Friday, December 23, 2011

A British creationist asked;

A creationist recently posed to me the notion that "evolution" could not "explain" the following features of humans, while the Bible made it all so clear.

The union of one man and one woman

Biblical polygamy was common. Only in the writing of Paulists is there the (very late) late addition that Christian priests (Bishops, and Deacons) should be monogamous. (And don't forget this, 1 Corinthians 9:29. But this I say, brethren, the time has been shortened, so that from now on those who have wives should be as though they had none; 30. and those who weep, as though they did not weep; and those who rejoice, as though they did not rejoice; and those who buy, as though they did not possess; 31. and those who use the world, as though they did not make full use of it; for the form of this world is passing away. 32. But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; 33. but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, 34. and his interests are divided.

So, obviously you should not be married anyway.

 The creation of man and woman

Which man and which woman? Homo erectus? Australopithecus? Ardipithecus? Earlier?

Creationists famously cannot tell us which Hominid fossils are "real humans" and which are "really just apes." Since in all scientific categories, we are apes, this seems something creationists need to work on a bit more.

The 'inner' witness of the law (conscience), & Morality and justice

Biblical morality changed dramatically of over time. Maybe it evolved. It seems we share core elements of this with other apes, and even rats;

Inbal Ben-Ami Bartal, Jean Decety, Peggy Mason
"Empathy and Pro-Social Behavior in Rats" Science 9 December 2011: Vol. 334 no. 6061 pp. 1427-1430

T. Romero, M. A. Castellanos, F. B. de Waal
2010 "Consolation as possible expression of sympathetic concern among chimpanzees" Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 107, 12110.

Alan G. Sanfey
2007 "Social Decision-Making: Insights from Game Theory and Neuroscience" Science 26 October 2007: Vol. 318 no. 5850 pp. 598-602
(The above are all publicly available, and are just a tiny introduction to a large literature).

In the same issue of Science as Bartal et al, is
Jaak Panksepp "Empathy and the Laws of Affect" (pp.1358-1359),


Marcus Alexander, Fotini Christia "Context Modularity of Human Altruism" (pp. 1392-1394).

Basically, most mammals are responsive to the distress of con-specifics, with Humans arguably the both the most altruistic, and the most vicious. Human altruism is fostered across ethnic boundaries by simple propinquity, or face-to-face interactions. Strictly mathematical analysis, Game Theory, provides a likely explanation why this has evolutionary advantage.

*Just published;
Catherine Crockford, Roman M. Wittig, Roger Mundry, and Klaus Zuberb├╝hler
Wild Chimpanzees Inform Ignorant Group Members of Danger
Current Biology, December 29, 2011

Why we wear clothes

It was too hot, or too cold. In tropical climes, people wore very little. In traditional New Guinea, men wear little more than decorative items indicating social status. But they feel "naked" without them;

(A family group gathered to welcome Christian missionaries. Photo by Charmaine Tham, Feb. 14. 2007.
Used with permission).

Clothing always extends beyond health, or other utilitarian function, and instead represents social identities and status.

Why we build

Why do Beavers build, or birds build, or spiders build?

We humans do have instinctual segments that are much smaller, and being smaller are much more flexible in combination with each other.

Seven day week

The Seven-day, or planetary week is an astrological institution. Herodotus, wrote, "The Egyptians were the first to assign to each month, and each day a particular god." (The History, 5th century B.C.). The ancients recognized seven "planets" each associated with a particular god; Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupitor, Venus, and Saturn (listed in the presumed order used to name the days). We use these names even now.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Rabbi Averick and the origin of life

Rabbi Moshe Averick writes a very right-wing, creationist opinion column for an on-line magazine for right-wing Jews (there are some) called The algeminer. His recent article featured a slam on Prof. Jerry Coyne's blog "Why Evolution is True," particularly Coyne's critique of creationist David Berlinski. There is some fun to be had reading the comments following the Rabbi's article, particularly amusing is that Terri-Lynn McCormick, personally takes Averick to task for misrepresenting her husband, Noble Laureate Jack Szostak.

There are a number of factual, and logical errors in Rabbi Averick's opinion piece. His aversion to science makes me hesitate about dealing with the factual errors. So, for the moment, let's consider just the statement that, "... there are only two possibilities. An unguided naturalistic process or a creator who is outside of the physical universe. There are no other options."

First, the existence of life resulting from, "An unguided naturalistic process," does not exclude the existence of a supernatural creator. One can just as easily posit a creator who wove into the creation the capacity, even inevitability, of life from the moment of creation. Similarly, the Earth could conceivably have been seeded with life, which ID creationists regularly trot out as an example of "non-religious ID." (I am glad that Rabbi Averick has at least acknowledged that this is a mere rhetorical figment to avoid the US Constitution). But, even the various formulations of 'panspermia' ideas could be interpreted so as not to conflict with the existence of a supreme creator somewhere.

So, since the Rabbi is obviously wrong that there are just his two possibilities, what does this leave of his next argument that, "If we conclude that the first living organism could only emerge through intelligent intervention, that itself is the evidence of the supernatural creator." Well, there is really nothing left of it. If the natural origin of life cannot dispose of the existence of a creator, then he must actually demonstrate the physical effects, and some mechanism of detection of these miracles. No mere critique (or denial of evidence) of abiogenesis is competent to "prove," or "disprove" the existence of god(s).

If we only look at the claim that if no natural source of first life is possible, then there are gods, I see even more problems. The first is that a negative argument can never be proven. What possible evidence could there be that the natural origin of life is impossible. We can accept, in the absence of direct evidence, that life is very improbable, but this is not ever resolvable to "impossible." Creationist guru William Dembski tries to invent a statistic he calls the "cosmic probability bound" A similar idea is found in the writing of William Craig Lane, but without Dembski's pseudo-mathematic flourishes. The notion is that the physical universe is finite, and so there must be some external infinity that contains it. Creationists posit god(s), but in a similar sense, the super string theorists posit infinite universes.

Rabbi Averick claims that his work is done just by misrepresenting the positions of several scientists, and saying that since they have not created life in the last few decades his particular deity has been validated. And this is the last, and more severe of Rabbi's errors. If he rejects the natural, he has not advanced the existence, or acceptance of his favorite mysticism. The entire effort is wasted. There are hundreds, if not thousands of godlings with followers happy to claim credit for the creation of the universe, and life. The Rabbi, even ignoring his errors and omissions, will still need to contend with them. Unless, his only goal is to damp down the unease of his co-religionists. The simple creationist literalism he proposes is terribly vulnerable to science; the universe is billions of years old; the Earth is billion of years old; the universe, Earth, etc were not created in 6 days; there was no global flood. Without a congregation, Rabbis need to find new jobs. I personally find it better to improve my understanding of scripture, and dismiss trivial literalism.

(So far, the Rabbi has blocked my comment)

I was apparently too late to the party.

As an experiment, I tried to post a link today to the Rabbi's most recent piece of E-crap. That has not appeared either.

For another exposure of Rabbi Averick's lies, see Faye Flam's excellent piece.