Evolving Thoughts

Evolution, culture, philosophy and chocolate! John Wilkins' continuing struggle to come to terms with impermanence... "Humanus sum, nihil humanum a me alienum puto" - Terence

Friday, October 07, 2005

Jewish fundamentalism

"Fundamentalism" is a term that covers both a period of Christian theological inclinations deriving out of the publication in 1909 of a volume entitled The Fundamentals, and is used also to denote a style of religious conservatism. I prefer to use the term for the historical movement, and just call the rest "religious antimodernism", which is properly descriptive.

Judaism has been as susceptible to these extremes as any religion. Like Islam and Protestant Christianity, and unlike Catholic Christianity, it lacks a central dogmatic authority, and so there are competing religious schools. But overall, Judaism is internally more of a "live and let live" religion for its adherents, with a wide range of views ranging from quite radical, with female rabbis, to ultra-Orthodox.

So it is no surprise that a modernist rabbinical scholar named Nossan Slifkin, who is like most educated religious figures quite happy to accept the reality of science and the things science holds occur, like evolution, has been censured by Orthodox rabbis for accepting evolution. They are young earth creationists like Gish and co., although they deny they rely on the Fundamentalist movement. Still, they do.

Antimodernism is another word for a fear of the new. Sometimes it pays to fear the new. But other times, when the old has failed for thousands of years, causing ethnic, class and cultural rivalries and holding women and children in servitude, the new is exactly what we should embrace. All Quaeda is based on a fear of the new; so is creationism, anti-democratic parties, and so on.

Rabbi Slifkin may not be presenting proper science - someone who has read his book indicated this - but he at least is trying to accommodate the old to the new. It's a pity to see a reaction like this from antimodernists.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

It's not global warming...

it's Intelligent Defrosting.

Darwin found guilty on all counts

From the Onion, of course, where else?
[Thanks to the Philosophy of Biology blog]

Evolution... and beer!

What combination could warm a philosopher of biology's heart more? Congrats to the Guinness advertising agency for this amazing, if slightly inaccurate, movie. [Watch out - it's a large Quicktime file] Thanks to Drew Berry for the heads up.

While I am mentioning Drew, allow me to preen in his reflected glory for his latest award - the TV series DNA just won an Emmy to go with his BAFTA, and Drew worked for me when he did all that work. Yes, folks, in good managerial style, I take all the credit! Some of the scenes Drew did with my expert advice of DNA replicating can be seen here.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The ID of DHS

From Tom Tomorrow:

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Evolution and the potato

In a new report, it seems that evolutionary phylogenetic methods have uncovered that the humble potato was domesticated just once, from a wild root in southern Peru. Why does this matter? Well, if it comes from one locale, it is more susceptible to a single pathogen. As potatoes are one of the most widely used staple crops in the world, that could be rather important.

Also in PNAS, a number of other items to do with evolution. Shucks, you'd almost think nothing in biology made sense except in the light of evolution.

and so on...

Sunday, October 02, 2005

In the beginning was the word "ima"

A new study has showed how the Polyenesia/Melanesian language groups evolved since the end of the Pleistocene. I discuss it on Panda's Thumb.

Does porn cause a better world?

Ed Brayton pointed this one out. If you correlate various statistics of crime and sexual violence against the rise of the availability of pornography, you find a drop in those statistics... well, it's not really a proper study, but coming so closely on the heals of discovering that there is an inverse correlation between the religious vigor of a society in the west, and the usual indicators of a dysfunctional society, it is certainly suggestive.

Should we suggest to the second world that if they want to become less violent to each other and to women and children, and want to raise the education level of their children, they should abandon religion and promote a healthy pornography?

Of course not, but if you want to argue from consequences that evolution is a bad thing, at least make sure that the beam in your eye isn't obscuring the mote in ours.

Lewontin on ID, adaptationism and stuff

Richard Lewontin has an article coming out in the next (current?) New York Review of Books, which Michael Ruse has published on the Philosophy of Biology blog. In it Lewontin discusses the desire to find unitary explanations for culture, human nature, and everything using Darwinism.

In the course of the piece, after making some fairly standard and common sense criticisms of evolutionary psychology, Lewontin discusses the work of Peter Richerson and Robert Boyd. I have an interest in this regard, because I think that culture does evolve, and it does do so in a "darwinian" fashion. In fact I have written a piece on Lewontin and Fracchia's attack on that notion myself. But it does rather depend on what one means by "darwinian" - for me it doesn't need to commit us to particulate inheritance or weismannism of cultural development.

How to get interrogated in the US

All you need to do is make a parody of an email from an offended Christian who got told that the Bible is not a science book by his neuroscience lecturer, and send it to your class mates. Then the FBI turns up and treats you like a terrorist... I'm so very glad Australia doesn't have freedom of speech if that is what can come of having it, [Thanks to Pharyngula]

New dolphin species discovered in my neighbourhood

Sahotra Sarkar notes on his blog that a new species of dolphin, called the "snubfin", has been identified in north Queensland. It was previously thought to be a subspecific variety of the Irrawaddy dolphins, but morphometric measurements showed otherwise (good to see morphology still being employed contrary to Orthodoxy). Here is the paper describing the new species, called Orcaella heinsohni. [Corrected from initial post, where I got the epithet wrong]