Tag Archives: Evolution

Science versus dogma

Click on the image (or here) for the full sequence. If there’s a simpler or cuter way to summarize the conflict between the methods of science and the claims of fundamentalist faith, I’ve yet to see it.

I found this via Phil Plait, who says: “Not everyone is so unwavering in their dogma, but enough people are (especially those who run this country) that this should be required reading by the time every US citizen reaches elementary school.” I concur.

(A note: from the comments on Plait’s site, there seems to have been some debate about whether the artist was reinforcing gender stereotypes. Well, maybe — though I’m not aware of any perception that women are more fundamentalist than men, and there are certainly plenty of fundamentalist males in the news today. As always, though, please correct me if I’m wrong. And you can check out PZ Myers’ post about it and his readers’ reactions, if you’re interested.)

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How to build a person

Tim Minchin narrates a nice introduction to the history — and future — of genomics:

More on ENCODE — the Encyclopedia of DNA Elements — here:

Gina Kolata of the New York Times walks us through the most recent breakthrough in DNA research and its implications. It’s worth reading through, but here’s a bit some may miss:

The findings, which are the fruit of an immense federal project involving 440 scientists from 32 laboratories around the world, will have immediate applications for understanding how alterations in the non-gene parts of DNA contribute to human diseases, which may in turn lead to new drugs.

Indeed — ENCODE operates under the auspices of the US National Human Genome Research Institute, which is a division of the National Institutes of Health. That’s your tax dollars at work, America! As researchers continue to decode the human genome and gain significant ground in the fight against diseases like diabetes and cancer, it’s yet another clear example of why government matters.

(h/t Boing Boing)

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Miscellany: Waiting for Irene; Neil Gaiman kicks my lazy ass; girl scientists rock (and so does Kirsten Gillibrand); Harry Potter ends; more atheist fun

Well, I’m back (and wishing I could have brought Idaho’s clear night sky back with me). And now we’re hunkering down in our apartment, bracing for the flooding from Hurricane Irene, which is due to hit New York later tonight: we’ve got all our supplies, we’re a storey above ground level, and we’re not in a mandatory evacuation zone (though we’re pretty close to one). We’ll make it through just fine. Bring it on.

Some old links to share before I start with fresh posts:

In an inspiring interview, Neil Gaiman links writing to punk rock and tells aspiring writers to get off their lazy asses and Just Do It. M. Molly Backes says the same thing, in a post with some wise advice to parents of would-be writers.

Take that, Larry Summers: Girls are excelling in science.

Roger Ebert has a very insightful take on what’s wrong with the Republican party today, why they don’t speak for most Americans, and why, despite any short-term victories, the tide of history is against them. On the other side of the aisle, my awesome hometown senator Kirsten Gillibrand talks feminism, politics, and the next generation.

As the Harry Potter saga comes to an end: Chloe Angyal at Feministing.com talks about Potter and feminism. Michelle Dean at The Millions considers the powerful and sincere appeal of J.K. Rowling’s story to the unjaded reader or viewer in us, despite the literary flaws and the calculations of commercial forces that the series’ critics are happy to point out. Bringing Potter into the messy world of terror and counter-terror, Dan Nexon at The Duck of Minerva speculates on why Harry won; and in the aftermath of his victory, a Foreign Policy article on “Post-Conflict Potter” gives serious consideration to what happens next.

Paul Boghossian’s essay on morality in the Times sparks a fascinating discussion on moral relativism. I don’t think I have (at the moment) a firm opinion on the subject, but I like reading up on both sides of the issue. Sometimes Sam Harris makes a lot of sense, and sometimes he doesn’t…

Which brings us to God and Godlessness territory. The New Statesman compiles statements from many prominent atheists and agnostics explaining why they don’t believe in God. Paula Kirby, pushing back against Governor Rick Perry’s stupidity, sets the record straight on evolution and why it’s a threat to Christianity; Richard Dawkins chimes in. Hemant Mehta links to some great hard-hitting atheist billboards. And, playfully sticking it to Intelligent Design, Paul Simms publishes God’s blog (be sure to read through to the “comments”).

And that’s it for now. More writing soon, after the storm.

(Photo by Kateri Jochum for WNYC)

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Teach both sides

Doonesbury nails it:

Read the full strip here.

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“These beings with soaring imagination”

The latest from Symphony of Science. Outstanding.

Lyrics here.

It’s wonderful to see the female scientists — Alice Roberts, Carolyn Porco, Jane Goodall — come to the fore on this one. And bittersweet that the video celebrates, among other things, the triumph of human spaceflight, just as the American shuttle program is coming to an end. Perhaps others will pick up the torch of exploration and run with it. I for one still hope to eventually see us, the children of Africa, venture forth to the stars.

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The future of human evolution

As our understanding of human genetics grows, and as we increasingly gain the ability to reprogram life itself, Harvey Fineberg considers the possibilities of self-directed evolution:

Bioethicist Arthur Caplan, whom I’ve written about before, explores the ethical implications:

His full talk here. (Michael Sandel offers a rebuttal; if pressed for time, you can skip ahead to clip 10 — an argument on “humility, responsibility, and solidarity” — and watch from there.)

Lots of food for thought. Yet another reminder that we’re living in incredibly interesting times, and it’ll take all our best and clearest thinking to weather the quandaries and dilemmas ahead.

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David Attenborough, humanist: “That’s what being alive is about”

I love all of David Attenborough’s work that I’ve seen — from the documentary series Life on Earth that I watched as a child, through to his narration on the gorgeously produced Planet Earth and its follow-ups. Here he makes an eloquent case not only for a naturalistic view of the cosmos but for a humanist morality as well:

I love, too, the sense of sheer wonder and joy that he finds in the natural world — a joy that doesn’t need to be connected to the illusion of a grander purpose, but that he revels in for its own sake. (It’s a sentiment he shares with many other poetic atheists.) This is from an excellent profile in the New Statesman:

His boundless curiosity is instinctive. “That’s what being alive is about,” Attenborough says. “I mean, it’s the fun of it all, making sense of it, understanding it. There’s a great pleasure in knowing why trees shed their leaves in winter. Everybody knows they do, but why? If you lose that, then you’ve lost pleasure.”

He seems uncharacteristically sombre for a moment. Then he says: “I feel regret that there are some people who’ve never even savoured it. It never occurs to people to wonder why a hummingbird and a hummingbird hawkmoth do the same things. It’s a delight. So I suppose there are some people who don’t do these things and are very happy and have perfectly happy lives. Who’s to patronise them? But all I can say is that the pleasure of it all is not virtue, or high morality. It’s just fun.”

Attenborough has apparently made his last TV series. I hope not; but if that’s the case, what he’s shared with us over the course of decades is certainly more than enough to be grateful for.

Update: Others analyze Attenborough’s video interview here.

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