Archive for August, 2007

This is almost too easy.

Skull Suggests Two Early Humans Lived at Same Time

Surprising fossils dug up in Africa are creating messy kinks in the iconic straight line of human evolution with its knuckle-dragging ape and briefcase-carrying man.

The new research by famed paleontologist Meave Leakey in Kenya shows our family tree is more like a wayward bush with stubby branches, calling into question the evolution of our ancestors.

So you suddenly have some clear distinctions between the evolutionary paths of the human species, where before a linear and intrinsically linked sequential development had been held as near immutable for decades. Hey, you know the reason that it’s always been so hard to find that “missing link” guy?  Because. Maybe. It. Was. Never. There.

They have some still-undiscovered common ancestor that probably lived 2 million to 3 million years ago, a time that has not left much fossil record, Spoor said.

Yes. Absolutely. Continue to insist dogmatically on a common ancestor, despite the fact there is, by your own admission, no actual physical evidence for it.

This is and will continue to be my biggest beef with the anti-creationists/acolytes of the Temple of Evolution.  The hypocrisy.  The foundational tenet of evolution is a common ancestry, out of which sprang the multi-varied species of our world through all that adapting and responding and evolving into more complex forms (in violation of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics).  Therefore, evidence is categorized and framed only within that frame of reference, because it must be in order for the theory to remain valid.  Faced with two concurrently developing species, rather than sequentially as previously assumed (declared, heralded, decreed, whatever…), you therefore INFER an ancestor who existed even earlier than previous estimated, despite the lack of evidence, because it must be true if the theory is to remain viable

You establish as “fact” that which must be true in order for your worldview to conform to your pre-established expectations, despite being unable to provide any evidence of it.  And this is different from the creationists how?

Someone, somewhere, I believe, said that creationism would remain in the realm of religious faith and wishful thinking until the creationists/ID folks could provide solid scientific evidence of a creator or design influence.  So, where does that put the evolutionist in light of this imaginary common ancestor which now MUST exist, where before it didn’t, and despite any “solid scientific evidence,” simply because evolutionary theorists demand it in order to preserve their canon manifesto holy book St. Darwin of Galpagosea  theory?

Ah, you poor misguided soul, they say as they sadly shake their collective heads with the long-suffering indulgence of a saint.  The evidence for the common ancestor is clearly the two simultaneously developing offshoots, and if you weren’t such a wild-eyed, unscientific, Bible-thumping creationist, you’d be able to see that. Tsk, tsk, tsk.  You know, despite the fact that previously the evidence for a common ancestor was a single, unbroken line of evolutionary development.  Now, away with you, neophyte!  Do YOU have a PHD? NO?  Well then, trouble me no more with your plebian babblings.

I believe someone, somewhere called that “shifting the goalposts.”  Another quote, in chuckling about those wacky creationists, said something to the effect of:

If a fossil is discovered to cover a gap between two species, they’ll shout – “Look, there are two gaps now, on either sides of the fossil”

Uh, yeah.  And if a gap is discovered between two species, some people say, “Look, there must be a common ancestor we don’t know about 2 or 3 million years ago.”  I can TOTALLY see the difference there.

Overall what it paints for human evolution is a “chaotic kind of looking evolutionary tree rather than this heroic march that you see with the cartoons of an early ancestor evolving into some intermediate and eventually unto us,” Spoor said in a phone interview from a field office of the Koobi Fora Research Project in northern Kenya.

That old evolutionary cartoon, while popular with the general public, keeps getting proven wrong and too simple, said Bill Kimbel, who praised the latest findings.

And yet that is what continues to be published in textbooks.  

Scientists hadn’t looked carefully enough before to see that there was a distinct difference in males and females.

Why? Because they needed an intermediate species to help fill gaps in the fossil record.  And so in with an emphasis on supporting the prevailing meme, they failed to properly (read: objectively) analyze the information.  Oooh. Ouch.  MeOW.

All the changes to human evolutionary thought should not be considered a weakness in the theory of evolution, Kimbel said. Rather, those are the predictable results of getting more evidence, asking smarter questions and forming better theories, he said.

Color me shocked.  Shocked, I tell you.  Let me translate:  “Despite how completely this throws our understanding of evolutionary theory into a freakin chaotic mess, let’s make sure that we don’t abandon our fundamental premises.  And make sure that we color these finds in shades of ‘refining’ evolutionary theory, rather than having to basically start over from scratch when it comes to human evolution.”

Again.  Evidence can only be examined in the context of evolution.  If the evidence rocks your world, you change your theory….of evolution.   You come up with a new theory…of evolution.  In the proudest tradition of the scientific method, you take a cold, calculating, objective look at the data, and smoosh the theory around until it fits the evidence, or you “interpret” the evidence to fit the theory.  As long as the new shape still looks like evolution.

Because it’s the only game in town….and the people with the power to do so intend to make sure it stays that way.

Well, I had thought to gin up one last creationsim post, but from reading the comments on and from several other anti-creationism (or in some cases, anti-creationIST) blogs, I’ve come to the sobering, if not unsurprising conclusion that as far as “science” is concerned, the battle is over and creationism lost.  And anyone who hasn’t yet awoken to this reality is just tilting at windmills, getting all red in the face as they wave their Bible at you and call you a heretic.

Creationism is presumptively defined within the “scientific community” as inherently unscientific.  It is a cut and dried, either/or proposition.  It’s evolution (and thus science), or creationism/ID and theological posturing.  This is the corporate position, and the only acceptable view.

 Any attempts to approach the issue from any other viewpoint are met with the sort of indulgent head-patting and amused smiles usually reserved for young children and Alzheimer’s patients.

 Hard to fight that.

So, failing that, I return to one of my tried and true favorite pastimes:  making fun of the Democrats.

Found this link somewhere.  It’s a very disturbing (if not completely unsurprising) example of the moral “mandate” so many Dems feel to circumvent established law if it serves their higher cause.

http://www.danegerus.com/weblog/Comments.asp?svComment=18096

Read through it.  Amazing stuff.  Don’t like the results of the vote?  Change the results.  Heyyyyy, wait a minute.  Now wasn’t it the Dems who were screaming the loudest about voter disenfranchisement and a “stolen election?”   Hmmm.  Funny, that.

Dropped off the net for a while, literally, as my internet access went kerflooie, until I figured out I had a bad modem.  Swapped that out and Tada!  Back on the web.

Well, I kind of lost some steam with the creationism bit, but I wanted to drop in one more post, in response to Brian Switek’s response to me, entitled “Why fight creationism?

 Again, the crux of his argument seems to be something along the lines of because it’s unscientific, and therefore clinging to Biblically-based creationism is rather akin to suffering under religious authoritarianism such as experienced by Da’vinci and other “heretics” of the past.  Well, more concisely, his view seems to be that combatting creationism is a waste of valuable time better spent on researching actual science, especially since creation-science types are pretty much writing themselves out of the mix anyway.

If I haven’t made it clear before, let me reiterate:  I don’t in any way mean to suggest that creationist views and religious ideology should supplant the scientific method.  I enjoy science.  I love learning about the way our world works and the amazing complexity and interdependence of the life and natural processes of this world.

I just don’t happen to think it within the realms of possibility that it could all just “happen” through a series of random accidents and fortuitous spontaneous breakthroughs.

In his well-written and erudite response, Brian however commits himself to the same flaws in logic of which I wrote here, specifically, a vague anthropomorphization to explain the internal mechanism whereby a species adapts to an external change in environment.  Here are some specific examples:

provided the selective pressure for the lobe-finned fish to develop limbs and crawl to other pools as to avoid death.

would have given creatures like the ancestors of tetrapods good reason to develop their lungs and start exploiting food along the shore than to try swimming through the thick vegetation of the water habitats.

they were marvelously pre-adapted by evolution to exploit a new niche

An external change gave the tetrapods a “good reason to develop their lungs.” Okay, so they’ve got the reason. Now what?  Do they think to themselves, “Hmm, guess it’s probably a good time to develop lungs.  Ready…..GO!

Clearly a silly example; or is it? Examples such as these seem so suggest that species respond in an almost cognitive fashion, and that this somehow results in a kind of genetic memory that is imprinted on their DNA.  What’s the real answer?  “Evolution,” (as in the proper noun) was kind enough to “pre-adapt” species (and by that I take to mean “build in?”) the capability to exploit a new niche?  So Evolution pre-engineered in capabilities? Tetrapods were given a reason to developed their lungs?  Lobe-finned fish responded to selective pressure, pushed up on their arms, and “decided” to leave the water in order to avoid death?  The water murks up, the plants move in, and you have a choice: adapt or die.  So you adapt. Huh?

H-O-W!?!?!

If I understand correctly, the tetrapod already had the capability to breath air, it just didn’t know it, as it was too busy breathing water.  But, when the water option ran out, in a last ditch, dying effort it said, “Screw it.  Here goes nothin’,” and launches himself up on the shore.  Gasp, gasp, gasp….hey.  Wait a minute.  I’m not dead!  Woo-hoo!  I can breath air!  Nice!  Good thing Nature built-in a previously unneeded capability to process air as well as water.  Now I just gotta find me a chick tetrapod with the same deal!  “Anyone?  Uh….anyone?”

“Dangit.”

This is exactly the kind of intellectual sleight of hand that causes me the most trouble with much of the current evolutionist theories.  To vaguely suggest that “Nature” did it or “Evolution” did it is NO DIFFERENT than saying that “God” did it!  Do you see what I’m trying to get at here?

What I want evolutionary theory to provide me, to provide us, to provide science the world over, is reproducible evidence of the the internal, bio-chemical mechanism whereby RNA and DNA, all those little peptides and amino acids are re-arranged or reprogrammed, how from one generation to the next they are imparted with new replication data that results in a different species, one now better suited to live on land, rather than water.  How does “Nature” pre-adapt a species to a range of potential changes?  And on a wide enough scale to ensure viability?

I’ll readily admit that much of my data on evolution might be a bit dated, as I’ve kind of been out of the “fight” for a few years.  However, from what I’ve been able to gather, evolutionary theory is still long on what happened, and a little short on the how it happened.  And to me, if you continue to insist on the what, without being able to provide the how, well then my friends, you are operating in faith as surely as that Bible-thumping creationist.

Up from the comments again, I feel the need to ask this question.

What is the threat posed by the theory of creationism?  There are myriad blogs and articles and online journals that speak of “combatting” creationism, or which at least stress the need to remain “scientific” and not allow archaic religious sensitivities to influence our purely scientific endeavors.  Some of the most strident speak of creationism as some sort of dark bugaboo which threatens the very foundation of our society and way of life, or some such.

Now, there are a lot of things worthy of combatting.  We are combatting Islamic fundamentalism in the war on terror.  You combat viral infections and the spread of disease.  We understand the threats these things pose.  Islamic fundamentalism has demonstrated vividly why it must be opposed.

So, what is the comparable threat from creationism?  Or for that matter, evolution?  How and why does a school of thought pose such a grave danger that it can so polarize people into very nearly armed camps?  What exactly is the expected result, this catastrophe we must avoid at all costs?

 Why is it we demand that evidence ONLY be examined within the context of evolutionary theory?  Why are departures from this norm met with such virulent opposition? 

I found an interesting link/post via one of the comments, entitled “Combatting creationism with History.”  The premise being, of course, that the Bible is a quaint collection of melded cultural myths, an archaic holdover from the scientific dark ages to which people cling out of a sense of maudlin sentimentality, if nothing else.  Gee, nothing new there, to be sure.

I guess I am curious as to why creationism needs to be combatted?  Why does it so often seem that the scientifically-illuminated feel honor bound to “destroy” or otherwise “combat” the theory of creationism on a scientific basis?  Is there a core belief among these warriors of science that a belief in the causality of creation rather than random chance is some sort of dangerous delusion from which people need to be rescued?  Are they some sort of moralistic/scientific crusaders who see it as a mission to release people from their intellectual servitude to such antiquated ideas about the origins of our universe?

Then can we all just right now stop calling it the “theory” of evolution, and accept that it has, for all intents and purposes, been accepted among the vast majority of the scientific community as a natural law, akin to the Laws of Thermodynamics?  And therefore, that attempting to find fault with some of the premises of evolutionary theory puts one in the “flat earther” category, calling gravity “magic” and insisting that ideas such as entropy and exothermic reactions are so much heretical nonsense?

What I find interesting in these “scientific” viewpoints is the tacit assumption that our modern creation “myth” was culled together from various ancient sources and “tuned” to fit modern theology by some nameless group (perhaps the Council of Nicea?).  And yet, there seems little credence paid to the idea that the Babylonians or Chaldean or whomever could have instead been influenced by a creation tradition found among many of the tribal people they conquered and/or enslaved.  The Babylonians were well-known as a pollyglot of various cultural traditions incorporated from assimilated people.  Why is it so far-fetched to assume that their creation mythology could have been influenced by the long-standing oral traditions of captured ancient Hebrews whose culture predated their’s by thousands of years?  I’m just asking.

I recently visited the Pacific Science Center in Seattle on my last trip back to the States.  Yeah, I know. What was I thinking? Christians are all supposed to be all, “because God did it!” and shun such heretical institutions as this.  However, what I did find interesting was a video presentation on gravity and space, wherein the featured scientist related that recent stellar measurements and observations from the Hubble telescope suggested that the universe is in fact expanding at an increasing rate, rather than at a slowly decreasing rate, as has been the prevailing theory.  Almost like things were being pulled, rather than pushed.  His comment was something to the effect that, “I guess we don’t really know anything about gravity, like we thought we did.” 

So, for years, the Big Bang theory and its exploding singularity required that after the initial release of energy, the universe would expand to a finite limit, and then slowly collapse back in upon itself as gravitiational forces took over (yes, folks, I did actually go to college.  Yes, yes, more heresy, I know).  However, now it would seem, just the opposite appears to be taking place.  Hmmm.  Wait, you mean a scientific discovery has set the entire acacdemic world on its ear, and radically altered pre-existing theories?  Why, that NEVER happens!  Okay, okay, it happens all the damn time.

Now, with all that said, I think about the derision with which the anti-creationism crusaders view our quaint little Biblical narrative.  Of course, then I also think about the repeated Old Testament references to God “stretching out the heavens.”

I guess I take issue with the idea that simply because a concept is in the Bible, it must therefore be held as presumptively unscientific. My visits to places like the Pacific Science Center serve only to bolster my faith, not lead me to doubt it.  To me, the discoveries of science only point that much more decisively towards a creative force, one deeply mirrored in the Biblical narrative.  No, in many cases, not literally, but certainly conceptually.

To me, there is a great deal of scholarship out there which is summarily dismissed not because it is scientifically inviable or logically flawed, but merely because it is creationist in its context.  This hardly seems to support the kind of inherent skepticism required by the scientific method.

I guess I find it difficult to lend credence to those who would (and I must say, justifiably so) criticize many Creationism defenders’ reliance on the “just because” or “well, it’s obvious” defense, when the scientific evolutionists continue to refer to biological organisms adapting or reacting to changes in their evironment, without any references to the actual biological/physiological mechanism whereby genetic code is reprogrammed based on input from external stimuli.  What “drove” the early amphibians to seek land vs. water?  And for the love of pete, stop anthropomorhpizing “Nature” in all your freaking documentaries.  An amorphous “Nature” is given the causal force behind adaptive change, without really explaining what this force is, or how it influences the genetic make-up of species to “spontaneously” adapt to new conditions.

So I guess, ultimately, it is to my mind a “pot-n-kettle” kind of argument.  Don’t claim the moral and/or scientific highground if you can’t provide any better answers to the questions of ultimate causality than those wacky creationists.  Science and creationism don’t have to be mutually exclusive, unless of course, that is the internally mandated and pre-determined viewpoint.