A fascinating look at human evolution and differing views on whether/how/how much civilisation is affecting its speed and direction.
Plus, I think I have a crush on Dr Alice Roberts, the presenter.
The only “science” put out for political reasons in the debate between creationism and reality (sorry, evolution) is that made up by the creationists. The word science always has implicit quote marks around it when used by creationists to describe what they think is evidence for their beliefs. Creationists are the ones who want people to remain uninformed and unquestioning- just keep believing the lines they’re fed so their would be leaders can keep taking advantage of them.
Also, there’s no need to “believe” in evolution. Believing is what the creationists have to fall back on because they don’t have any evidence or a coherent theory. You understand evolution rather than believe in it. It’s been coherently explained by a large number of people. Understanding evolution is harder for some than believing in Creationism, because they can’t accept the freedom of no longer being told what to do. Which is a shame, because they then go on to tie themselves in knots as they try to explain all the logical inconsistencies thrown up by saying “God made it!”
I’ve participated in online debates with creationists, and read through others, and it’s always the creationists who don’t want to talk about whether the science backs their beliefs. Faced with evidence that just keeps piling up, they’re the ones who will steer the conversation to why people “believe” in evolution, as they desperately try to run away from the realisation that they’re wrong.
There’s no science behind creationism, just a desire to manipulate people, anyone who tells you otherwise is lying.
During a conversation a few weeks ago I suggested there would be merit in going through The Da Vinci Code and editing out all the bits where Dan Brown treats his readers like idiots. Stuff like the horrendous flashback used to explain phi and the redundant repetition of information because he assumes his readers have tiny attention spans. I reckoned I could cull nearly a third of the verbiage and make it a less painful book to read. It still wouldn’t be great, because it’s a dumb premise, but it could be easier to get through. We’d call it Dan Brown for Smartys.
Over the weekend I got thinking about other possible ….for Smatys books. The idea could lend itself to so many better uses than improving Dan Brown’s prose. The series title, obviously, is a play on the ….for Dummies books, and they would serve a similar purpose. Despite their name, the ….for Dummies books don’t assume you’re some sort of idiot. I’ve got Blender For Dummies and it’s a great resource. It presumes the reader is an intelligent person who simply hasn’t used the software before and can grasp the concepts providing they’re explained well. The …..for Smartys books would expect intelligent readers and cover areas where the main, or at least loudest, people talking about them assume their audience are morons and can be lied to with impunity.
Yes, …..for Smartys would mostly cover tabloid fodder and stuff which attracts loud and dissembling deniers. The books would look at claims made around a controversial subject and fact check them, much like blogs such as Five Chinese Crackers do. They would also present the data in cool infographics, just because I’m a fan of cool infographics. Weight would be given to data based upon how many times it had been corroborated, rather than by how much it appealed to the readers presumed prejudices.
Immigration for Smartys would trace the population of the country back through many censuses as well as using Freedom of Information requests to get councils to reveal who gets to live in council houses (just a hunch, but I doubt “newly arrived immigrants” will top the list, no matter what the Daily Mail may say).
Climate Change for Smartys would look at the scientific evidence for and against man-made climate change. It would examine the more outlandish claims made for global warming as well as the those that it’s not happening at all. It would also run a side by side projection for a do-nothing family and a make-a-change family to see who is better off, even if all the evidence is wrong and there is no climate change. The no-changers would keep their car, not bother insulating their house etc. The make-a-changes would trade in for a smaller, more efficient vehicle, which they used less, upgrade insulation, upgrade their heating, install solar panels etc. There would be a comparison of expenditure, which would be easy enough, and a less scientific look at quality of life.
I don’t know if an Evolution for Smartys would be necessary. I’d mostly point people at The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution. Dawkins can be strident, but he knows his subject and explains it well.
Religion for Smartys would be a tricky one, because some people can’t help but get violent over their choice of deity. I imagine it as a timeline from the earliest known religions through to the present day with pullouts for similarity of themes and recurring motifs. There’d also be a “Who do you hate and who do you love?” section which would list the various things and peoples considered evil or divine across several holy books.
All I need now is a publisher willing to put up the money needed to fund me whilst I do the research and design the graphics.
Wannabe Scottish holy warrior Stewart Cowan has started what may be an ongoing series on “The Myths and Hoaxes of the 20th Century”. That he’s started with a weak swing at evolution should come as no surprise, neither should the fact that he fails to put forward a coherent argument.
Cowan bases his argument on a wilfull or genuine failure to understand an 18th century theory called uniformitarianism. (It’s doubly amusing that he links to the wikipedia page about it because whenever he or his cronies are presented with a wikipedia page which proves them wrong or shows up a weakness in their arguments they fall over themselves to claim the site is a liberal conspiracy.) He then ignores centuries of research, discoveries and advances and implies that this one theory is the only thing scientists have ever used to figure anything out. From this nonsensical conceit he wanders off into a bunch of Creationist talking points and fails to prove anything. He cites research with blind cavefish which he thinks proves his point, completely failing to see that it does the opposite.
Stewart Cowan’s never presented a coherent or convincing argument against evolution, but this one’s even weaker than normal. As the only people who can be bothered to continually comment on his blog are equally uninformed and blinkered he has no need to improve his arguments, so they seem to be devolving.
The New Scientist has a special report on the roots and methods of denialism. Should be useful reading for anyone who ever finds themselves talking to creationists/climate change deniers/9/11 Truthers/anti vaccination types/that bloke in teh pub who knows what really happened to Elvis.
Scientists have created evolving RNA (ribonucleic acid) in the lab. This is the first step to showing the likely way life started. DNA’s beyond their abilities right now, but who knows what the future holds.
I did promise the author of this blog post, which claims that conspiracy theories are suddenly more true than reality, that I would provide a detailed response. But it’s going to be too long to waste on someone else’s comment section, so I’m publishing it here.
Conspiracy theories tend to say more about the theorists than the alleged conspirators. I’m going to approach the examples cited by asking two questions- If the theorists are correct, what do the conspiracists get out of it? and Why might the theorists want to believe in this particular conspiracy? So-
“1) The theory: mass immigration is being used to re-engineer society.”
What do the conspiracists get? Errrrm. What do they get? According to the theory the mostly white, mostly christian engineers of this massed social change get a country where they lose a lot of their privileges because their constituents are less like, and less likely to vote for, them. And we know how willing MPs are to give up their privileges.
Why might the theorists believe in this conspiracy? Because they’re racists? Because they don’t like immigration? Possibly, as a great many of them claim to be christians, they’re scared by falling church attendance and don’t want to have to fight for believers with a younger, louder religion.
“2) The theory: climate change is not primarily manmade, but is a ruse to impose a world government which will tax and control us.”
What might the conspiracists get? They’d get to pay more tax. Which I’m sure they really want to do. The scientists will get to keep the funding which pays for their research. Even though they could be better off working in the private sector. I have a problem with the repeated line about paying more tax. The people who’ll pay more tax are the ones who are too dumb to find ways to make their lives more efficient. Those who cut their carbon emmissions will find they’re paying less money to corporations, and the government, so they will have more money for themselves and be financially more secure.
Why might the theorists believe in this conspiracy? See the last bit above about people too dumb to make their lives better.
“3) The theory: the BBC is a propaganda machine for liberals and socialists.”
What might the conspiracists get? The licence fee cut by the next Conservative government. Though that will probably happen anyway.
Why might the theorists believe in this conspiracy? Because Fox News is Fair and Balanced.
“4) The theory: the 9/11 attacks were an inside job.”
What might the conspiracists get? The satisfaction of having turned real life into the opening sequence of the first X Files Movie.
Why might the theorists believe in this conspiracy? Racism? Brown people couldn’t possibly have organised something this big, it has to be the work of the Illuminati and/or the Jews. (An early 9/11 conspiracy theory had all Jewish workers in the World Trade Centre being called up and told not to go in to work that day.) An inability to grasp reality. Given all the genuinely horrible, stupid, illegal and dangerous stuff the Bush regime did, why on Earth do some people need to make stuff like this up?
“5) The theory: the Theory of Evolution is a 19th Century misunderstanding, which is now clear from modern scientific discoveries.”
What might the conspiracists get? Confused, given that modern discoveries strengthen and refine the Theory of Evolution.
Why might the theorists believe in this conspiracy? Fear that science, and increased understanding of it, will undermine their religion. Inability to visualise a simple and elegant theory. The writer of the post is a Creationist, so this is a favourite subject of his. He claims masses of evidence for his belief, but can never present any that stands up to scrutiny.
This is a bit of a rambling post, because I started it as a comment then brought it over here. Feel free to add your own comments and help me refine and better explain my reasoning that way.
There have beenpacks of stray dogs in Moscow at least since the 19th century and during that time the pressures of scavenging and surviving amongst humans has led to the evolution of a new breed, itself made up of smaller, more specialist packs. Most famous of the specialists are the metro dogs, which live near or in underground stations and have in some cases learnt how to use the trains to get around.
Sensible people have visited the loony Creation Museum before and posted reports of just how wierd it is. But last Friday P Z Myers, one of the US’s highest profile atheists, and around 300 others attended. Here’s his report.
Because of my long held fascination with dioramas that depict surreal and often gruesome events I found myself hunting down pictures of the Ark diorama. In what must be the final section Noah and his chosen passengers (including, no doubt, dinosaurs) sail away from the unsaved, who fight for space on the wave washed rocks and have to fend off tigers and bears. It’s like something Jake and Dinos Chapman would come up with, only with less Nazi regalia.
We should be better than this, and we should expect more from organisations like the National Recognition Information Centre, which has announced that a creationist course taught in religious schools should be considered equivalent to an A Level. This is an insult to everyone teaching real A Levels and all the youngsters taking them. This isn’t the USA or some other backward country. We need to demand that children are taught science, not fantasy, and anyone dressing up indoctrination as education should be punished, not accredited.
But only if you live in a select number of locations. The 100 page cartoon biography is being given away free-
Darwin: A Graphic Biography should be available at the end of the month. I’ll keep an eye on the artist’s blog and post details of where you can get a copy.