September 4, 2005

98 & 44/100% PRIMATE

Humanity redefined (Deborah Smith, Sydney Morning Herald, September 1st, 2005)

Since Darwin claimed more than a century ago that humans were descended from apes, we have been searching for what makes our species unique. And, until now, chimpanzees have been confounding us all the way.

At first it was assumed humans were the only animals to use tools. But then it was discovered that some chimps poke twigs into termite mounds to get food while others use rocks to crack hard nuts. The more inventive ones put bark on their feet like shoes to protect themselves from sharp needles on trees.

Language became our defining feature, until some apes mastered American Sign Language.

Even eating meat was considered for a time to be a uniquely human habit among primates, until researchers went out and watched our chimp cousins closely in the wild, says Dr Frans de Waal, of the Yerkes National Primate Research Centre in Atlanta. "Chimpanzees were observed to catch colobus monkeys, tear them apart and eat them alive."

It was another theory down the drain, and yet another challenge to the way we view ourselves, says de Waal, one of several international experts on chimpanzees whose research reviews are published today by the journals Nature and Science to coincide with the completed draft of the chimpanzee genetic code.

"Humanity's special place in the cosmos is one of abandoned claims and moving goalposts," says de Waal.

These hairy relatives also have an eerie sense of self-awareness, says Professor Marc Hauser, of the mind, brain and behaviour program at Harvard University. "When a chimp looks back at you, your soul has been penetrated. You feel as though your inquisitiveness has been volleyed back, no words or actions exchanged."

It is not just the civilised aspects of life we share with our closest living relatives, he adds. Like us, chimps also fight and kill their own kind. "Watching such kills is chilling. It is too close for comfort."

This chimp taste for blood has not only provoked soul-searching about the origins of human aggression, but it has also revealed that these primates have a basic mathematical ability, Hauser says. Like young children, they have an innate appreciation of the relative size of numbers. When a party of three or four male chimps travelling through the forest comes across a lone individual from a neighbouring community they kill it. Conversely, if the call of a foreign male is played over a loudspeaker, groups of fewer than three males remain silent while groups of three or more call back and prepare to attack.

"The ratio is meaningful, representing the minimum number of males necessary to hold and kill an intruder," says Hauser.

Rhesus monkeys - and presumably chimps - also know that one plus one equals two. A chimp named Ai was even able to learn how to match the first nine digits to the right number of objects. Unlike children, however, he never spontaneously realised that a new digit referred to a new amount.

Chimps, like humans, also engage in "Machiavellian power politics" within their own group, and after an internal conflict they often "reunite with a kiss and embrace", according to de Waal.

They appear to trade commodities and services including sex, food and grooming, repaying a good act by sharing food, or punishing those who have not supported them.

Given this wealth of behavioural similarities, it came as no great surprise, when the age of genetic research dawned, that chimp DNA seemed very similar to our own.

The American scientist Jared Diamond was the first, in 1991, to call for humans and chimpanzees to be regarded as one group, dubbing us the third chimpanzee, on the basis of this genetic closeness.

No doubt we should be thankful that Professor Diamond and his colleagues aren’t using our 90% genetic identity with mice to lobby for our reclassification as the ninth rodent. One marvels at the skill with which Ms Smith weaves the rudest, most instinctive and mundane characteristics of everyday chimp life into a tapestry of putative sophistication that hints they are on the verge of giving the Renaissance a run for its money. Contrary to what is implied throughout here, pre-Age of Reason man recognized not only a biological connection to animals, but also an emotional and even spiritual one, as is attested to in countless myths, fables, legends and histories. The difference is that, while their purpose was clearly to ennoble the animals, the goal of most modern zoologists and anthropologists is to debase man.

Posted by Peter Burnet at September 4, 2005 8:12 PM
Comments

Join the chimpanzees, travel through exotic, far-off forests; meet lone individuals from neighboring communities; kill them.

No surprise about Jared Diamond: one trivial equivalency in as good as another. Let's get serious about this issue. For the sake of the argument, erase the species line between pongidae and hominidae, as some have attempted to erase the family line.

This done, the relevant divide becomes what the anthropologist Turney-High called the military threshold, that level of cultural sophistication at which true war becomes possible. This means that those primitives whose cultures do not support war may be slaughtered like animals. .

This notion seens harsh, for all that it has found favor in the human past. I submit that that the truly progressive position is to preserve and further actualize the concept of human exceptionality, rather than to go back to thinking that peoples we can overcome are no better than animals. .

Posted by: Lou Gots at September 4, 2005 9:29 PM

It's amazing that they don't understand why this is an argument for Creationism, and amusing to imagine their reaction when this is pointed out.

Posted by: David Cohen at September 4, 2005 10:04 PM

Those who lack the power to create always turn to destruction in an attempt to demonstrate that they are not powerless. Their goal is equality, and they lack the power to elevate, so of course they can only debase humans, as that's all that's left to them. (But note they take great care to make sure that they aren't lowered or made equal or lose any privileged position in the process. It's not professors at places like Princeton who are no better than apes, just the mass of humanity who aren't.)

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at September 4, 2005 10:39 PM

It all depends on how you look at it.

Ps.8

[3] When I look at Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers, the moon and the stars which thou hast established;
[4] what is man that thou art mindful of him,
and the son of man that thou dost care for him?
[5] Yet thou hast made him little less than God,
and dost crown him with glory and honor.
[6] Thou hast given him dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet,
[7] all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field,
[8] the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the sea.
[9] O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is thy name in all the earth!

Posted by: Robert Schwartz [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 4, 2005 11:31 PM

What did the chimps in the New Orleans zoo do this week? Compare and contrast with 'humanity'.

Posted by: ratbert at September 4, 2005 11:59 PM

I feel primatey, so that's no problem. However, I can't seem to find more in common between, say a monkey and a human, than a monkey and a dog. This article, as you said, mentions the most rudimentary skills of chimps to illustrate how close they are. My reaction is, that's it? They have a looonnnggg way to go. I don't think I'm guilty of moving the goalposts, it sounds like they are.

Posted by: RC at September 5, 2005 6:29 AM

"This chimp taste for blood ... has also revealed that these primates have a basic mathematical ability ..."

What a segue! Taste for blood = mathematical ability.

Get those girls on a blood diet and watch their SAT scores skyrocket.

Don't otters or beavers or some adorable aquatic animal or other also use tools to crack open nuts or clams or something, and they're not even primates? Does this mean they qualify as proto-humans too?

Posted by: erp [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 5, 2005 10:28 AM

"The difference is that, while their purpose was clearly to ennoble the animals, the goal of most modern zoologists and anthropologists is to debase man."

Comee off it, Orrin. "Most modern zoologists and anthropologists" set out to debase man?

Genetically speaking, there may not be much that separates us from other primates, but the difference is a pretty significant one, and what we have in common with other primates is in no way debasing or demeaning.

Unless you absolutely insist on seeing yourself as the pinnacle of all creation by a long shot - but that would be you, not "most modern zoologists and anthropologists".

Posted by: creeper at September 5, 2005 10:30 AM

David,

"It's amazing that they don't understand why this is an argument for Creationism, and amusing to imagine their reaction when this is pointed out."

Taken at this level of abstraction, it is compatible both with Creationism and the theory of evolution. Since everything is compatible with a Creationism in which the Creator is not held to any specific identity or motivation (and thus can be entirely inconsistent, hugely intelligent one moment, utterly incompetent the next), this does little to strengthen that case. Anything is compatible with it.

Not everything is compatible with the theory of evolution: if the chimpanzee and homo sapiens differed enormously in their genetic makeup (in a way that would be incompatible with them having descended from a common ancestor), that would be a deathblow to the theory of evolution, and significantly strengthen a theory of an intelligent creator/designer.

Posted by: creeper at September 5, 2005 10:41 AM

creeper:

You can't pin this one on Orrin, I'm afraid. But why not? Traditional art, stories and fables involved animals that talked, cast spells, saved damsels and dispensed wisdom. Great leaders like Alexander built great empires on great horses. The characters in Disney's animal flics are model family types and Flipper put the Coast Guard to shame. But delve into modern zoology and all you see are self-impressed unimaginative types prattling about how close we all are because they can count to two, trade food for sex and rip a monkey apart with their bare hands. Don't you think that says a lot about their view of the essence of humanity?

Posted by: Peter B at September 5, 2005 1:44 PM

creeper:

Not everything is compatible with the theory of evolution: if the chimpanzee and homo sapiens differed enormously in their genetic makeup (in a way that would be incompatible with them having descended from a common ancestor), that would be a deathblow to the theory of evolution, and significantly strengthen a theory of an intelligent creator/designer.

Why? What difference would 98.4%, 90% (mouse) or 50% (banana) make to the theory of common descent, as long as there was at least some genetic overlap? Surely all those post-speciation mutations could have resulted in a huge genetic spread or almost none at all. How can you be sure there isn't a yet-to-be-discovered extinct species with 99.1% of our genetic make-up that knocks the chimp out of the running?

I suggest that all you are saying is that, for one disposed to give a priori credence to common descent, 98.4% is an exciting number that reinforces the prior assumption. Sort of like an economic historian predisposed to put more value on economic influences than social or cultural ones who feels vindicated when he discovers the fall of Rome coincided with inflation and punitive taxation. No harm in that, of course, that's how we do history. Not how we do science, though.

Posted by: Peter B at September 5, 2005 2:17 PM

There is an excellent treatment of the articles in Nature on which this piece was probably based on Carl Zimmer's blog, The Loom.

http://www.corante.com/loom/archives/2005/08/31/clint_is_dead_long_live_clint.php#comments

Posted by: D. B. Light at September 5, 2005 11:32 PM

Peter B,

By comparing anthropomorphism in (semi-)mythological storytelling to scientific attempts to delineate behaviors of the primates, I'm afraid you're comparing apples and oranges.

The scientists are not concerned with "the essence of humanity", but are finding which behaviors certain primates have in common, and which ones they happen not to share. Scientists have no business peddling in anthropomorphism etc.

You'd have to be pretty insecure to think that finding shared behaviors among primates, such as using tools, is demeaning to man in the slightest. I challenge you to find one of these "self-impressed unimaginative types prattling" about how there are no significant differences between man and the other primates.

So what if we have some simple behaviors in common with chimps? There's plenty of ways in which we differ, too.

Posted by: creeper at September 6, 2005 6:44 AM

Genome statistics can be misleading. First of all, most DNA is entirely inactive; its just there, in various parts, and it has no function (it codes no proteins). Other parts, have enormously important functions, depending on the type of cell its in, and transcribe continuously.
So it confuses me when I hear the statistics that come out that compare genomes of various species. It is somewhat meaningless until direct examination of the genes themselves are compared, and when they have been (over the past 2 decades or so) they have allowed scientists to postulate very much in favor of genetic evolution; the arguments for which are usually too complex for Creationism to possibly engage, so they are usually ignored in the debates. Which is pretty much consistent with recent Creationist argument by way of thumbing its nose at almost of testable hypothesis that do not account for divine intervention.

Posted by: Juniper at September 6, 2005 1:33 PM

creeper:

Despite my fun with poetic license, you are missing the point completely. Science may not be concerned with the essence of humanity, but the scientists sure are. Your steadfast refusal to distinguish makes you oblivious to one of the main critiques of modern and increasingly politicized scientism.

Once again, pre-Enlightenment man saw the relationship of man to animals as one where the issue was the degree to which the animals shared the "higher faculties", in all senses. The importance of the fables, stories, and even Biblical injunctions etc. was that they indicated he thought or hoped they did, might or should. The modern scientists' take is that man must not be too uppity because there are animals that behave just as we do at out stupidest, basest and most feral. Draw your own conclusions.

To clarify, I think the 98.4% figure (which I accept) is one of the most meaningless discoveries science has ever made. What do you think?

Posted by: Peter B at September 6, 2005 5:40 PM

Peter:

It is not meaningless, because the commonality percentage must be consistent with known mutation rates and the amount of time since we shared a common ancestor with chimpanzees.

Otherwise, as Creeper noted above, the entire theory of evolution hits the rocks. (NB, those who insist evolution isn't falsifiable).

Therefore, the figure is meaningful, becuase it completely substantiates common descent.

As for the paragraph above, if you restricted it to some science journalists, and rather fewer scientists, you are exactly right.

Posted by: at September 7, 2005 7:25 AM

Anon:

Thanks. I spoke too sweepingly. Of course it is important to geneticists and, while I wouldn't agree with "substantiates", I accept the argument about consistency with the theory of common descent.

When I said it was meaningless, what I meant was that the bald assertion of commonality of physical building blocks doesn't really have any bearing on the question that underlies all the debates here and elsewhere about darwinism--whether nature alone can explain everything. Religion doesn't and never did rest on the assumption that all life is made up of completely different things. Yet that 98.4% keeps appearing in articles the theme of which is that there is precious little to distinguish between humans and chimps. By that logic, we're all half-fruit.

Juniper:

I don't know whether you meant to suggest the arguments are too complex for laymen generally to understand or just those thick creationists. Please remember that that much-mocked term encompasses a wide swath of belief--all the way from biblical literalists to near-agnostics whose only confidence is in the proposition that life and especially human nature cannot be explained by nature alone, and never will be.

Posted by: Peter B at September 7, 2005 8:36 AM

Peter:

You are right, I should have said "is completely consistent with."

Also, there is much more than just 98.4% in play here. There is also what that 98.4% includes -- the same mutation that makes humans and chimps unable to synthesize their own Vit-C, as well as many identical mutations in apparently non-functional stretches of DNA.

For those who reject the notion of common descent, or that humans are an exception thereof, such findings make for very heavy sledding. The Bible, after all, very clearly states that all are descended from their own kind.

Those articles you allude to are silly and self-contradicting. Clearly, if 1.6% is sufficient to create a human instead of a chimp, then even small portions thereof are very, verysignificant.

But, it should be noted, there is nothing in that 1.6% that requires supernatural intervention. The debate, caricatured by OJ into one about Darwinism, is rather whether unguided, natural, processes are capable of accounting for life as we see it.

This finding is consistent with that conclusion, and contains nothing whatsoever requiring special, outside, intervention.

BTW -- I presume you believe human nature can never be the result of naturalistic processes. If so, are you sure? And why?

Posted by: at September 7, 2005 12:51 PM

In one of his footnotes to the essay "On Fairy Stories", Professor J.R.R.Tolkien showed that only one word separates Christians from PETA:

"Not [the idea] that man is an animal... but that man is only an animal."

Posted by: Ken at September 7, 2005 4:52 PM

Peter,

"To clarify, I think the 98.4% figure (which I accept) is one of the most meaningless discoveries science has ever made. What do you think?"

I assume you're not trying to single out the 98.4% figure as just a number, separated from what it actually represents - the details of the genome - which is hardly a meaningless discovery. Anonymous above and Juniper have pretty much covered this.

As Orrin put it so eloquently not too terribly long ago:

"If your design is just like nature, isn't it nature?"

In this case: If what we're looking at is consistent with a naturalistic explanation (and the details of the genome are indeed that), then isn't it nature? And if it is nature, so what? What on Earth is wrong with nature?

This still leaves wide open the possibility to claim that God made this nature in some unspecified fashion, and you're welcome to it. You will never be able to prove it, nor will anyone ever be able to disprove it. No point in bickering about it, either.

Even if every last bit of a naturalistic theory of evolution is true, and even if abiogenesis can be nailed down to one of the open possibilities, it still does not negate God's existence. Believing in God is not dependent on Him having done this outside of nature; he can just as well have done it through nature. As such the whole spectacle of a minority of (usually misinformed) religious folk being upset about the theory of evolution is just silly.

"How can you be sure there isn't a yet-to-be-discovered extinct species with 99.1% of our genetic make-up that knocks the chimp out of the running?"

I'm not, and so what?

"Science may not be concerned with the essence of humanity, but the scientists sure are."

Which ones? Can you find one of these "self-impressed unimaginative types prattling" about how there are no significant differences between man and the other primates.

Incidentally, what's up with the title of this post? Both man and chimp are 100% primate.

Posted by: creeper at September 7, 2005 6:16 PM

Creeper:

Good catch -- that one slid right by me.

Posted by: at September 8, 2005 8:03 AM

Anon:

Oh, I don't think you expect me to cover that heavy subject in one post of a disappearing thread. So much of human experience can not only not be explained by evolution alone (yes, yes, I'm well aware of the frantic efforts of neuroscientists and other new, cool experts to proove the contrart--mock on!), but so much of human development was clearly contrary to any survival imperative and basic plausibility. I'll just leave you with two reflections and then keep my eye open for a good article to launch a new post--stay tuned:

a)Have you ever noticed how when darwinists are challenged about how to explain love, war, morality, religion, art, alienation, etc., they do a micro/macro jig that avoids any discussion of the experience of the individual? Either they tell us it's all happening at invisible gene level and we're just a derivative of that or they muse about how these things have to be understood in the context of the collective survival of the tribe. Anything to avoid addressing what individual human beings actually sense and experience in their lives. Why?

b)Ponder,if you will, the sophisticaed evolutionary biologist who spends hours lecturing on how all propagation of the species and care for the young is the result of a mindless, non-teleological, natural combination of random mutation, natural selection and sexual selection, and then runs off to buy a lovey-dovey, syrupy anniversary card for his adored wife, who he refers to as "cupcake". No, don't answer. I said ponder. See 'ya.

Posted by: Peter B at September 8, 2005 9:00 AM

Peter B:

Thank you for your thoughtful response. I add these things for you to ponder:

Unless you can specifically demonstrate precisely what it is about humanity that is contrary to a survival imperative or implausibility, then you are essentially making a vague plea to exceptionalism.

Evolution is not about the individual, it is about populations. It can no more tell you about a single organism than chemistry can tell you about a single molecule.

As for b), I would, but the former consideration has nothing to do with the latter.

Posted by: at September 8, 2005 10:41 AM

No need to abandon this thread just because it's supposedly "disappearing" - right when Peter's getting really evasive. I certainly don't mind checking in on this thread from time to time.

"Either they tell us it's all happening at invisible gene level and we're just a derivative of that or they muse about how these things have to be understood in the context of the collective survival of the tribe."

Obviously you can't completely exclude either of those levels from having an impact on a human being.

Oh and, Anonymous, have you got a nickname?

Posted by: creeper at September 8, 2005 11:05 AM

Anon/creeper:

Not evasive. Busy. This subject deserves a quiet time and rapid responses--creeper's specialty. That isn't me for the next few days.

I do note that you guys are now cautiously retreating to "having an impact" kind of language and modestly admitting those things evolution can't explain. We're used to that. Put a darwinist under the lights and he goes all cautious and diffident, but slip away to the bathroom for a moment and the just-so stories start to fly. Remember, the issue is not whether evolution happened, but whether all life can be explained by natural, non-teleolgical processes.

Posted by: Peter B at September 8, 2005 11:58 AM

Peter:

No, that isn't the case.

Plate tectonics completely explains how, say, mountain ranges form. But no one can say precisely how a given mountain range came about.

Yet that doesn't send anyone to supernatural explanations.

Just like Darwinism. Until there is an impenetrable barrier to general natural process -- and a plea to exceptionalism doesn't seem to suffice -- then there seems little reason to decide unguided nature didn't do the job, even if the precise details for the particular task are unknown.

Editor's Note: please adopt a pseudonym of some kind so folks can address you when they address your points.

Posted by: at September 8, 2005 12:30 PM

Anon:

Do you guys all read the same newsletter? Plate tectonics was considered scientifically dubious until the drift was actually measured. Darwinism has never been measured--nor will it be--because itr does not occur.

Posted by: oj at September 8, 2005 12:42 PM

Anon:

You've nailed the difference precisely; it's political/moral, not scientific. Darwinism proceeds from the wish not to treat Man as exceptional. It's an attempt to escape from God and His moral law.

Posted by: oj at September 8, 2005 12:46 PM

"I do note that you guys are now cautiously retreating to "having an impact" kind of language and modestly admitting those things evolution can't explain."

I was responding to a rather vague generalization on your part, so how specific would you have liked me to be? "Having an impact" seemed appropriate.

"Put a darwinist under the lights and he goes all cautious and diffident, but slip away to the bathroom for a moment and the just-so stories start to fly."

Which "darwinist" is that?

"Remember, the issue is not whether evolution happened, but whether all life can be explained by natural, non-teleolgical processes."

So you're on board with most of the theory of evolution, and just quibbling over some of the finer points, where perhaps an explicit role for God could be found?

Posted by: creeper at September 8, 2005 2:29 PM

Mr Judd:

Stop it with the strawman. The question is whether purely natural processes -- which include far more than "survival of the fittest" -- can account for population variations over time.

Naturalistic evolution does occur, and is measurable.

Note the differences between the various human populations that descended from the group that crossed the Bering Straight.

Oh, and one other thing -- multiple evidence strands had confirmed continental drift had occurred historically before sufficiently sensitive equipment was available to confirm it is ongoing.

You should get your facts straight.

Posted by: Anon at September 8, 2005 3:16 PM

Orrin,

"You've nailed the difference precisely; it's political/moral, not scientific."

Where do you think Anon made that observation?

"Darwinism proceeds from the wish not to treat Man as exceptional. It's an attempt to escape from God and His moral law."

Close to 70% of Americans think that a person can believe in the scientific theory of evolution and still believe God created humans and guided their development. I hardly think they see acceptance of the theory of evolution as some kind of "escape from God and His moral law".

"Darwinism has never been measured--nor will it be--because itr does not occur."

I highly recommend you read Mayr's "What Evolution Is" - cover to cover, not just the foreword.

Posted by: creeper at September 8, 2005 4:13 PM

No, anon, the question is whether purely natural, non-teleologial processes can explain all of life. I introduced the issues of love and morality and you responded by talking about tectonic plates. Not promising.

creeper, as Orrin has made clear to you many, many times, no one here doubts the fact that evolution occured. It is it's scope, significance and, above all, exclusivity that not only is debated here but fuels the indignant rage that motivates darwinists these days. You got that admission months ago, so no more points for getting it again. Your job is to defend the proposition that evolution explains everything.

Posted by: Peter B at September 8, 2005 4:22 PM

Anon:

It can't anmd it doesn't. That's why there's no observed instance, measurement, nor experiment, completely unlike tectonics. That's why tectonics is science and Darwinism philosophy.

Posted by: oj at September 8, 2005 6:03 PM

Peter,

"creeper, as Orrin has made clear to you many, many times, no one here doubts the fact that evolution occured."

The term 'evolution' is understood in different ways, and if you take it to include macro-evolution, then there are indeed quite a few people who doubt that it occurred, namely those who believe in creationism (defined as "Belief in the literal interpretation of the account of the creation of the universe and of all living things related in the Bible").

Then there are some who take on board that micro-evolution can be explained via the theory of evolution, but balk at extending this to macro-evolution. And some who take on board that natural selection only works in captivity, but is somehow not applicable in nature.

"It is it's scope, significance and, above all, exclusivity that not only is debated here but fuels the indignant rage that motivates darwinists these days."

Indignant rage? Perhaps at all the misrepresentations that are being bandied around.

Evolutionary biologists have been involved in an ongoing debate about the relative significance of the various factors impacting evolution for quite some time.

"You got that admission months ago, so no more points for getting it again."

Which admission is that?

"Your job is to defend the proposition that evolution explains everything."

The scientific theory of evolution (a.k.a. the modern synthesis, if you will) does not purport to explain everything - please stop confusing it with philosophy, that's merely Orrinian obfuscation.

If there is indeed an aspect of evolution that you think can not possibly be explained via the theory of evolution, then by all means let us know. Keep in mind that the theory of evolution is not confined to natural selection, Orrin's conflations to the contrary notwithstanding.

"I introduced the issues of love and morality"

Don't love and morality on the whole benefit the survival of a population?

Posted by: creeper at September 9, 2005 3:22 AM

Orrin,

"It can't anmd it doesn't. That's why there's no observed instance, measurement, nor experiment, completely unlike tectonics."

Start with Mayr's "What Evolution Is" and work your way out to the numerous relevant texts mentioned within.

"That's why tectonics is science and Darwinism philosophy."

Whatever "Darwinism" is in your head, the theory of evolution is accepted science supported by numerous observations and finds itself confirmed by new discoveries all the time.

Pretending that today's scientific understanding is "philosophy" - if that is what you're trying to do - is nothing but another ill-informed misrepresentation.

Posted by: creeper at September 9, 2005 3:31 AM

creeper:

Cant, and repetitive cant at that. Also, I'm going to start accusing you of trollism if you keep on just responding to questions with just more bald questions. Argue, man! Responses first and then questions.

Firstly, if you want to restrict creationism to that definition, fine, then, please, you give us a word to describe one who simply believes life cannot be explained entirely by natural processes but goes no further empirically in his certainty(and please keep that proto-darwinist theory called ID out of it). Every lawyer is familiar with the game whereby a witness tries to deflect criticism of his position by attributing a position to the other side they do not hold. There is absolutely no intellectual obligation on those who criticize the gaps, illogics and implausibilities within darwinism to advance a self-contained, coherent, scientifcally-verifiable alternative explanation when he doesn't believe there is one, and anyway, the modern synthesis is designed to ensure anything and everything can be lumped within it--it's an intellectual garbage dump. "Got a better explanation?" is not a respectable defence of a supposed scientific proposition. Try it out in a peer review process if you don't believe me.

Don't love and morality on the whole benefit the survival of a population?

Well, if I were testing darwinism against the real world, I would say that is an article of faith that lies somewhere between the wildly conjectural and the completely meaningless. Are you suggesting that is a verifiable proposition? However, if, like you, I were simply testing the world against darwinism, I would say: "You betcha, creeper. Go, guy, go. We survived so they must be. Just like hate and immorality."

BTW, I'm sure that you, as a man of science, believes in testing hypotheses, so can you give us an example of a species that went exinct through a paucity of love and morality?

Posted by: Peter B at September 9, 2005 5:09 AM

creeper:

You've still never presented a single supporting contemporaneous observation, experiment or other piece of evidence for Darwinism because of course, there are none. When Mayr said it's a philosophy and not a science like other sciences he was simply stating what every non ideologue knows. Ypou're entitled to your own faith, just don't expect your scientific claims to be taken much more seriously than a Wiccan's.

Posted by: oj at September 9, 2005 8:27 AM

Peter,

Cant, and repetitive cant at that.

Theres a lot of that around, isnt there?

Also, I'm going to start accusing you of trollism if you keep on just responding to questions with just more bald questions.

Looking back at my questions for the last few days, they tend to be in the nature of asking Orrin or you to back up some statement or sweeping generalization, and they mostly go unanswered. I dont see any instances of you asking me something and me responding with a question in a deflective way, let alone more than one.

Firstly, if you want to restrict creationism to that definition, fine, then, please, you give us a word to describe one who simply believes life cannot be explained entirely by natural processes but goes no further empirically in his certainty(and please keep that proto-darwinist theory called ID out of it).

If you prefer the use of the term creationism as encompassing anybody and everybody who simply believes life cannot be explained entirely by natural processes, fine, and I shall keep it in mind it is the same way that Orrin likes to conflate terms to blur boundaries and puff up his position; I just tend to include the actual definition of the term creationism when I want to make it clear in that particular instance that I mean it as such, as above.

So are you saying that you're on board with most of the theory of evolution, and just quibbling over some of the finer points, where perhaps an explicit role for God could be found? If so, then it seems like what youre describing probably falls under ID.

On the other hand, if you want to subscribe to alternative naturalistic theories of evolution (say, Lamarckianism) and yet see a necessity for a supernatural presence, then I would think that would also be included under ID. Perhaps there is another word for it too.

If you want to claim the belief that whatever naturalistic theories there may be, you dont really have a stance regarding them but somehow are empirically certain that theyre insufficient, well I dont know what you want to call that. Confused? Disinterested?

If you want to, sure, keep using creationist to refer to anyone who is empirically certain of a supernatural influence; Ill simply attach the definition whenever I want it to be clear that Im using the dictionary meaning instead.

Every lawyer is familiar with the game whereby a witness tries to deflect criticism of his position by attributing a position to the other side they do not hold.

And not just lawyers, Peter. Thats what a strawman is. In this case, however, I did not say that you held that position, but very clearly that quite a few people did.

There is absolutely no intellectual obligation on those who criticize the gaps, illogics and implausibilities within darwinism to advance a self-contained, coherent, scientifcally-verifiable alternative explanation when he doesn't believe there is one,

True, there isnt. You can even take on board most of the theory of evolution, as many people do, and reject or continue to explore the parts you have difficulty with. Continued exploration and refinement is one of the ways in which the state of scientific knowledge advances.

and anyway, the modern synthesis is designed to ensure anything and everything can be lumped within it--it's an intellectual garbage dump.

It is far from an intellectual garbage dump, and if it is your impression that it was designed to ensure anything and everything can be lumped within it, then that is probably because it has been challenged over the years and fine-tuned and expanded as a result. If youre trying to imply that it is not falsifiable, then please continue to explore the literature.

"Got a better explanation?" is not a respectable defence of a supposed scientific proposition. Try it out in a peer review process if you don't believe me.

Who asked if youve got a better explanation? The question is if you have a genuine challenge.

My comment re. love and morality was certainly not intended as a verifiable proposition nor a scientific hypothesis. Love and morality simply do not fall under the purview of evolutionary biology. Perhaps anthropology. I could see why you would want to drag these examples into this arena if they clashed with the theory of evolution, but as far as I can see, there is no contradiction between them and a survival imperative. Love can foster group bonds as well as reproduction, both of which benefit the survival of a group, and moral law is simply the codification of that which a society has found to function well over time, which in turn also benefits the survival of a population.

Posted by: creeper at September 9, 2005 10:29 AM

You've still never presented a single supporting contemporaneous observation, experiment or other piece of evidence for Darwinism because of course, there are none.

(a) We have discussed a few examples of various aspects of the theory of evolution on previous threads, if you recall.

(b) If youre in the slightest bit interested, it really isnt all that hard to google this stuff.

(c) I thought you said youd read Mayr? He mentions quite a few observations, experiments etc. in his books, as well as points to more detailed explorations of all these topics.

-The Evolution of Ernst: Interview with Ernst Mayr: The preeminent biologist, who just turned 100, reflects on his prolific career and the history, philosophy and future of his field On July 5, renowned evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr celebrated his 100th birthday. He also recently finished writing his 25th book, What Makes Biology Unique?: Considerations on the Autonomy of a Scientific Discipline [Cambridge University Press, in press]. A symposium in Mayr's honor was held at Harvard University on May 10. Scientific American editor and columnist Steve Mirsky attended the symposium and wrote about it for the upcoming August issue. On May 15, Mirsky, Brazilian journalist Claudio Angelo and Angelo's colleague Marcelo Leite visited Mayr at his apartment in Bedford, Mass. (Scientific American, 7/06/04)

Claudio Angelo: What is the book about?

Ernst Mayr: What the book is about. (Laughs.) Primarily to show, and you will think that this doesn't need showing, but lots of people would disagree with you. To show that biology is an autonomous science and should not be mixed up with physics. That's my message. And I show it in about 12 chapters. And, as another fact, when people ask me what is really your field, and 50 years or 60 years ago, without hesitation I would have said I'm an ornithologist. Forty years ago I would have said, I'm an evolutionist. And a little later I would still say I'm an evolutionist, but I would also say I'm an historian of biology. And the last 20 years, I love to answer, I'm a philosopher of biology. And, as a matter of fact, and that is perhaps something I can brag about, I have gotten honorary degrees for my work in ornithology from two universities, in evolution, in systematics, in history of biology and in philosophy of biology. Two honorary degrees from philosophy departments.

Steve Mirsky: And the philosophical basis for physics versus biology is what you examine in the book?

EM: I show first in the first chapter and in some chapters that follow later on, I show that biology is as serious, honest, legitimate a science as the physical sciences. All the occult stuff that used to be mixed in with philosophy of biology, like vitalism and teleology-Kant after all, when he wanted to describe biology, he put it all on teleology, just to give an example-all this sort of funny business I show is out. Biology has exactly the same hard-nosed basis as the physical sciences, consisting of the natural laws. The natural laws apply to biology just as much as they do to the physical sciences. But the people who compare the two, or who, like some philosophers, put in biology with physical sciences, they leave out a lot of things. And the minute you include those, you can see clearly that biology is not the same sort of thing as the physical sciences. And I cannot give a long lecture now on that subject, that's what the book is for.

I'll give you an example. In principle, biology differs from the physical sciences in that in the physical sciences, all theories, I don't know exceptions so I think it's probably a safe statement, all theories are based somehow or other on natural laws. In biology, as several other people have shown, and I totally agree with them, there are no natural laws in biology corresponding to the natural laws of the physical sciences.

Now then you can say, how can you have theories in biology if you don't have laws on which to base them? Well, in biology your theories are based on something else. They're based on concepts. Like the concept of natural selection forms the basis of, practically the most important basis of, evolutionary biology. You go to ecology and you get concepts like competition or resources, ecology is just full of concepts. And those concepts are the basis of all the theories in ecology. Not the physical laws, they're not the basis. They are of course ultimately the basis, but not directly, of ecology. And so on and so forth. And so that's what I do in this book. I show that the theoretical basis, you might call it, or I prefer to call it the philosophy of biology, has a totally different basis than the theories of physics.

(d) By the way, what does Darwinism mean today?

When Mayr said it's a philosophy

... which he never did Orrin, you have consistently failed to produce a quote by Mayr that does not rest on the misrepresentation of philosophy of biology (used in the same context as philosophy of science) as meaning biology is philosophy. Ive asked you about this many times, and every time you only come back with that misrepresentation.

Since youre fond of this point and would no doubt back it up if you could, I take it you do not in fact have a quote where Mayr said that biology or evolutionary biology is a philosophy.

and not a science like other sciences

Mayr said evolutionary biology is a not a science like the other sciences, meaning it is a science of a different kind, but he was very clear in his writing that it is very much a science. Not a science like the other sciences is not synonymous with not a science.

he was simply stating what every non ideologue knows.

In its non-misrepresented way, that is probably true. In your case you have to misrepresent its meaning to be able to agree with it. Why not just disagree with it?

"You're entitled to your own faith, just don't expect your scientific claims to be taken much more seriously than a Wiccan's."

Funny thing is, the theory of evolution is taken much more seriously than the scientific claims of a Wiccan. Whether you like it or not.


Darwin's Influence on Modern Thought: This article is based on the September 23, 1999, lecture that Mayr delivered in Stockholm on receiving the Crafoord Prize from the Royal Swedish Academy of Science (Ernst Mayr)

Darwin founded a new branch of life science, evolutionary biology. Four of his contributions to evolutionary biology are especially important, as they held considerable sway beyond that discipline. The first is the non-constancy of species, or the modern conception of evolution itself. The second is the notion of branching evolution, implying the common descent of all species of living things on earth from a single unique origin. Up until 1859, all evolutionary proposals, such as that of naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, instead endorsed linear evolution, a teleological march toward greater perfection that had been in vogue since Aristotle's concept of Scala Naturae, the chain of being. Darwin further noted that evolution must be gradual, with no major breaks or discontinuities. Finally, he reasoned that the mechanism of evolution was natural selection.

These four insights served as the foundation for Darwin's founding of a new branch of the philosophy of science, a philosophy of biology. Despite the passing of a century before this new branch of philosophy fully developed, its eventual form is based on Darwinian concepts. For example, Darwin introduced historicity into science. Evolutionary biology, in contrast with physics and chemistry, is a historical science - the evolutionist attempts to explain events and processes that have already taken place. Laws and experiments are inappropriate techniques for the explication of such events and processes. Instead one constructs a historical narrative, consisting of a tentative reconstruction of the particular scenario that led to the events one is trying to explain.

Posted by: creeper at September 9, 2005 10:48 AM

creeper;

there you go again, confusing evolution and Darwinism.

Scientists, like Mayr, don't make that mistake:

http://www.brothersjudd.com/blog/archives/2005/09/that_ones_gonna.html

Posted by: oj at September 9, 2005 11:15 AM
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