works are co-opted and changed in form.

I have stated
the argument
that was in
my brain

and which
you may or may not
contradict
in a new post

Forgive me
it was inevitable
so sweet
and so cold


Beauty comes with many social benefits.

If you’ve ever heard a story about a pretty woman charming her way out of a speeding ticket, then you’re familiar with some of the ways beauty can influence society.

Even research shows that the beautiful are seen as inherently good.

For example, Karen Dion, one of the pioneers of attractiveness research, found that adults treat good-looking children much better than they treat unattractive ones.

Dion’s experiment showed that adults who observed a beautiful seven-year-old stomping on a dog’s tail were likely to give that child the benefit of the doubt: maybe he was having a bad day or hadn’t been properly taught by his parents.

But when unattractive kids were seen doing the same thing, they were immediately suspected of being up to no good or viewed as juvenile delinquents.

This preferred treatment extends to the beautiful adults among us, who tend to be on the receiving end of generous acts.

In 1977, scientists conducted a social experiment. They left a dime in a phone booth, and on separate occasions they had a beautiful woman and an unattractive woman go to the phone booth and ask the person inside, “Did I leave my dime there?”

Results showed that 87 percent of the people returned the dime to the beautiful woman, and only 64 percent returned it to the unattractive one.

This biased treatment reinforces a certain cycle of behavior: beautiful people end up getting used to this special treatment, and, as a result, they develop a sense of entitlement.

In another study, participants were placed in an interview with a psychologist. During the session, the psychologist was interrupted so as to keep the participant waiting.

The attractive people would wait for an average of 3.3 minutes before demanding attention less attractive people patiently waited around for an average of 9 minutes.


Jeff's Lunchbreak

A Response to Ben Carson's Creation vs. Evolution Video

Note: for a list of all my Carson related entries, go here.

This is my third entry inspired by a speech Carson gave a few years ago, but was just posted to YouTube in June of this year. The first entry was Ben Carson Being Noticed by Popular Science Writers, where I mostly described popular science writers' reactions to the video. Then next entry was Yet Another Look at Ben Carson's Views on Evolution - His Creation vs. Evolution Speech, where I mostly explained why this speech made Carson unfit for the presidency. But I didn't really rebut Carson's misinformation in either of those entries. I merely stated how wrong he was, without demonstrating it. That actually was on purpose, since as I wrote in that second entry, "I'm tempted to go into a point by point refutation of Carson, but there are so many falsehoods and misunderstandings, it would make this post extremely long." But, since I know not everybody studies evolution as much as I like to, I realize that not everybody might understand just how wrong Carson is in this video, so I have decided to do a more detailed rebuttal to his claims. Even ignoring politics, this is an opportunity to educate people on some common creationist misconceptions. Like I expected, this has made for a very long post.

First, just to repeat a theme I've written in both of those previous entries, the aspect of this video that's so damning of Carson isn't merely his ignorance of evolutionary theory, but that he was unable to recognize his own ignorance on the issue, and that despite this ignorance, he was arrogant enough to give a prepared lecture to a crowd of people. As I wrote in the second entry, "Most of us are ignorant about a whole range of issues, but we don't go around giving speeches about those issues." How can we trust Carson to recognize his own limitations?

I know this is a long entry. In fact, some individual answers could stand as their own entries. But I decided to address Carson's mistakes on evolution comprehensively, and he had so many mistakes. On the plus side, many of these mistakes are common creationist mistakes not limited to Carson, so addressing them comprehensively does offer an opportunity to educate others. But, if you want to just skim over this entry and only read the portions that catch your eye, that's understandable.

To keep this entry from growing even longer than it is, I mostly limited myself to discussing evolution, even though Carson discussed a few more topics. However, a few of his statements on those other topics were just too tempting to pass up, so they're discussed here, too.

As a note on the quotes, I've included a time stamp at the start of each quote, which is actually a link to that spot on the YouTube video, so that you can find it in the video to hear it for yourself. I transcribed these quotes myself, so any errors are my fault. I left out most of his 'ums' or stutters, but I was a little inconsistent in the phrase, 'you know', sometimes including it, sometimes not.

I've organized this discussion by topic, so if you want to jump ahead to particular topics, you can use the links below. I've even included links for each particular quote of Carson's that I discussed.


Finally, here's the video in full:

Humans are not the only creatures who can plan for the future based on past experience. It does seem to be a rare ability, since intelligence itself is rare, or at least, the type of intelligence approaching ours (and with good evolutionary reason, see: If Humans Went Extinct, Would Something Like Us Evolve Again), but not unheard of in other animals. Elephants are one example. Orcas and other cetaceans may have this ability, though it's tough to measure the intelligence of an animal so much different than us.

One of my favorite anecdotes on this topic is an orangutan named Fu Manchu. He was an orangutan at the Omaha zoo who had a habit of escaping from his enclosure. In one method he worked out, he'd climb through the air vents down to a moat, go to a furnace door, then use his strength to pull open the door enough to get a wire through there to pick the lock. He held onto this wire all day long, keeping it hidden in his mouth so that zookeepers wouldn't see it. This whole episode reveals analyzing his surroundings, making a plan on how to escape, having the foresight to obtain the wire and use it to pick the lock, and having enough theory of mind to know to keep the wire hidden from zookeepers.

This, to me, is one of the most surprising errors from Carson, considering that he's a neurosurgeon and should understand how memory works. The idea that our memory is like a video camera, and that we remember everything we see, is a rather pervasive myth, but still incorrect. Not only are our memories not as accurate initially as we think they are, they can change over time to become increasingly inaccurate. Here's a decent article discussing several common misconceptions people have about how memory works, Your Memory Might Not Be As Powerful As You Think. The article's based on a survey conducted by psychologists who focus on memory research, with links to articles about other studies on memory.

Two of my favorite studies pointing out how fallible our memories can be are the Challenger Study and the 911 Study. In both of these studies, on the day after the disaster occurred, researchers asked study participants questions about how they learned of the disaster - where they were, how they found out, their emotional responses, etc. The researchers then followed up asking the same questions at a later period - one year later for the Challenger study, and one week, 11 months, and 36 months later for the 9/11 study. And what they found were that by about a year later, around half of people's recollections of the events were different from what they'd described on the day after the disaster, sometimes extremely different. Our memories aren't set in stone in our brains. They're malleable, and subject to change. We certainly don't remember every single thing we have seen or heard as Carson stated in this presentation.

Unlike most of Carson's statements below, this isn't a factual error, but an argument from incredulity. It's merely a modern version of Paley's watchmaker argument, turned to genes instead of the whole organism, but no more convincing.

Here's an article from the site, Damn Interesting, On the Origin of Circuits. It describes an experiment using "a special type of chip called a Field-Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) whose internal logic can be completely rewritten as opposed to the fixed design of normal chips." The researcher, Dr. Adrian Thompson, had a set goal for the chip - to distinguish between a 1 kHz and a 10 kHz tone by outputting different voltages for each tone. He initially assigned random programs to the chip, and then every 'generation' thereafter, selected the programs that did the best at distinguishing between the two tones. For the next generation, he swapped elements of source code between those selected programs, and introduced random 0/1 mutations into the code. The whole process was analogous to selection, mating, and mutation. After 4000 generations, he had a program that performed the task flawlessly. But when he looked at what the program was doing, he couldn't figure it out at all. There were weird feedback loops, and isolated circuits that didn't appear to be doing anything to the main circuit, but when he tried disabling those isolated circuits, the whole thing quit working.

Thompson had used random mutation combined with selection to create a program to perform a specific task, but the results were nothing like what a human programmer would have come up with. DNA is similar. You can use the analogy of calling it a program, but it bears the same hallmarks as Thompsons evolved program, with weird feedback loops, interactions between genes, and strange coding quirks, like having parts of a gene being physically separated on a chromosome (this article on the limitations of the gene model describes some of these complications). I suppose a creationist could counter that God could use more complex programming than human programmers, but unless you're suggesting that Thompson's experiment was also programmed by God, it seems much more reasonable to conclude that this type of convoluted program is the result of random mutation and selection.

The other way DNA differs from a well executed computer program is just how much of it doesn't do anything, what's come to be called junk DNA. Here's a good article discussing this, Is Most of Our DNA Garbage?. It presents views from junk DNA proponents and critics, but I think the evidence presented makes it pretty clear that much of our DNA actually is junk. Only around 1.2% of the genome actually codes for proteins. And while some of the non-coding portions perform useful functions, like regulation or coding for RNA, there are plenty of indications that much of it isn't important, such as the amount of mutations those sections can tolerate, pseudogenes, transposable elements, and the variability they exhibit between species (why would an onion require 12 times more functional genetic material than a person, and how could a pufferfish get by with a genome 1/7th the size of a human's).

It's also interesting to see someone try to use genetics to try to argue against evolution and common descent, when genetics provides some of the most striking evidence in support of common descent. Here's an article from last year, This Picture Has Creationists Terrified, that despite it's click-baity title is actually very interesting. It shows the remarkable similarity between the chromosomes of humans and other apes, including a photo of all the chromosomes from each species lined up next to each other. One of the interesting quirks of our evolutionary history is that all the other apes have 24 chromosome pairs, while humans have only 23. For common descent to be true, that predicts that there must have been some type of fusion event in the human lineage since our split with the chimps and bonobos. And there's evidence for this fusion right there in our chromosome 2. There are remnants of non-functional telomeres in the center of the chromosome right where you'd expect them, and the non-functional remnant of one of the centromeres (telomeres are the ends of chromosomes - regions "of repetitive nucleotide sequences at each end of a chromatid, which protects the end of the chromosome from deterioration or from fusion with neighboring chromosomes," while centromeres are in the middle of chromosomes - "the part of a chromosome that links sister chromatids"). If humans were the result of special creation, why would we have the non-functional remnants of chromosomes that look for all the world to show our common ancestry with other apes?

Rather than go on and on with examples of genetic evidence for evolution, I'll just provide a link to another page on this site, Ein Sophistry's Genetic Evidence of Evolution.

There are a lot of misconceptions in this passage. First is Carson's expectation that fossils should be so numerous, but I've addressed this topic more thoroughly below, so I won't get into it here.

Luckily for us, though, we have been able to find many more than just one specimen of A. afarensis. Granted, many of these are pretty fragmentary, but the specimens are complementary, with holes in some specimens being filled (figuratively) by material from another, so that overall we have a pretty complete view of what this creature looked like. According to a page from the Smithsonian Institute, remains from more than 300 individuals have been found. The Wikipedia entry for A. afarensis lists fossils from several individuals, including one site, AL 333 which contains remains from at least 13 individuals, quite possibly the 'colony' that Carson was asking for (though what might have killed an entire family and left all of their remains in one place is an open question).

I am going to point out a mistake from Carson that, although not hugely important to his larger point, just further highlights his unfamiliarity with the topic. The fossil known as Lucy doesn't have a very complete skull at all, receding forehead or otherwise. What made Lucy so special was how complete her skeleton was. Here's a photo of all the bones from Lucy that were found:

But like I wrote above, fossils from other individuals can fill in our knowledge of what A. afarensis skulls looked like, such as AL 444-2, or the toddler, Selam.


AL 444-2
(Image Source: Smithsonian Institute)
DIK-1/1, aka Selam
(Image Source: Dikika Research Project)

And yes, paleoanthropologists do consider whether or not the features in skulls might be due to deformities (the more recent finds of Homo floresiensis provide a great example of this kind of debate). And to be clear, it's not just the skull of A. afarensis that paleoanthropologists use to distinguish it as a separate species, but the overall skeleton, such as the pelvis, limb proportions, and curved fingers for climbing.

Given Carson's mention of Lucy as 'the missing link', it might be that he thinks she was the only transitional form between our arboreal ape ancestors and us. If so, then he's again mistaken, and not just for the other specimens of A. afarensis that I mentioned above. Since this is a common creationist misconception, I've written about it before, and I'm going to paraphrase/quote myself here.

Australopithecus afarensis is far from the only transitional form known. If you visit the Wikipedia page on Australopithecus, you'll find several more species just in that genus, including A. bahrelghazali, A. anamensis, A. africanus, A. garhi, and A. sediba.


Australopithecus sediba (left and right) compared to Lucy (center)
(Image Source: Wikipedia)

And there are many more types of hominids that have been discovered outside of that genus - two species of Ardipithecus, three species of Paranthropus, and many species of Homo. Keep in mind, though, that taxonomy is improved with new discoveries and new analyses, and some of those groupings may be shuffled around in the future (such as they have in the past, for instance when A. Robustus was shifted to a new genus, Paranthropus).

Below is a preview of an image from the excellent resource, Talk Origins (I highly recommend clicking on the link below to see the full version at their site, along with accompanying text). It shows a sampling of several hominid skulls, including a chimpanzee. It's clear how similar all of those skulls are, and how they can be arranged from most similar to a chimpanzee to most similar to a human, with only small differences between each skull in the series. Keep in mind that this is not a direct path of evolution from chimp to human, since we didn't evolve from chimps, but share a common ancestor with them. Rather, this image shows many related cousins, some more closely related than others, in an approximation of what the line from ancient ancestor to modern human might have been like. The fact that these skulls grade so seamlessly from chimp to human is to be expected from evolution and the gradual change that entails. There is no stark division between non-human apes and us.


Homind Skull Comparison
(Image Source: Talk Origins)

Since this is the first Darwin quote I'm going to discuss, let me just say this up front. Darwin was not a prophet or high priest of science. His words are not gospel. While he is highly respected for all his insights and hard work to develop his theory of natural selection, modern scientists are not obliged to faithfully preserve Darwin's ideas. In fact, Darwin did make mistakes, and much new information has been learned since his time. The modern synthesis combined genetics and natural selection, and modern evolutionary theory is much more than what Darwin published back in 1859.

Darwin didn't just go off to the Galápagos. His voyage on the Beagle spent a lot of time in South America, including the Galápagos Islands, but also went to Australia, Tahiti, and other places (more info: Book Review - Voyage of the Beagle). Darwin was able to observe patterns in many, many locations, not just one set of islands. And the observations that intrigued him weren't just the fact that islands had unique animals, but the relationship of the animals to those from other regions, a topic that is now developed into the formal discipline of biogeography. The Galápagos, being close to the South American mainland, had animals most closely related to the animals from South America, yet still distinct species. But from a creationist perspective, why should that be the case? If animals were specially created in their habitats, why should the animals on the Galápagos be most closely related to animals from the mainland, rather than animals that live on different islands with similar habitats? And if the flood were true, why should there even be any type of correlation of closely related species being close together geographically, when all animals would have dispersed from Mount Ararat after the flood was over (why would the marsupials have traveled as a group straight to Australia)? But this is exactly what's expected with common descent. The Galápagos, being volcanic islands and relatively young geologically, would have been settled by wayward pioneers that somehow got there from the mainland, who after enough generations of isolation, would have become distinct species.

This brings up another point. Calling Darwin a 'keen observer' undersells everything else he did to develop the theory of natural selection. Darwin was also prolific at performing experiments to test his ideas. When it came to the issue of how organisms could have gotten from the mainland to islands, he didn't just rely on his observations from the Beagle and then conjecture from there. He ran experiments on different animals to see how well they could have survived salt water conditions, and whether it was plausible for them to have made the journey (more info: Book Review - Origin of Species).

Actually, that is fairly definitive proof of evolution, though only a small piece of evidence in support of universal common descent. Part of the problem is that Carson wants to define evolution differently from how evolutionary biologists define it. Here's the definition given by Douglas Futuyma in his textbook, Evolutionary Biology (source: Talk Origins Archive):

So yes, the fact that a drought killed off the finches with smaller beaks because they couldn't eat the available food sources, while birds with thicker beaks survived, is a perfect example of natural selection and evolution. There was a population with a variety of genes for growing different types of beaks. An environmental pressure came along that shifted the gene pool of the population to one with more genes for growing thicker beaks. That is evolution.

And even though, as I said, this is only a small piece of evidence for universal common descent, it is a piece of the picture. As I describe in response to the very next quote, speciation has been observed. The finch example Carson discussed, and many others, are examples of traits changing within populations (there are even examples of organisms developing new structures, such as a lizard population that evolved cecal valves). So, in the modern day, we can observe the types of processes that are necessary for universal common descent to be true, and if these processes were carried out over generations and generations, they would produce big evolutionary changes.

Yes, they have. Here's one page from Talk Origins on the topic, Observed Instances of Speciation, and another, Some More Observed Speciation Events. One interesting example is the London Underground mosquito, as described in the article, The London Underground Has Its Own Species Of Mosquito. The distribution is actually a little wider than just London, but this is a new mosquito species that appears to have formed in the time of subways, with unique adaptations to its subterranean environment.

However, keep in mind that speciation 'events' aren't necessarily rapid, and that species is a fuzzy concept, anyway. I have an entry, Which Came First, the Chicken or the Egg? And a Discussion of the Fuzziness of Species, discussing this fuzziness, and how it can be difficult to determine when two different populations merit the designation of separate species, rather than just varieties or breeds of the same species. A potential ongoing speciation event is that of the apple maggot flies. Their ancestors laid their eggs exclusively on hawthornes, which are native to North America. With the introduction of apples by Europeans, some of the flies began laying their eggs on apples. Right now, the flies that are born on hawthornes tend to look for mates and lay their eggs on hawthornes, while the flies that are born on apples tend to do likewise but with apples. So, there are currently two populations of these flies, with little gene flow between the two populations, and with genetic differences starting to show up between the populations. It's possible that given enough time, these two populations will have accumulated enough separate mutations that they can no longer interbreed and will have become separate species.

Now, having talked and corresponded with several creationists in the past, I suspect Carson might say that the London Underground mosquitos are still just mosquitos, and that the apple maggot flies are still just flies, but that overlooks that these are still examples of speciation, where one interbreeding population has become two separate populations. This is a pre-requisite of the branching pattern we see with universal common descent - populations must split into separate reproductively isolated populations so that those populations can take separate evolutionary paths and develop different traits in each population. The types of large scale changes, such as from a land based hoofed animal to a whale, are going to take many, many, many generations to accumulate, and nobody would expect to see such changes occur rapidly.

I've read both The Origin and The Voyage of the Beagle, and I don't recall any such statements from Darwin. In fact, Darwin hardly discussed fossils at all in The Origin, focusing mainly on other lines of evidence, like biogeography and the difficulties of distinguishing between true species and mere varieties. Perhaps he said or wrote it somewhere else, but it doesn't seem consistent with what he's written that I have read.

Many, many new fossils and species have been discovered since Darwin's time. I've already discussed Lucy and human ancestors above. Tiktaalik roseae is a particularly noteworthy fossil found just a few years ago. A whole host of fossils have been found documenting whale evolution. Feathered dinosaur fossils have been found in the dozens. In 2014, a new species of dinosaur was discovered nearly every week (that was a particularly productive year). The list goes on. Anyone who doesn't think that an abundance of fossils has been found since Darwin's time hasn't been paying attention. And this trend shows no signs of slowing down, indicating that there are many, many fossil species still undiscovered.

But despite how many fossils have been found, we'll never have a situation like the one Carson describes, where we could "line up, from a single cell organism to man, several miles long, and just walk right down the fossil trail, and see how everything evolved." To quote myself from a previous entry, "We are lucky to have a fossil record at all. Just consider what it takes for us to find a fossil . When most organisms die, they get eaten and decomposed, and there aren't any recognizable remains. It takes a special set of circumstances for remains to get covered up quickly enough that they don't decompose, but gently enough that they don't get dashed to pieces, and it's even rarer still for this to happen to a nearly complete skeleton/tree/whatever type of organism, and not just bits and pieces. And it's even rarer still for this to happen to soft tissue, and not just hard parts. Then, even if just the right circumstances existed for a fossil to form, we need to be lucky enough to find it once it's been exposed by erosion, but before erosion carries on further and destroys the fossil altogether."

I'll add to that something I learned from Dawkins' Greatest Show on Earth, that not a single fossil has ever been found for a specimen of the phylum, Platyhelminthes, or flatworms, even though it consists of tens of thousands of species, and billions (at least) of individuals. To paraphrase myself again, if we can't find fossils of all existing species, why should we expect to find fossils of all extinct species?

This is an idea that's been coined in recent years as Irreducible Complexity. Here's how Michael Behe, the man who coined the term, defined it.

The idea is supposed to be that if the system can't function properly without each of those individual parts, then there's no way that system could have evolved through conventional evolutionary means. But every example I've ever seen of irreducible complexity fails in one of three ways. First, the system may not actually require every single component to function. It may function better with all the current components in place, but versions of the system without certain components would still be functional (see the eye below). The second way is in ignoring the way evolution co-opts certain features for new functions. Perhaps if you remove certain components of a system, it may not perform it's current function, but it might instead perform a different function, providing an evolutionary path for that system to emerge. The third is biological 'scaffolds'. Think about an arch. If you take away any piece of the arch, it would fall. But we know that arches weren't constructed instantaneously. Builders put up scaffolding, build the arch around the scaffolding, then take the scaffolding down. The evolutionary development of certain organs could have done something similar, with features that existed in our ancestors, but have since been lost. The Wikipedia link given above includes several examples of so-called Irreducible Complexity that turn out in fact to be reducible. One of the most touted examples, the bacterial flagellum, is discussed in this article by Ken Miller, The Flagellum Unspun: The Collapse of "Irreducible Complexity" (by the way, Miller is a practicing Catholic who accepts and studies evolution).

It is interesting to see Carson using the kidneys, since the embryonic development of kidneys in humans provides yet another piece of evidence of our evolutionary history. This is discussed in the article, Evidence for evolution: development of our kidneys. Although the phrase, 'ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny', has been shown to be too simplistic, embryology still reveals patterns that point strongly to common descent. As far as kidneys go, humans actually grow three sets of kidneys during development. The first, the pronephric kidney, is functionally useless in humans. It does nothing, and is reabsorbed back into the embryo. The second is the mesonephric kidney, which actually does filter wastes from the blood, excreting the waste through mesonephric ducts. However, it gets replaced after a few weeks by metanephric kidneys, which also filter wastes from the blood, but excrete that waste through tubes called ureters. The thing is, each of the three kidneys is homologous to kidneys in other organisms. The pronephric kidney is homologous to that of lampreys and hagfish. The mesonephric kidney is homologous to that of fish and amphibians. And the metanephric kidney is homologous to that of reptiles, birds, and, unsurprisingly, mammals.

There are evolutionary reasons why the two 'older model' kidneys might be retained for development. For one, development is a tightly constrained process, so there may just be no good evolutionary way to get rid of pronephric kidneys that doesn't screw up the rest of the organism's development. And development can be a bit weird (think back to the programming example above). Maybe those structures are necessary to stimulate other development in the embryo. These types of holdovers are expected from evolution, but make no sense from special creation. Why not just have an embryo grow one set of kidneys that will stick with it for life?

The ending of this quote is something that Carson repeated numerous times throughout this presentation, the whole, " 'Well, we don't understand everything.' I say, 'Well, I don't think you understand anything.' " To be frank, this does make me question Carson's honesty. I'm about to give an explanation for eye evolution that isn't obscure. Darwin himself proposed a plausible scenario back in the first edition of The Origin over 150 years ago (Chapter 6), and a quick Google search will yield much more recent work on the topic, actually getting down to the genetic and molecular level. I've got a book sitting at home (still on my to-read list) devoted completely to this one topic. If Carson is being honest when he says that he asked 'evolutionists' about the evolution of the eye, and if by 'evolutionists' he means qualified evolutionary biologists, science writers, or educators, he would have surely gotten an answer better than 'we don't understand everything.'

Carson's big mistake here is in assuming that everything present in a human eye needs to be present for an eye to function at all. That's not the case. And it doesn't even take conjecture to demonstrate this, just an examination of some of the eyes that exist right now in living animals.

I've used this particular image a few times now (including in a previous entry on Carson's views on evolution), but it's a particularly good one. The illustrations are all from existing animals. To be clear, these are all mollusc eyes, not vertebrate eyes, but they clearly show a progression from simple eyes with fewer parts to more complex eyes with more parts.


Increasingly Complex Eyes Among Gastropods
Image Source: Forgotten Internet source, but probably originally from Douglas J. Futuyma's Evolutionary Biology

Note how the simplest eye in the diagram is little more than a depression with light sensitive cells - good enough for telling which direction light is coming from, but not for any type of imaging. And there are animals with even simpler eyes, such as echinoderms. In fact, their eyes are so simple that they don't even get called eyes, just eyespots. All they're really capable of is detecting light and dark, not even direction. But obviously, all these simple eyes are useful to the organisms that possess them.

All this shows a probable path for how eyes evolved - light sensitive pigments in un-specialized cells, specialized cells for detecting light, specialized organs for just detecting light, cup type eyes that can also detect direction, and on through all the increasingly complex eyes shown in the diagram above. The fact that most of these stages actually exist in living animals clearly shows that each stage would have been useful.

For some reason, this quote stands out to me as the most arrogant of all of Carson's quotes on evolution. I mean, they're all bad, but this one takes the cake. If he had a real point, it would seem to be such an obvious one that you'd wonder how biologists could have missed it for the past 150 years since Darwin wrote The Origin.

The answer is that the first plants didn't rely on 'bees and other creatures' for pollination. Here's a diagram of plant evolution, showing the major groups.


Plant Family Tree
Image Source: LanBob.com

Notice that flowering plants, the ones Carson was referring to, didn't appear until some time in the Mesozoic. Wikipedia says it was some time in the late Triassic, or a little after the earliest dinosaurs (the Triassic is a period in the Mesozoic era). And just as with my discussion on eye evolution, you don't even have to conjecture on this. There are plenty of living non-flowering plants around that reproduce without the assistance of pollinators.

"So, how did plants reproduce" before the evolution of pollinators? Probably much the same way that mosses, ferns, and pine trees reproduce today.

As the old saying goes, even a broken clock is right twice a day. This really is an open question in evolution - why did sex evolve, and why don't all organisms just reproduce asexually? In a single generation, asexually reproducing individuals can leave twice as many copies of their genes as sexually reproducing individuals, so unless there were some major advantage to sex, you'd expect the asexually reproducing individuals to dominate the population.

There are ideas on what this advantage might be, and research investigating these ideas. One with increasing experimental support is to resist infection or parasites. Here are two good articles on this idea from which I'm pulling much of this information, Why sex? Experiments on fruit flies suggest it evolved to resist infection which looked at research on fruit flies, and Why Have Sex? To Fend Off Parasites, which looked at research on snails.

The general idea is that it's much easier for a parasite or disease to infect a host if it 'knows' the exact genetics of the host (using 'know' metaphorically, of course). Organisms that reproduce asexually make near exact genetic clones, so if the parents are susceptible to a certain strain of a disease, their children are going to be just as susceptible. But when organisms reproduce sexually, they mix up their genes, so even if a parent was susceptible to a disease, their children likely won't be quite as susceptible. In effect, it's creating a constant moving target for infection, so diseases and parasites can't become specialized for one particular genome.

I found the snail study particularly intriguing. The species was Potamopyrgus antipodarum, a type of freshwater snail in New Zealand. These snails can reproduce either sexually or asexually (individual snails are only capable of one strategy). So, right off the bat it's clear there must be a big advantage to sexual reproduction, because even if you doubt universal common descent of all life, here's a single species with two methods of reproduction, yet the asexual method hasn't swept through the entire population. And when the researchers studied these snails, they did find that the asexually reproducing snails were more susceptible to parasite infections, while the sexually reproducing snails were less susceptible. To quote that article, "Despite the costs of sexual reproduction, it seems to have use against parasites. Sexual organisms are genetically rare, and consequently, parasites cannot adapt to them. Evidence from the New Zealand snails show that parasite adaptation to infect common asexual individuals prevents asexuals from eliminating sexuals from the population."

Later on, during the question and answer period, Carson was asked how people would self replicate by splitting apart if evolution were true. Here was his response.

I'll cut Carson some slack here since this was a question, and not part of his prepared speech, but it just once again highlights his ignorance of the topic. Some simple animals can reproduce just by splitting, such as corals and echinoderms. There are also more complex animals that can reproduce asexually. There were the snails I discussed in reference to the previous quote. There are sharks that have been observed to do so in aquariums. There are lizards that reproduce asexually. Of course, those animals don't split. They basically just make clones of themselves in their eggs, and then develop normally the way other animals do. So, maybe in humans, "Those systems have not been developed", but they have in other animals. It's not a mystery how complex animals could reproduce asexually, but it is still a mystery why some do and most don't.

This is one of the first times I've seen a creationist say that evolution predicts we should be better than we are. It's usually all about 'survival of the fittest' and wondering why we're not completely selfish. I'll get to how evolution could produce altruism in response to the next quote, but for right now, let's just take it as a given that altruism exists, and has some benefit to the individual. It should also be clear that from an evolutionary perspective, an individual benefits by being selfish. So for example, if you find a great food source, like a patch of raspberries, or you killed a mammoth, there will be two conflicting evolutionary pressures - be nice and share with your friends, meaning that you lose some of those particular resources but gain good standing in the community, or be greedy and keep all those resources for yourself, but hurt your reputation. So, it's not surprising that evolution has produced a balance in us between these two conflicting impulses. A completely unselfish person might starve to death from never getting enough food for themselves (or be unable to feed their children), while a completely greedy person would lose the support of their community and be cut off from all the resources the community provides.

This isn't even consistent with what he himself said in the previous quote. In that one, he was saying that if evolution were true, we should be much better than we actually are. But here, he's saying that if evolution were true, we should be much worse than we actually are. The least Carson could do is be consistent in his criticisms.

But why has evolution shaped us to want to help others? Why aren't we always just on the lookout for number 1, and to hell with everyone else? There are two big camps on this (though not the only two) - group selection and kin selection. Both of these say that by cooperating with others, you increase your own chances of leaving copies of your genes, but they go about it in slightly different ways.

In group selection, the idea is that cooperating with anybody in your group (or tribe) makes your group more functional and able to outcompete a neighboring group. So, groups with more selfish individuals get outcompeted by groups with cooperating individuals, making the groups with more cooperating individuals more common, and benefitting all members of the cooperative group. This is actually the minority view among most biologists. For a detailed discussion of why, take a look at this article by Steven Pinker, The False Allure of Group Selection.

The more common explanation is kin selection. The more closely related you are to somebody, the more genes you have in common with them. In fact, you are as equally genetically related to your siblings as you are to your children, sharing half of your DNA with either. So, from an evolutionary perspective, saving the life of your sibling is just as advantageous as saving the life of your child, since either scenario results in the same number of your genes being preserved. Likewise, a cousin is the same as your grandchild, etc. So, when you help close relatives, you're still in effect helping your own genes. And a lot of our morality does play out this way. The more closely related someone is to us, the more likely we are to help them. For example, if a complete stranger needed help making rent, you'd be much less likely to help them out than if it was your brother or sister.

But these altruistic behaviors evolved instinctually, not as some rational appraisal of how many genes you share with someone. And since evolution isn't guided by any conscious process, it just goes with what works, not necessarily what we might consider the most direct method of doing things. What I'm getting at is that the indicators evolution used to determine who we should be nicest to just had to usually result in us being nicest to our close relatives, not be perfect indicators of relatedness.

Slightly off topic but a good example of this is the Westermarck effect. This is a type of imprinting, where people become "desensitized to sexual attraction" to those people they're around during their first few years of life. The reason is that for most people, the people you're around most when you're that young are close relatives - parents and siblings. There would be a strong evolutionary advantage to prevent inbreeding and the risks that would cause to their children. But notice that this is an indirect way for evolution to prevent inbreeding. If you were adopted and later met your sibling but didn't know they were your sibling, the Westermark effect doesn't protect you. But because this is so rare compared to children raised by their biological parents, the Westermarck effect still serves its purpose.

So, returning to the evolution of altruism, since kin selection predicts that it's useful for you to help out your own relatives, if you live in a small group that's mostly composed of relatives, then just being nice to everybody in your group works out. You don't have to try to distinguish who's who in your group if nearly everybody is related. And it seems that humans did live in these small family groups for much of our history. Of course, there's a lot more to it than that, but that's the quick explanation.

As long as I'm on the topic of ethics, I'll use it as an excuse to share this video, which I never get tired of (related NPR article). It's an experiment with capuchin monkeys, testing their sense of fairness. Capuchins like cucumbers well enough, but not nearly as much as grapes. It's kind of like the difference with us between a piece of hard candy vs. crème brûlée (or substitute food of your choice). In this experiment, the capuchins have to perform a simple task, for which they're rewarded with a food treat. The twist in this video is that the first monkey to perform the task gets a cucumber as its treat, while the second capuchin gets a grape. The first monkey sees what happens. When it does the task a second time and is offered a cucumber again, instead of a grape like the second monkey, it's reaction is priceless.

Now, you could say that the first monkey is reacting like a child, but the big thing to take away from this is that the monkey's have a sense of fairness, an essential part of our larger sense of morality.

Out of all the stories in the Bible that seem silly to take literally, Noah's Flood is right up there near the top. Aside from the discrepancies between the Jahwist and Priestly sources, there are many practical objections. I have an entry where I discuss this in some detail, with links to lots of other good sources, Noah's Impossible Ark - Some Comments and Links. In fact, I'll just quote part of that entry here.

"The myth of Noah's Ark breaks down on so many levels, that it's hard to believe that people take it seriously as a literal story. First, there's the implausibility of building a wooden ship that big to begin with. Then there's the problem of gathering all those animals to Noah's location (how did the sloths get there). Then Noah had to somehow fit all the animals aboard, along with all the food, water, and other supplies that would have been required. And for the entire time they were on the ark, a crew of 8 were all that were available to care for all those thousands and thousands of animals (just look at the staffs modern zoos require). Then once the flood was over, there's the little problem of getting all the animals back to where they belonged. (Why did most of the marsupials head straight to Australia? And how did the kangaroos cross the Pacific to get there?) And on top of that is the problem of re-population without inbreeding, and without the predators eating the only remaining specimens of those now endangered animals. And the story totally ignores plants and non-land animals. (Freshwater fish can't survive in salty conditions, and vice versa.)

"But all that's granting some plausibility to a global flood happening in the first place. In reality, there's just no evidence that such a flood happened, especially in the time-frame that Biblical literalists claim. [e.g. Egyptian civilization carried on undisturbed.] And there's no known mechanism by which it could have happened, even if every last speck of ice on the planet was melted (sorry Kevin Costner)."

As far as Carson wondering why there might be fossils of shells on the tops of mountains, this is explained by plate tectonics. A good place to start is simply the Wikipedia entry on Mountain Formation. The land that now makes up those particular mountain peaks used to be underwater. When two plates collided, they pushed that land up to form a mountain, taking along whatever fossils had been deposited while the land was underwater.

Even Leonardo Da Vinci, back in the late 1400s, realized that these shells couldn't have been deposited in a year long flood (remember that the 40 days and 40 nights was only how long the rain lasted, not how long the floodwaters lasted), because they were from sessile (non-mobile) animals and showed signs of growth that would have taken longer than a year to form.

Now, this is very similar to the previous quote, but I wanted to focus on one aspect in particular, "And, you look at the geological layers, it makes perfectly good sense that that was done by a worldwide flood." There are many examples to show how this isn't the case, but a particularly striking one is chalk. Chalk is actually made up almost entirely of the remains of marine algae. According to this paper, The Cretaceous Chalk in Southern England, chalk accumulates at a rate of 1 to 6 centimeters per thousand years. In some places, chalk deposits are over 400 m thick. Even at the high rate of 6 cm per thousand years, that would take over 6 million years to form. And it takes very specific conditions. Here's another discussion of chalk, Chalk is weird. Chalk can only form in the absence of land based sediment, or else it would become contaminated with that sediment and wouldn't be chalk. It also requires calm water, because turbulence would keep the remains from settling out (not exactly the conditions proposed in many creationist flood scenarios). Finally, here's a paper from an organization called Old Earth Ministries, specifically in rebuttal to certain outlandish claims that chalk deposits could have been formed during Noah's Flood, Creation Science Rebuttals - Can Noah's Flood Make Any Chalk Beds?.

There are three issues here - relative dating, absolute dating, and index fossils, and Carson doesn't seem to understand any of them.

Let's start with relative dating, since that's the most intuitive, and also the first one that geologists worked out. At the most basic, when you come across geological layers, the deepest ones are the oldest. The layers above them are newer. This just makes intuitive sense, since the older layers need to exist before new layers can build up above them. Of course, you can't just naively assume that the layers have been undisturbed since they were layed down. Tectonic activity and other processes can disturb the layers, so geologists need to look for signs of those disturbances.

The closest thing to what Carson's describing is index fossils. One thing geologists noticed while studying the geological layers is that certain fossils were abundant enough to be found at numerous sites, but that these fossils only occurred in specific layers. These fossils are known as index fossils. They're often (but not always) small, hard bodied organisms, because small organisms tend to have large populations, while hard bodies fossilize better.

Index fossils can be used to help identify layers. If you'd studied enough sites to have the confidence that a certain type of fossil did indeed only occur in specific layers, then if you found that fossil in a site where the geological column wasn't complete or clear, you could still confidently say that that index fossil narrows down the possible layer to the ones where the index fossil occurred. If you can find more than one type of index fossil, you might be able to narrow it down further (i.e. if those separate index fossils had different but overlapping age ranges).

Lest you think this is just something used by 'high falutin' evolutionists, index fossils are very important to the petroleum industry, where their utility trumps any culture wars. According to a page on the Southeastern Louisiana University website:

Fossils can also be used to identify rock layers that may contain oil deposits. By collecting and identifying fossils from different rock strata, it is possible to describe the ancient environments of different times (and depths) and to find areas more conducive to oil production. After drilling oil over many years, it became obvious that specific types of fossils are found in layers of rock that are more likely to contain oil.

These fossils are called index fossils because they indicate the likely presence of oil [not exactly correct]. Petroleum geologists and micropaleontologists look for the presence of index fossils in test well samples to make decisions about drilling locations.

Now, as far as absolute dating, that is whether a deposit is 65 million years old or 130 million years old, scientists must rely on radiometric dating (which is slightly different than carbon dating, which can only give reliable dates to about 50,000 years old). Radiometric dating itself relies on igneous rocks, or the types of rocks made from cooling lava. It can even be volcanic ash, which ends up in a lot more locations than lava flows. When the lava solidifies into rock, all of the elements in it become 'frozen'. However, radioactive elements will still decay, breaking down into other elements. By measuring the relative quantities of the radioactive elements and their decay products, and by knowing the half life of the radioactive element, it's possible to determine how long it's been since the lava cooled to form the rock. Of course, as with everything else, there are things the scientists have to watch out for, such as contamination which would skew the ratios, but these types of issues are understood and accounted for (see that Wikipedia link for a much more detailed description of how it all works). I've actually discussed radiometric dating before in review of a creationist book I read, Book Review - Thousands, Not Billions, Part II.

But fossils typically occur in sedimentary layers, not igneous layers. So how do you use igneous layers to date fossils? The answer is dating the igneous layers or volcanic ash above and below the sedimentary layers you're interested in. This is the simplest, most direct way to date a fossil, and the preferred way if you can manage it. But recalling the discussion above about known layers and index fossils, even if you don't have any igneous layers or ash around the fossil site you're interested in, if you can determine what layer it fits into in the geologic column, and that layer itself has been dated with igneous rock or ash at different sites, then you can at least narrow down the age range of your fossil (though not nearly as narrowly as if there were volcanic debris above and below the fossil).

I tried to avoid most of the Big Bang and cosmology questions, since I don't know as much about those topics as evolution. Plus, just imagine how long this entry would have been if I'd responded to all of Carson's mistakes on those topics, as well. So, for the most part, I'm just going to direct readers to this article by physicist Lawrence Krauss, Ben Carson's Scientific Ignorance. There were three quotes I couldn't pass up, though.

Way back in the early days of this blog, I wrote an entry, Creation Museum/Creationist Rule of Thumb with the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. It was one of my first entries to get a lot of hits. And one of the things I wrote was this, "Anytime somebody tries to use the Second Law of Thermodynamics to refute evolution, you should realize you're dealing with somebody who doesn't understand science or who is a liar." A bit later I added, "Creationists that use the Second Law of Thermodynamics argument really are the bottom of the barrel."

In this case, Carson's using the Second Law in relation to the larger history of the universe, but it's no better than applying it specifically to evolution. The Second Law doesn't predict that everything everywhere continually tends toward disorder no matter what. If that was the case, life itself couldn't exist, since the very act of growing up and surviving is holding entropy at bay. We do so with energy that we get from food (which ultimately comes from the sun), while our local decrease in entropy is compensated for with an increase of entropy elsewhere. As the universe expanded after the Big Bang, overall entropy did increase (and is still increasing), but that doesn't mean that local pockets of decreased entropy couldn't exist. And it's a good thing, too, or we wouldn't be here (no matter whether we came about through evolution or special creation).

And just like I mentioned in the flower evolution example, does Carson really think cosmologists are so dim that they'd have missed such an obvious obstacle to the Big Bang theory?

I'll be honest. The reason I included this quote is because of the 747 argument. It's one of those arguments like If man came from apes, why are there still apes?, that I'm just so used to seeing as a parody of creationists and how bad their arguments are, that it's actually a little exciting to see it being used, even if Carson is using it in a novel way.

Carson seems to be trying to understand the multiverse concept, but getting it a little bit mangled. The multiverse concept is that our universe might not be the only one in existence. Perhaps there are countless parallel universes, each the result of their own Big Bang, and each with their own set of physical constants. This is sometimes used to explain away the supposed fine tuning of the universe, that if any of the physical constants were even slightly off, life as we know it couldn't exist. With countless universes all with different physical constants, then it would just stand to reason that some would be conducive to life while some wouldn't, and we just happen to be in one that does. It's sort of like looking at Earth - it's the planet in the solar system most conducive to life, so of course we're living here on Earth talking about how habitable the Earth is, since we couldn't very well be living on Mars or Venus having that conversation. (Personally, I think the fine tuning argument is way too conceited, whether or not there are multiple universes, since it assumes there's something super special about 'life as we know it'. Maybe other forms of life or consciousness would be possible with different constants. Maybe they wouldn't. But how conceited do you have to be to assume that the universe exists just for you?)

Perhaps Carson is referring to a slightly different concept, that the universe experiences serial Big Bangs. That's the idea that after a Big Bang, which creates a unique set of physical constants, the universe will go and do what universes do, and eventually after trillions upon trillions upon trillions of years, when even black holes have evaporated and the inevitable increase of entropy mean's there's nothing left but a formless, uniform expanse, a tunneling event could collapse the universe, causing a new Big Bang, allowing the whole process to play out again, with a whole new set of physical constants.

But notice that in none of these scenarios has there been a continuous series of Big Bang like explosions in our universe since the Big Bang that we know of that set this incarnation of the universe in motion.

Go out to a dark region at night and look up. You're bound to see a shooting star before too long. Guess what, that's space debris hitting the Earth. According to this article, around 40,000 tons of dust collide with the Earth each year (though, as that article also points out, the Earth loses around 90,000 tons of hydrogen and helium each year, so the Earth is slowly losing mass - about 0.000000000000001% every year). Bigger objects also hit the Earth from time to time, such as the asteroid that created the gigantic Chicxulub Crater, and was likely responsible for the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event (the one that killed most of the dinosaurs, but not all of them). There was even a period called the Late Heavy Bombardment around 4 billion years ago, when the inner planets were hit particularly hard by debris. Most of that debris is gone now because it's already hit the planets and the orbits are relatively clear, but not so clear that we don't still get that 40,000 tons of debris per year.

The next quote is so similar, that I'm just going to list it as well, and then discuss them as a set.

This is really pretty silly - implying that Satan, or the Adversary, is somehow responsible for the theory of evolution. Although Darwin himself may not have been a Christian by the time he published The Origin, most of the people alive then in Europe and the Americas were Christians, and it was the evidence Darwin amassed that convinced them of the truth of evolution, not any desire to abandon their faith (and in fact, most of them didn't abandon Christianity - they just adjusted their interpretation of the Bible). That evidence has only grown in modern times, to where evolution is as much of a fact as anything in science.

To try to paint evolution as specifically anti-religious makes about as much sense as saying that the theory of static electricity causing lightning was meant to disprove Thor and his hammer. Now, it may be that certain brands of religion are in disagreement with evolution (e.g. Biblical literalism), but when a religion disagrees with reality, that's not the fault of reality. If your religion allows you to believe in a god and evolution (as many people do), then there's no contradiction at all. If your religion says evolution is impossible, well, then, so much the worse for your religion.

Before pointing out the problems with this argument, I'm going to point out a problem that's either dishonesty on Carson's part, or more charitably not remembering things correctly. He may not have used the exact word 'unethical' to describe people who accept evolution, but had said previously that they 'dismiss ethics', which doesn't seem like a major distinction, especially when this time he went on to say that people who accept evolution could kill a person without compunction. Here's what he said previously in an Adventist Review Interview:

All of this is, of course, completely ludicrous. First off, he's confusing ought vs. is. Evolutionary theory describes what happens under certain circumstances, not how we should behave. It would be as silly as saying that if you accept gravitational theory, you should go around pushing people off of roofs because gravity says they'll fall.

Second, he's pretty confident about religion providing morality, when that's a debate that's been going on since before there was even Christianity. If you've never heard of it, go read about the Euthyphro Dilemma, put forth by Plato. The heart of the argument is the question, "Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?" Religion may provide a lot of rules, but following those rules without thinking through the ethical implications for yourself is merely obedience, not morality (related: Follow Up to a Follow Up - Morality).

And finally as was described above, evolutionary theory does describe how altruism could have evolved, and where we get our drive for morality.

I included the above quote just to make it abundantly clear that Carson believes creation took place in 6 literal days. He said, "I do believe in the six day creation," and then went on to clarify those were actual literal days by saying, "he made it very specifically clear to us, the evening, and the morning, for the next day." Granted, he does leave open the possibility that the Earth could be older than 6000 years, but he doesn't discount the idea that the Earth could be that young, either. Carson appears to be a fairly standard creationist, just undecided on whether he's of a young earth or old earth variety.

This quote shows quite clearly where Carson gets his motivation regarding his beliefs on evolution, and it's not the scientific evidence. He's accepted a priori the story in the Bible. He already thinks God anticipated evolutionary theory and inspired the Bible to be written in a way that makes it clear that evolution is not true. I wonder what type of argument/evidence it would take to convince Carson of the truth of evolution, or if he would reject it outright based on his prior religious convictions.

I already discussed memory above, but that's not why I included this quote. I included this quote for the very end of it. Just in case you're unfamiliar with creationist ideas, when Carson talks about "our brains in their degenerated state" and wonders "what they were like before", he's referring to The Fall. This is the idea that everything was perfect before Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, and that it was their Original Sin that ruined the primordial paradise. It leads to such outlandish ideas as this one from Answers in Genesis, that pre-Fall Tyrannosaurs Rex used its giant teeth for eating coconuts (to be fair, a separate AiG article by a different author, T. rex--Fashioned To Be Fearless, suggests that T. Rex went through a transformation following the Fall, which is slightly less outlandish than the other idea).

To suppose that the Fall is true, at least in the conventional way most people understand the story, means believing that all of humanity is descended from two individuals - Adam and Eve. There have been genetic studies to determine how the effective population size of our ancestors (a smaller number than the actual population size) has changed over time. You can read about it in Jerry Coyne's entry, How big was the human population bottleneck? Another staple of theology refuted. Our ancestors' population never dipped down close to two people. The tightest bottlenecks were in the thousands (with different bottlenecks for different lineages of people - i.e. those that remained in Africa vs. those that migrated to other parts of the world).

I know some translations of the Bible translate Genesis 2:19 a bit dishonestly to hide the contradiction (more info: Reliance on Bible Translations), but Chapter 1 of Genesis has all the animals being created first followed by humans, while Chapter 2 has Adam created first, then followed by all the animals. And if you accept Noah's Flood as a literal story, then there are contradictions right in the story about how many animals to take (2 of each kind, or 7 of certain kinds). So yes, the Bible does have "inconsistencies with the way God said it."

And if you take the Bible as a whole, not just the creation portions, then there are many, many contradictions.

Before addressing Newton or Einstein specifically, Carson does have a point, here. Society, including the scientific community, was overwhelmingly religious back in the 1600s. But remember, this was the time of the Inquisition, when the Church put Galileo Galilei under house arrest for espousing a scientific doctrine that conflicted with Church teaching. Even if a person had had doubts about religion, the threat of the Inquisition was enough to make most people keep quiet about those doubts.

Fast forward to today, when science has taught us even more about the universe and the Church has lost much of its stranglehold over society, and you'll find that scientists are much less religious. According to a 2009 Pew Survey, only about a third of scientists believe in God, while 41% of scientists don't believe in either God or "a universal spirit or higher power."

As far as Newton, he believed in a god of some sort, but it wasn't traditional Christianity. There's substantial debate over exactly what he believed (see Wikipedia), but the consensus is that he was a non-Trinitarian monotheist. In other words, he believed in a god, but not the Christian concept of the trinity. In stark contrast to mainstream Christianity, "In Newton's eyes, worshipping Christ as God was idolatry, to him the fundamental sin."

Einstein did not believe in a theistic or personal god at all. To quote a post from The Friendly Atheist, Did Albert Einstein Believe in God or Not?, in some letters recently sold at auction, Einstein wrote the following.

To quote another portion of that entry, here is something Einstein wrote in another letter.

So, Newton didn't share Carson's beliefs over Jesus, and Einstein didn't believe in any type of theistic god at all - not exactly authority figures to bring up in support of Christianity.

I hope it's clear by this point of this entry that Carson's objections to evolution are pretty unfounded, and I can safely say, as I already have, that evolution is as much of a fact as anything in science. That's why if you're trying to become a biology professor and you say you doubt evolution, it's really going to hurt your chances of getting a job. It's about like an aspiring astronomy professor doubting heliocentric theory, or an aspiring geography professor doubting the roughly spherical shape of the Earth. It's got nothing to do with political correctness, and everything to do with understanding basic, accepted facts about your field.

Carson does have a point about the number of high school biology teachers who reject evolution. According to a poll from a few years ago and described in the LiveScience article, 13% of H.S. Biology Teachers Advocate Creationism in Class, as the headline indicates, 13% of high school teachers favor teaching creationism, and a nearly equal amount actually believe creationism. To quote the article, "Only 28 percent of high-school biology teachers followed the National Research Council and National Academy of Sciences recommendations on teaching evolution, which include citing evidence that evolution occurred and teaching evolution thematically, as a link between various biology topics." That is troubling, but not for the reasons Carson would suggest. It means that our students aren't being properly taught about accepted science. It's akin to geography teachers wanting to promote a flat earth, while the other teachers were too scared of offending the flat earthers to teach real geography.

As I've pointed out throughout this entry, the evidence for evolution is overwhelming. It doesn't take faith to believe in evolution, just an honest appraisal of the evidence. It is, quite simply, ludicrous to imply that evolution is a religion, and that the Establishment Clause would indicate that we shouldn't teach it in schools.

Updated 2015-11-02: Added a paragraph about junk DNA, and a paragraph about speciation and natural selection being observed in modern times. Also made numerous small changes and fixed typos that didn't affect meaning.

Updated 2015-11-03: Added a paragraph about A. afarensis skulls not being deformed. Also made numerous small changes and fixed typos that didn't affect meaning.

Updated 2015-11-05: Added headings before each Carson quote to summarize the topic, hopefully making it easier to navigate for people who just want to browse and read some of the topics.


Generic Pejoratives

Calling someone’s argument “reductionist,” or “simplistic,” or “amateurish,” or “unconvincing” is a boring way of saying that you are too cowardly or stupid to engage in a debate. If someone’s ideas are worth insulting, then surely they are worth rationally rebutting first.

Calling someone a misogynist, a cult leader, a racist – we all understand that none of these are arguments they are confessions of intellectual cowardice and impotence. If you show up to an oncologist to have him remove a deadly tumour, and he spends half an hour verbally insulting it, would you consider yourself cured? If you go to an optometrist to get help with blurry vision, is your problem solved if your optometrist merely rails against the greed of the eyeglass industry, or says that all vision is merely subjective, so how do you really know that your vision is blurry?

Another trick is to call someone “overambitious” or “grandiose,” or to imply that the problem is far more complex than he assumes – without addressing the content of his arguments. I am fully aware that I have taken on enormous philosophical problems in this book and claimed to have solved them. This is an ambitious project to be sure – calling it “overambitious” is not an argument.

Another trick is to call an argument “incomplete,” which is a variation of the “no true Scotsman” fallacy. All arguments are “incomplete,” because language has limitations, we are mortal, readers have lives to live, and all resources are finite. I may not have read arguments for determinism written in ancient Aramaic, or I may have failed to address the ethical arguments of a particular Indian philosopher – and I may not have rebutted some article against me – but so what? If the definition of “complete” is pretty much synonymous with “omniscient,” it can be safely discarded as a ridiculous standard. Dragging thinkers off to continually research and respond to everyone else’s thoughts is just a silly way of ensuring that thinkers remain cripplingly unoriginal. If you cannot paint a picture of a boat until you have lived at sea, studied the history of boating, and learned the details of every other picture of a boat, then clearly the purpose of all those restrictions is to stop you from painting your own picture of a boat.

Let us say that a man named David comes up with an argument called X. Let us say that you wish to oppose argument X, but without actually engaging with the content of the argument – here is another silly trick. Find some other argument that David has made that is generally unpopular – we can call this Y. Now, instead of engaging with argument X, you can instead wave around the red flag of argument Y, and hope – usually correctly – that the resulting howls of mob outrage about argument Y drown out your lack of rational rebuttal to argument X.

Another approach is to create a fiery language moat of ostracism around David, to the point where no one feels safe engaging with him. If you can portray David as so crazy, so evil, so malevolent and so ridiculous that to even engage with him is to give him more credibility than he deserves, then you can sink original thought in the foggy canyons of social aversion. This is not always an incorrect position – since such crazy people certainly exist – but it is invalid in the face of significant popularity. I do not spend any time rebutting the personal paranoias of inconsequential individuals – but when someone like Karl Marx remains so popular, he is prominent enough to deserve exposure and rebuttal.

Here is another way you can avoid getting into the ring with a strong thinker – find the least popular person who likes that thinker’s arguments, and then promote that unpopular person as a “guilt by association” representative. If David Duke retweeted you once, that means that you and David Duke are pretty much the same person! The beauty of this cowardly move is that you never have to apply it to the thinkers that you like – such as Barack Obama and his association with Louis Farrakhan.

Exposing the personal hypocrisies of your opponents can also be a rich vein of avoidance-mining. If Albert rails against government subsidies, but once had a job at a company that took government subsidies, you can just point out that fact and think you have done something to dismantle Albert’s arguments against government subsidies. As before, the beauty of this is that you never have to apply it to those you like. Karl Marx, while simultaneously railing against the exploitation of workers by bosses, impregnated his maid, then tossed her out into the street. This is not brought up by Marxists, of course, but any remote inconsistency on the part of their opponents is shot into peoples’ eyeballs like reddish fireworks.

Pointing out that someone has been wrong in the past can also be a good way of getting out of a potentially humiliating debate. Being wrong is a natural consequence of making arguments – to wait for perfection is to stagnate in perpetuity. Could we have gotten to Einsteinian physics without going through Newtonian physics? It is doubtful. Saying that someone is wrong now because he has been wrong in the past is like saying you can easily beat a world champion boxer because he once lost a fight in the past.

Perhaps your intellectual opponent has an esoteric area of interest that has nothing to do with his current argument, which you can highlight with the goal of insulting his general competence. Sir Isaac Newton was obsessed with alchemy and mysticism. Is it not far easier to point that out than to learn and rebut his general mathematical and physical theories? Christopher Hitchens was ridiculously enamored of the child murderer Che Guevara, but that has little relevance to Hitchens’s argument against the existence of God. If Hitchens claims to be a good judge of character, this can certainly be brought up as a counterexample, but its scope should be limited to the argument at hand.

Pointing out that a moralist has done something immoral does not necessarily invalidate that moralist’s ethical theories. If a televangelist who rails against infidelity has an affair, this does not automatically invalidate all of his prior arguments against infidelity – especially since Christianity itself states that everyone is a sinner and temptation is everywhere. Dr. Benjamin Spock’s grandson committed suicide – I have heard this fact used to support spanking, since Dr. Spock disapproved of the practice.

At an even baser level, you can use flattering photographs of intellectuals you like, while using unflattering photographs of those you dislike. You can use positive adjectives to describe those who agree with you, while using negative adjectives to describe those who oppose you. For example, I have been described in the mainstream media as “a former IT worker.” I co-founded and grew a successful software company, like Steve Jobs, but I have never seen Steve Jobs referred to as “a former IT worker.”

If you like a thinker, you can quote his admirers – if you dislike a thinker, you can quote his detractors.

If you dislike a group of thinkers, you can create a label to describe them, and then infuse that label with as many pejoratives as possible. For instance, you can call people part of the “far right,” “extreme right,” or “alt-right,” and then hope – usually successfully – that people’s internal autocorrect transforms those labels into the ideologically required “fascist” or “Nazi.” You can label anyone who wishes to preserve his country’s culture as “far right/Nazi,” and then hope no one notices that Israel has a very strong desire to preserve its own culture, which means that, in this insane formulation, Jews are in fact Nazis.

You can also deride everyone on the left as a “snowflake,” even when leftists have powerful and legitimate criticisms of Western imperialism, traditional Republican warmongering and the military-industrial complex.

You can also divide a group of thinkers into “acceptable” and “unacceptable,” and woo those you deem acceptable with favourable articles and attractive photographs, in the hope – usually successful – that they will then start avoiding those you deem unacceptable. Bribing selected people with positive coverage is a great way of splitting a movement and turning it against itself.

Another way to deplatform a thinker is to manufacture a hysterical controversy and then continually refer to that controversy in the future. Repetition sinks reputation, and actual arguments are never addressed. This also serves as a standing threat against anyone who even dreams of taking a similar position.

Inevitably, you will hear that my arguments are reductionist, or simplistic, or incomplete, or that I have not addressed so-and-so’s argument, or that I have a bad reputation, or that I am not a philosopher, or that I avoid legitimate debates, or I am disliked, or I am grandiose, or that I was wrong about something sometime, or someone bad liked something I said once. You name it – the mud is thrown, while only hitting the gullible and ignorant.

Do not fall for the silly tricks. Do what I do – just skim the article, or speed up the audio, and see whether any actual arguments are addressed.

If not, just understand that the words are a foolish moat around a necessary treasure – and that the writer or the speaker is a mere fool, full of sound and fury, whose life signifies nothing but cowardice.


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Comments:

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  2. Thurleah

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  4. Kenn

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