Tag Archives: Evolution

The Accidental Species: Henry Gee

Henry GeeI just bought the Kindle version of Henry Gee’s book: The Accidental Species.  My purchase was inspired by John Wilkens’ post about the book.  Wilkens is an Australian historian and philosopher of science and very good writer to boot. Apparently Gee’s previous book has been quote mined by Creationists  for his questioning of the assumptions hidden inside many science narratives which see evolution as a story of progress and the inevitable development of unique human traits — both of which, like Wilkens, I abhor.

But not everyone agrees. Jerry Coyne, a fine evolution scientist and writer,  called his work “anti-science”.   Wow, that got my interest.  I love accusation of heresy in the temple of science.  Join me if you wish, I will use this post to index my reflections inspired by Gee’s book.

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Buddhist Creationism



An Amazing Discovery!  A human footprint was recently discovered next to a T. Rex footprint. After careful, scientific, paleontological excavation, the revealed details of the footprint were shocking!  SIDdhartha Gautama (The Buddha) seemed to have lived amongst the dinosaurs. Now Buddhists and Christian fundamentalist are contemplating rejoining each other at the dialogue table.

This cartoon may not work for well because it is a bi-cultural, bi-religious joke.  So, unfortunately, footnotes may be useful:

Creationism:

Christian Young-Earth Creationists (40% of Americans) believe that their god, “Yahweh”, created the world in just the manner described in their Holy Book. They believe that each species that has ever existed was created separately and did not evolve. They believe this all happened about 6 -10,000 years ago. Consequently, they believe dinosaurs and humans lived together — being created together on the last day of a 6-day creation spree by Yahweh. They also have fantastic contorted ‘reasoning’ to explain all this — see “Answers In Genesis“.

Buddha Footprint

Many Westerners view Buddhism as a mere meditation practice. But around the world, Buddhism-on-the-ground is packed with myth, superstition and magic. Who would expect different?  That is what people do with their religions.  Buddhist “relics” are believed to hold such magic (much like Christian relics: pieces of Jesus’ cross or the Holy Grail). Buddhists relics include his teeth, his hair and even his footprints.

The foot print of the Buddha usually contains tell-tale auspicious distinguishing marks felt to be possessed by all awakened beings: Wheel of the Teaching, the good-fortune swastika, the lotus and more.

Leaving Fundamentalism

Many Christians and Buddhists are trying to release their accrued atavistic ballast.  But tension between tradition and modernity yields no easy answers.  Here are examples of religious sites I enjoy that wrestle well with the tension:

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Darwin: No Primordial Monotheism

The HMS Beagle

I have discussed how “religion” is a relatively new concept and when taken for granted (as if it were easily defined) leads to intellectual mistakes.
See these posts:

I have also discussed how monotheistic, omnipotent deities (Allah & Yahweh) were built upon simpler gods with far less qualities. Ancient humans did not instinctively believe in gods that look anything like the monotheistic gods built up over the millenium.
See this post:

  • Arguing for a Tiny God:  In this diagram, smaller circles illustrate less qualities and simpler gods/spirits/wonder.

Informing both of these themes, I thought I’d share this quote by a well-know theologian and biologist — Charles Darwin:

“There is no evidence that man was aboriginally endowed with the ennobling belief in the existence of an Omnipotent God. On the contrary there is ample evidence, derived not from hasty travellers, but from men who have long resided with savages, that numerous races have existed and still exist, who have no idea of one or more gods, and who have no words in their languages to express such an idea.”
— Darwin, Descent of Man, p. 65

Darwin supported the obvious view that religion evolved from very simple beginnings.  It is these simple components of the religious mind to which I often try to return our conversation. Both lofty notions of religion and of a god can confuse a dialogue.  Some would purport that their god slowly revealed himself [sic] and thus revealed his complexity, but we contend, instead, that humans slowly construed more complicated deities through evolutionary mechanisms.

Source / Notes:

  • Biology of Religion @ Scilogs — this post inspired my post
  • BTW, the HMS Beagle was a “Cherokee class” vessel British vessel many which had animal names:  Badger, Opossum, Wild Boar, Goldfinch, Beaver, Drake, Falcon, Barracouta, Weazle, Kingfisher and Ferret.

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Evolution cost me my job

The following is one of my many biography posts. I am recording them in part for my kids in the distant future. But I try to make them relevant to my blog. This one discusses my commitment to the teaching of Evolution and how some aspects of religion have a stranglehold on America.

I am a huge, non-apologetic, evangelical evolutionist and have paid the price for my outspoken nature. I use to be a professor in a graduate school Physician Assistant program where evolution helped me loose my job.

One day I was called into the program director’s office. He said, “Sabio, we have some complaints about you teaching evolution.” “Wow,” I thought, “that was an abrupt opening. I wonder what he is talking about.” So I responded, “Sorry, who complained and what was their complaint?”

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No Alpha-Dogs

We have three dogs in our family — all are rescue dogs (aka: “pound dogs”). Both my wife and I had dogs throughout our childhoods too. We love our dogs. But we both have naively believed the alpha-dog myths for decades.

I am reading the book “Inside of a Dog” by Alexandra Horowitz and just listened to an NPO 38 minute program by John Bradshaw who wrote “Dog Sense“. Both these authors debunk the alpha-dog myth which is based on a false understanding about evolution. It assumes that because dogs are evolutionary decendents of wolfs then dogs must be like wolfs. But the authors give us tons of examples of the differences between dogs and wolfs.   If you own or love dogs, and are as stupid as I am, these books will help you.

I love to read stuff that uses science to undermine my treasured ideas. But then, I love change and not everyone loves change — in fact, most people don’t treasure change at all.

I have been slowly realizing the stupidity of my beliefs about dogs over the years but these books have crystalized my slowly growing understanding.  I think the same happens to some religious folks when they slowly take chances reading literature that questions their assumptions.  Change can be difficult — even for something as simple as how we treat our dogs, yet alone if our change can take us away from the communities with whom we identify.  Understanding your own resistance to change and how many unquestioned assumptions you have may help you in your debates with other vulnerable people about their strongly held beliefs.

Question to reader: Have you made mistakes with your dogs?

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Genesis is Right Again: Penis Story

Research up to now inquired as to which unique genes humans have when compared to other primates.  In other words, “What genes make us better than other apes?” (perspective “A” in the illustration above).  But maybe we should look at our differences from another perspective “B”:  “Are there genes that humans lack but that other apes possess?”  Nature, March 10 Issue, has an article by McLean et. al. that shows indeed that humans lack 510 chunks of DNA when compared to  chimpanzees and macaques.   Most of this missing genetic data is also missing from Neandertals, suggesting that the pieces were lost sometime between 500,000 and 6 million years ago. (See: Science News April 9th).

Raccoon Penis Bone

Most of the missing genetic pieces are not genes — in fact only one gene is involve.  Instead, the DNA defects may act as regulators of genes.  In fact, one piece is an enhancer for the gene which controls the production of facial sensory whiskers and small spines on the penises of both chimps and mice.  So researchers are speculating that this is why humans have spineless penises.  What? Some animals have bones in their penis?  Is this where the word “boner” comes from?

My family has raised ducks and it is well known that it is not good for ducks to copulate on land where the mechanics actually puts them at risk for breaking the bone in their penis.

As you know, Genesis 2:21-23 speaks of God removing a rib from Adam to create Eve — and thus the rest of human kind.  But basic anatomy tells us there is no difference in ribs between males and females.  Was Genesis wrong?  Maybe the word “rib” is not translated correctly.  Most male mammals have a bone for stiffening the penis (a baculum) — which is speculated to quicken ejaculations. But the Hebrew word in Genesis referring to “rib” has other meanings like “supporting columns in trees” or “planks in doors”.  So it has been speculated that his passage may refer to loosing the bone in their penis — the change from earlier primates to humans.  By adding this recent research to this speculation, when humans lost these 510 pieces of DNA, maybe the consequence was the loss of the bone in their penis and thus requiring longer time for ejaculation, more bonding and furthering of human cultural evolution.  So perhaps is Genesis is closer to a science text than we even imagined.  God knocked the bone out of our boners.

Of course I don’t believe this, but I wanted to see if I could beat some Christians to the punch in speculating on this new research.

This article also inspired more daydreaming:  This way of looking at differences as loss vs. gain reminded me of how I have viewed myself over the years.  Due to the weird supernatural experiences  I have had when growing up, I though I must have unique special additional skills in comparison to other people.  But as I have matured, I have come to wonder if these experiences are better explained as due to defective losses in my DNA — a broken hallucinating mind.  🙂

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Coyne & Armstrong on Evolution

Pleated_Woodpecker

My son and I found this hole (on the right) in a tree behind our house.  The wiki-pic (photoshopped on the left) is of the type of pecker that did it !  The sound of his handiwork graces our 3 acres often — busy little fellow.  This find reminded me of a section in Jerry Coyne’s excellent book “Why Evolution is True” (2009).

The woodpecker is a biological jackhammer.  This poses a problem: how can a delicate creature drill through hard wood without hurting itself? (Think of the force it takes to drive a nail into a plank.)  The punishment that a pileated woodpecker’s skull takes is astounding–the bird can strike up to fifteen blows per second when it’s “Drumming” for communication, each blow generating a force equivalent to banging your head into a wall at sixteen miles per hour.  This is a speed that can crumple your car.  there is a real danger of the woodpecker injuring its brain, or even having its eyes pop out of its skull under the extreme force.

To prevent brain damage, the woodpecker’s skull is specially shaped and reinforced with extra bone.  The beak rests on a cushion of cartilage, and the muscles around the beak contract an instant before each impact to divert the force of the blow away from the brain and into the reinforced basd of the skull.  During each strike, the bird’s eyelids close to keep its eyes from popping out.  There is also a fan of delicate feathers covering the nostrils so that the bird doesn’t inhale the sawdust or wood chips when hammering.  It uses a set of very stiff tail feathers to prop itself against the tree, and has an X-shaped, four-toed foot (two forward, two back)) to securely grip the trunk.

Everywhere we look in nature, we see animals that seem beautifully designed to fit their environment, whether that environment be the physical circumstances of life, like temperature and humidity, or the other organisms–competitors, predators, and prey–that every species mus deal with.  It is no surprise that early naturalists believed that animals were the product of celestial design, created by God to do their jobs.

Jerry A. Coyne — “Why Evolution is True”, pg 115

Coyne’s book then reminded me of a good Wall Street Journal article I just read concerning the new books by Karen Armstrong and Richard Dawkins — both of which I intend to read.  Below is a paragraph from Karen Armstrong.

Richard Dawkins has been right all along, of course—at least in one important respect. Evolution has indeed dealt a blow to the idea of a benign creator, literally conceived. It tells us that there is no Intelligence controlling the cosmos, and that life itself is the result of a blind process of natural selection, in which innumerable species failed to survive. The fossil record reveals a natural history of pain, death and racial extinction, so if there was a divine plan, it was cruel, callously prodigal and wasteful. Human beings were not the pinnacle of a purposeful creation; like everything else, they evolved by trial and error and God had no direct hand in their making. No wonder so many fundamentalist Christians find their faith shaken to the core.

Karen Armstrong,  Wall Street Journal article

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