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Education Science

Correcting Misperceptions About Evolution 838

Posted by samzenpus
from the lost-cause dept.
Beagle writes "The science of evolution is often misunderstood by the public and a session at the recent AAAS meeting in Boston covered three frequently misapprehended topics in evolutionary history, the Cambrian explosion, origin of tetrapods, and evolution of human ancestors, as well as the origin of life. The final speaker, Martin Storksdieck of the Institute for Learning Innovation, covered how to communicate the data to a public that 'has such a hard time accepting what science is discovering.' His view: 'while most of the attention has focused on childhood education, we really should be going after the parents. Everyone is a lifelong learner, Storksdieck said, but once people leave school, that learning becomes a voluntary matter that's largely driven by individual taste.'"
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Correcting Misperceptions About Evolution

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  • by shanen (462549) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @01:36AM (#22584970) Homepage Journal
    From the summary there's no sign that the article says anything about what I regard as the largest misperception--but that might just be simple par for the /. course. On the other hand, if you take the time to read and consider the article carefully, then anything you post about it will be moot, because the EAS (Effective Attention Span) of /. is around 40 minutes. Ergo...

    Ma Nature just doesn't care about the waste. Of course the anthropomorphism just obscures things more, but the basic thing about natural evolution is that anything goes--but almost all of the changes lead directly to death. Ma Nature's approach results in vast numbers of tiny variations of the same basic forms that are all scrabbling for survival in a tiny niche. She isn't betting on the existence of a benevolent mutation. She just doesn't care.

    Lately I was thinking that one of the weirdest aspects is that things worked out so that every one of us humans is a unique permutation. It would be 2^46 possibilities if you just started with one set of distinct genes from the chromosomes of a single mother and father, but there are so many variations for each of the genes that the actual number of potential human beings is vastly larger than that. Insofar as our genes contribute anything to the situation, each of us could be uniquely suited for some niche on earth. Talk about over-engineering?

    Of course the likelihood that we'd ever find such perfect niches is pretty much negligible--but again Ma Nature doesn't care. If we wipe ourselves out in our frustration, she'll just start over again with the surviving cockroaches. So have a nice day.
  • by skavenger (1219006) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @01:41AM (#22585002)
    He demanded that I support the relationship of Neanderthals with other homo genus members (not even arguing the sapien angle) with fossil evidence of Neanderthals in Africa and only conceded error so far as to say that Neanderthals are as related to homo sapiens as snakes are related to worms. This is an otherwise intelligent person who believes he understands evolution and science fairly well. Apparently he attended a lecture a few years ago on the Lucy find and somehow mutated that lecture into his current understanding. How can you engage with people like this in a productive way without being insulting? TFA addresses the basic misunderstanding and urges for consistently rejecting these sorts of positions, but is that even my priority at this point? Everything about the thought process he's using to arrive at his conclusions is flawed, but his insistence that he knows what he's talking about makes it impossible to discuss anything he might disagree with meaningfully.

    Plus, he's an aspiring breeder.
  • Re:Origin of life ?! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by wizardforce (1005805) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @01:48AM (#22585038) Journal
    correct. abiogenesis deals with the origin of life its self, evolution governs everything thereafter.

    Why convolute the two ?
    through ignorance or through malice. In the latter case it's used as the wedge [wedge document that is] to try to confuse the layman into thinking that evolution is by definition atheistic in nature. it doesn't in of its self explicitly exclude the idea of a god, it has nothng to say on the matter, it merely allows for disbelief, that is to say that the watchmaker is not required to form new species including humans and that is enough reason for people to outright ignore/willfully misunderstand the evidence in favor of evolutionary theory.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 28, 2008 @01:59AM (#22585102)
    I'm no biologist, but it's funny that by "not caring", nature can potentially evolve new and useful stuff.

    Take by analogy a genetic algorithm to find some solution to a problem. Combining only the best solutions will make you fall into a local minimum and stay there. You have to keep some of the worse solutions in your set of candidates to break out of it. Similarly in real life, creatures with undesirable traits still survive and breed -- and I'm sure that that, even if simply by sheer coincidence and only in a small number of cases, leads to ultimately desirable traits in some circumstances.
  • Re:Origin of life ?! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by jd (1658) <<moc.oohay> <ta> <kapimi>> on Thursday February 28, 2008 @01:59AM (#22585104) Homepage Journal
    Well, article aside, there is no different between "living" and "non-living", apart from semantics, so there should logically be no distinction between life evolving and life forming past a very early stage.
  • by mmarlett (520340) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @02:04AM (#22585124)
    The problem is not that people do not learn, it is that people learn how to reinforce their prejudice. That is, as a species we tend to gather information that reinforces our fears. My mother in law will forever fixate on anything that proves her theory that leaving the house in general is a bad idea. Information to the contrary -- statistics about airline safety, for example -- will be disregarded. Anecdotes about blonde women raped and murdered in the Caribbean will be referenced on a daily basis.

    As soon as we learn a model for the world, we want to actively support that model. We emotionally invest. Few of us have the capacity to re-examine that model constantly. Sometimes, overwhelming evidence will cause a sea change in certain groups' world view, but generally we like to stick to our own.

    Some people have a world view that includes a just and active Christian God with a book that explains the way the world works; any evidence to the contrary is dismissed out of hand and any evidence to support it is grabbed on to no matter how irrational. Some (a few) people are just the opposite: they would dismiss any evidence of a deity and hold fast to any seeming contradiction in dogma, no matter how badly translated. I'm in the later group, and I dismiss out of hand anything anyone says about the existence of any god. I'm prejudiced that way, for better or worse.

    But simply trying to explain things to the parents will probably not make any great inroads in society. Perhaps, but probably not. More likely, you'll get a group of 10 people pissed off and they'll have nothing better to do than to repeatedly call your boss/underwriter until you are forced to go sell hot dogs on the street for simply suggesting that we should all get along and that no one should be nailed to anything for it. I'm just saying.
  • by wizardforce (1005805) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @02:32AM (#22585286) Journal
    You have a point, the actual science behind evolution isn't reaching people who are interested as well as it should be. thee's a lot of very interesting things being done that just don't make it into lectures very often outside of the occasional college lecture in the biology dept. like how chromosome 2 was formed from the fusion of two chromosomes which we found vestigial telomeres, which telomeres are normally found on the ends of chromosomes, in this case we found them buried in the chromosome as well as a second although vestigial centromere which is found only in chromosome fusion events. the subtelomeric duplications are located at base pairs 114,455,823-114,455,838 from the article in nature. which is located here: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v434/n7034/full/nature03466.html [nature.com] as well as the wikipedia article on chromosome 2: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chromosome_2_(human) [wikipedia.org] this explains why humans have 46 chromosome while the primates in general have 48. the chromosomes were not lost, two chomosomes fused into one, since each chromosome is paired, it went from 4=>2 [48-4+2=46]
  • Re:Origin of life ?! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jd (1658) <<moc.oohay> <ta> <kapimi>> on Thursday February 28, 2008 @03:02AM (#22585428) Homepage Journal
    There is nothing mystical about life, it's just chemical processes and structured molecules. The difference is that there is organization to the molecules such that the molecules appear to self-replicate. Of course, they don't "self-replicate", a double helix of nucleotides has no concept of self, so cannot have any intent to replicate anything. It's just a biochemical machine which chemically builds another chain. It so happens that the machine (unreiably) copies itself. If it didn't, it couldn't build a living organism. It has to be unreliable, in order to move forward, in order to have got to the point of being replicating inthe first place.
  • by some old guy (674482) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @03:22AM (#22585528)
    It's a pity that the discussion is almost always framed as a dichotomy. Nearly everyone forgets, or is unaware, that there is an older, more accomodating, and intellectually honest way of viewing things. There are still people around the world, not entirely of Indo-European ancestry, who hold that the universe is a perfectly natural phenominon and that the "supernatural" is merely those portions of the natural that are difficult to observe and explain. They maintain that Fate or Providence is merely the natural outcome of complex cause and effect relationships. They see that co-existing dimensions of reality and higher-order beings are only knowable through improved techniques applied with involved direct observation, much like Schroedinger's cat. They understand that science and spirit are not mutually exclusive. They have more in common metaphysically with Pythagoras and Einstein than with Moses or Descarte. They're called pagans.
  • by WhyMeWorry (982235) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @03:36AM (#22585606)
    Plato records the opinion that man was the original species. If an individual wasn't worthy it got reincarnated as a lower species. Sort of reverse evolution with a moral twist.
  • Re:Origin of life ?! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 28, 2008 @03:54AM (#22585686)

    there is no different between "living" and "non-living", apart from semantics

    Huh? Explain, please.
    There is a philosophical distinction that has lost favor over time that living matter is made of some special material (sometimes called 'magic meat') while non-living matter is different. This is used primary for religious or certain philosophical reasons. The most common argument is that if a soul is part of the body, the body must be made of something special to anchor the soul since obviously a piece of granite doesn't have a soul nor does your computer. This view continues that even if you create an object that is identical to a human in all physical ways (a philosophical zombie), it will not be a human nor will it have a soul even though it may act like a human. This is a common view of philosophers who support property dualism and they sometimes support their arguments with a more advanced version of the Aristotelian concepts of matter and form (where normal meat has the potential to be magic meat but it only does so when it is part of a living body).

    Most people today think that there is only one type of matter and that the complexity of life is just due to this matter acting like a very complicated machine. They would hold that if there is a soul it is separate from this world. A philosophical zombie would not work in this second view not because the matter has not taken the 'magic' form, but because no soul in the parallel world has attached itself to normal matter in this world. This is a view made popular by René Descartes.
  • Re:Not engineered! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by shanen (462549) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @04:05AM (#22585746) Homepage Journal
    Perhaps I should try to clarify the point from that perspective?

    We humans do *NOT* do it that way. We try to produce large numbers of identical units, be they Pentium processors, copies of Microsoft's Windows OS, white lab mice, or even ears of corn. Essentially we're begging for viral disasters of every sort.

    If I was a betting man, I'd put my money on the chickens. We've created vast flocks of chickens with almost identical genes, and they in turn have become hosts for vast infections of bird flu. By creating such vast stocks of viruses, we have greatly increased the chances of the appearance of a very serious human-human form of bird flu. But if not the chickens, there are other horses in the race, and right now I'm skeptical if we're liable to learn the big lessons from the disaster when (not if) it happens. Another thing about Ma Nature is that she's seriously patient.
  • by Riktov (632) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @04:11AM (#22585762) Journal

    Let me guess -- are you implying, from Gibbons, that 6500 years ago there was a mere one human woman on the entire planet, from whom everyone alive is descended? And I guess we all know her name...

    Because the "Mitochondrial Eve" theory does not identify a purported woman, the only one on the planet, from which everyone who has ever lived descended. Rather it identifies the one woman that everyone alive today is descended from, and who was only one of many alive then, but the only one whose descendants who are alive now. And Gibbons' paper said that this person lived 6500, rather than 100,000, years ago (as described in Sykes' "The Seven Daughters of Eve").

    But in her day, there was in turn a common ancestor that everyone alive then was descended from, some thousands of years in the past. And so on, nearly ad infinitum. But alas, we will never be able to identify the time of existence of any of those Eves without analyzing DNA samples from people back then.

    Of course logically there must have been that one ultimate Mitochondrial Eve, but assuming she was the product of evolution, it requires arbitrarily defining her as "human" and all of her ancestors as not.

    The question is not whether evolution is possible (given enough time and luck, anything is possible), but whether it actually happened.

    You're trying to put it in terms like the infinitesimal but non-zero "possibility" of an apple suspending itself mid-air by some sheer random alignment of atoms. But scientific theories such as evolution don't deal with possibilities like that. And they're not formulated as descriptions of phenomena which are theoretically possible but have never been observed. Rather they are formulated as explanations of things which have happened. The phenomenon of evolution has been irrefutably observed as happening, and the theory adequately explains how.

  • by FlightlessParrot (1217192) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @04:39AM (#22585926)
    Absolutely. I am *not* a religious person, though I have friends who are, and Dawkins angers me intensely. I found _The Blind Watchmaker_ in parts fascinating, but damaged by its polemics. I bought _The God Delusion_ in the hope that he would offer some kind of evolutionary account of the rise of religious belief, but instead it's just slagging off the most benighted of fundies. He mentions, at one point, theists with a more subtle understanding of the world, but then rants that they just give credibility to the loonies.

    If Dawkins is allowed to be the face of an evolutionary understanding of life, then we're doomed to a slugfest between fundamentalists -- and some of the religious fundamentalists have got better manners than Dawkins.

    So, yes, the way to increase knowledge and understanding of scientific thought, and especially evolution, is just to explain it, in its own terms, and not spend time on what beliefs it rules out. An acquaintance of mine is an astronomer and a Christian fundamentalist. He does equations with millions of light years in them, but occasionally puts quote marks round expressions that suggest this gives some idea of the age of the universe. I don't know, beats me, but it would be a waste of time arguing with him about it. The astronomy all works out perfectly well, I understand.

  • by swansontec (953822) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @05:35AM (#22586224)

    When uninformed people have opinions on science that smell of belief and bias, my suggestion to them is to go spend five to seven years to get a PhD in a field of natural science.

    I'm just an ordinary electrial engineer. That makes me slightly more educated than the man on the street and far less educated than the average grad student in the life sciences. Short of going back to college a PhD, I read books to educate myself. Asking for good books or other information on evolution hardly counts as "burdening others with your belief system like you are doing here." If I am wrong, it is because I am the victim of bad science, not because I am grasping at any evidence to support my belief system. My belief system does not require me to believe in evolution at all. I am perfectly comfortable with God existing outside the physical universe and playing no part in the natural evolutionary process that produced us. I have read enough to conclude that this is not the case, but maybe the stuff I have read is junk science.

    The problem with the books on evolution I have read is that they assume evolution is true, and then fit the pieces into that assumption. This is different from books on the other branches of science, which start with the basic experiments, and then introduce the theory to explain them. For example, any description of relativity begins with important observed facts, like the null result of the Mitchelson-Morley experiment or the reduced rate of decay of particles traveling at relativistic velocities. Only then do they introduce the theory to explain those facts. Every explanation of evolution I have read basically says, "We evolved from lower live forms, and here is how the facts fit into that assumption," which is exactly the opposite approach. This is not an argument against evolution; it is an argument against the way it is presented.

    I cited four examples for creation evidence off the top of my head, but I have read hundreds more. A Slashdot thread could never go into the level of detail I am looking for, which is why I want a good book or something. One that builds the theory from the ground up, citing experiments/observations along the way. If such a book doesn't exist, someone should write one. It would be a devastating attack against honest creationists.

  • by professionalfurryele (877225) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @06:12AM (#22586376)
    I don't think that is really true. Biogenesis and biological evolution are really just sub-branches of statistical mechanics. Of course the two fields have the same features, they both apply the same principles, look for allowed changes of a system that would reduce the energy of the aforementioned system, those are the changes that occur. The problem as you have put it isn't that we don't lump evolution in with biogenesis. The problem is that we don't lump biogenesis, evolution and most of the rest of basic biology and chemistry as sub-branches of concrete well established physics.
    This is why the suggestion that evolution is wrong is so absurd. Statistical Mechanics is one of the most well established branch of physics and questioning evolution amounts to questioning Statistical Mechanics well within it's established domain of applicability. The statements "the Earth is flat" and "evolution is wrong" are both equally ridiculous because the first can only be interpretted as suggesting that we cant apply Euclidean geometry to the Earth and the second because it assumes you can apply statistical mechanics to creepy crawlies.
  • by Saint V Flux (915378) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @07:11AM (#22586648)
    Since the comment you're responding to seems to be deleted (or at least taken off the main comments page), I can't tell if the person ever mentioned religion. What I can tell is that you're being very typical and shouting "YOU DISAGREE! YOU MUST BE A STUPID CHRISTIAN!!" and providing few facts to support your argument. Granted, you've added more fluff to it so that at a glance it seems reasonable, but the meaning behind it is still the same.

    I don't believe in evolution. I have no view on how life came to be. Now, if I love science, why don't I believe in evolution? Because everything I've ever read on it, from textbooks to articles posted by Darwinian Acolytes seem to have massive logical flaws. They'll provide evidence and then the conclusions just seem to be pulled out of their ass and have little, if anything, to do with the evidence presented. I have no problem with the concept of evolution - but I want conclusions that don't seem ludicrous based on the evidence they're basing said conclusions on.

    I know I'll probably get modded down, but if you look at my karma, you'll notice that I'm not afraid to speak my mind instead of just cowering before the might of the moderators.
  • by Grendel Drago (41496) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @07:31AM (#22586752) Homepage
    (And you'll notice that plenty of the commentariat over at his place does as well, though I suspect the difference isn't a deep one.)

    While I can see how evolutionary theory provides insight into abiogenesis (Spiegelman's Monster, anyone?), the fact remains that what we know about life on earth would work exactly the same whether a small initial population of prokaryotes arose by an as-yet-unknown abiogenic process, was placed here by aliens, or was zapped into place by His Noodle Appendage. Of course, what we know about tetrapod evolution would be utterly unchanged if we had some kind of omphalos thing happening prior to thir divergence from the rest of the fish.

    I suppose I see his point, but I maintain that the proper response is "nothing we know about the emergence of the diversity of life on earth is affected in the least by how life emerged; while it's a fascinating topic, the two questions--the origin of life and the origin of species--are not the same one." No matter whether evolutionary theory can provide insights into abiogenesis, the two are fundamentally different things, and while it may make no sense to wall them off from each other, it is a misconception to assume that the theory of evolution rests or depends on a working theory of abiogenesis--and that's the real assertion being made.
  • by Alsee (515537) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @07:41AM (#22586816) Homepage
    It seems quite feasible, possibly likely, that the first few times life started on earth, in the early solar system, it got extinguished by another big impact causing a global disaster.

    Actually this is a fascinating subject.

    The evidence shows that life appeared just about at the earliest point it could have, pretty much as soon as the earth cooled from a molten ball to a solid surface. And at that time the earth was still taking the occasional insane extermination-level impact.

    Allow me to define "insane extermination-level impact". An impact that covers the earth in vaporized rock, boils the oceans bone dry in a matter of days, and leave the entire surface of the earth hot enough to melt lead. Serious sterilization.

    Which left a bit of a puzzle on how the record of life on earth is apparently a continuous fixture, from its very first appearance.

    In the last several years there has been quite a bit of biological research/exploration in conjuction with commercial mining. It turns out that mines are loaded with all sorts or never-before-seen kinds of bacteria. Exotic bacteria that live off the chemistry of the minerals themselves, and living and spreading throughout the endless cracks in the rocks. Our deepest mines are well over over two miles deep and drill sampling even deeper, and the rock is loaded with bacteria and water creeping through the cracks. At 2.2 miles down into the crust the temperature rises to over a hundred degrees F, and just keeps climbing the deeper you go.

    And someone did a neat computer calculation. They modeled the temperature gradient of the crust as it goes down to the sterilizingly hot molten depths below, and they modeled the incinerating heat of a megaimpact. The heat from above works its way down through the crust incinerating everything as it goes for months and years. But the impact is a heat pulse, and the surface does begin to cool back down over time. The downwards pulse of heat decays.

    It turns out that the molten sterilization zone below and the impact sterilization pulse from above never quite meet in the middle. Deep down in the crust there remains a merely "very very hot" zone in between where some extreme heat tolerant bacteria could and would squeak by. Bacteria which would work their way back up to recolonize the surface as soon as it cooled.

    A seriously neat little chunk of science :)

    We are descended from heat-extremophile rock-eating bacteria that survived multiple insane incinerating impacts by hiding out in the deep crustal cracks.

    -
  • by swansontec (953822) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @08:03AM (#22586940)

    Thank you for this informative comment, I really appreciate it.

    The Grand Canyon is pretty much a poster-child for modern geological theories. It's layering is not consistent with a rapid flood and the canyon its self is best explained by the long slow process of erosion by river. I could probably find some detailed studies if you'd like.

    I was under the impression that the layering was, in fact, consistent with deposit by a flood followed by tidal pumping and liquefication. I will have to look into this in greater detail. The hydroplate theory, in its full detail, actually accounts for most of the points in article you link to, but not all of them. The points it does not explain are the interesting ones, from my point of view.

    I don't know where you're getting that 6000 years figure.

    The 6000 year figure came from the second study. But as your link points out, even if this were true, it would prove nothing. Another person in this thread pointed out that a later study done in 2000 demonstrates a flaw in the Gibbons study and puts the date back at 171,500 +/- 50,000 years.

    What about comets causes problems for you.

    Comets crash into things quite often, and should be extinct by now if the solar system is millions of years old. The Oort cloud theory suggest that a cloud of matter 50000 AU away is replenishing our supply, but it doesn't provide a plausible mechanism for launching comets out of the cloud and into the inner solar system (at least, from what I have read about it).

    You conflate geological evolution, astronomy, abiogenisis and biological evolution. [...] Even if one is disproved it doesn't necessarily invalidate the others because they're all separate theories with their own evidence and implications.

    This is a valid point, and one I had not considered until now. I suspect creationists confuse them because their explanation, if true, would account for all four. You are right, though. The independence of these theories from an evolutionary / old universe standpoint does make it harder to refute them. Attempts to disprove biological evolution by referring to astronomy are just sloppy.

  • by Bombula (670389) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @08:41AM (#22587212)
    the only rational people I know who have any lingering doubts about it are deeply religious and take the Bible quite literally.

    Conflating terms and ideas seems to be a theme of this thread, and of the evolution debate in general, and so I'll take the opportunity to point out another instance highlighted by your comment: articulateness and rationality should not be conflated.

    People who are deeply religious and who hold fundamental beliefs without any basis of evidence are not rational. And while it might be fair to say they are irrational in this one sphere of discourse, that is basically the same as saying they are functionally schizophrenic. It would be more accurate simply to say that people can be articulate without being rational. Just because a person is intelligent enough to coherently express their thoughts, as your deeply religious friends no doubt are, that says nothing about the quality or rationality of those thoughts. It is quite possible to thoroughly and eloquently articulate extremely poor, utterly irrational ideas - just ask Hitler or Bin Laden.

    With rationality, you can't just talk the talk. You really must walk the walk too.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 28, 2008 @09:04AM (#22587462)
    For being such a "confirmed theory", it still has some rather large defects.
    I know that adaptation is an absolute fact, and I have personally seen this happen in the wild, evolution on the other hand, changing from one species to another, I simply cannot accept due to several areas of dispute. The biggest of all these, is the undisputable non-existence of transitional forms. If species evolved from one species to another, they would of had to die some time in the middle of the evolution. If this was the case, a majority of fossils on earth would be of these intermediate states.
    Not sure how it happened, how all these species became as they are, but I am fairly certain they didn't change into each other over time.
  • by notwrong (620413) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @09:49AM (#22587956)

    As I understand it, there are two chronologies for the order of creation of species in genesis (chapter 1 and chapter 2), and neither of them matches the currently accepted scientific order.

    The order of living things in Genesis 1 is: plants, then fish, whales and fowls, then land animals, then man and woman simultaneously.

    In Genesis 2, the order is: man, then plants, then beasts and fowls, then woman (from man's rib). I think we can safely dismiss a chronology that has the two sexes of a single species being created at opposite ends of the time scale.

    Concentrating on the first account (which includes the "day" wording), this would mean birds and whales were created before reptiles and insects, and land plants before any animals. These are both in contradiction with what is currently understood from the fossil record and phylogenetic studies.

    You are right that the details are largely left out. Unfortunately where they are left in, they do not match with what we are able to infer happened in the past. Genesis is - at best - an allegory.

  • Death and Sex (Score:3, Interesting)

    by kcdoodle (754976) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @10:27AM (#22588424)
    Aging and death and sex are all an early part of evolution.

    Amoebas and single celled organisms just split. I a very real sense, the first amoeba is still alive today. If a single cell ever gets damaged, it might ask a neighboring cell for help. They could share some genetic data (or whatever else might be needed) and the good cell could help repair the broken one. This is really dangerous for the good cell as it might become damaged in the process.

    Linear reproduction does not lend itself to the sharing of information.

    So, in order to share information, and hence protect the species as a whole, this willingness to share information MUST BE FORCED.

    If every organism was hardwired to die, they would definitely have incentive to share genetic information before their time was up. So in reality the advent of death caused the need for sex.

    Without DEATH there would be no need for SEX.

    This has always been one of my favorite evolutionary rants.
  • by pla (258480) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @10:28AM (#22588432) Journal
    Say what now? I like the concept of "evolution" for exactly the opposite reason - the simplicity of it.

    As an engineer, I agree with you on that. I wouldn't, however, say that it makes the concept "intuitive".

    Look around you at every-day phenomenon... Do new species form in the sea-foam and crawl out by lunchtime? When a dog has puppies, do they walk upright due to the "evolutionary pressure" that would make them more well adapted to human living environments? When two cars collide, does a bigger and better car appear from the wreckage, or do you just have two wrecks?

    You and I (and likely, most slashdotters) have learned, through long years of study and hard work, that simple processes can lead to emergent phenomena massively more complex than those simple processes themselves. I would even call that "beautiful", one of the most elegant aspects of our universe (whether or not some intelligence can take the credit for the idea). But to call that intuitive or in any way obvious, I would have to disagree.
  • by hoggoth (414195) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @10:40AM (#22588598) Journal
    That nineteenth century minister had it almost right. The world wasn't created 6,000 years ago with a fully fleshed out history planted. It was created this instant with a fully fleshed out history planted, including the half-formed thought in your head "could that really be true?". Now you are thinking that instant has passed and the world was created 5 seconds ago, but no, that would be wrong. The world was in fact created this very instant with the memory of thinking you read the world was created this instant, 8 seconds ago.

    Tomorrow, when you think of this, you will wonder if the world was created yesterday... but in fact that would be incorrect. Your memory of reading this yesterday is an embedded false memory. The world was just created this instant.

  • by Himring (646324) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @10:54AM (#22588762) Homepage Journal
    Wow. 5 informative and not one reply?

    AHASD (I have a seminary degree).

    First, many theologians fully embrace evolution and can understand science is science and religion is religion. Stop declaring someone else's art a hard science. Stop taking a schematic obviously poetry and telling the poet he obviously meant something literal.

    My well-intended-yet-oblivious-friend. Ever heard of a guy named Rudolph Bultmann? Or the branch of theology called demytholgization? Basically, it is the existential-based theology declaring only very few pieces of the NT are fact and the rest is a literary art-form, even poetry (e.g., Gospel of John). Your literal translations don't hold-up, and no accomplished theologian in any ivy-league uni. would agree.

    Any theologian worth their salt realizes one thing: you cannot break the Bible down (the cannon most accepted today called "bible") into a few, simple parts. Yes, there are those that do take it that way. Most of these are un-educated. I would gladly offer you criticisms of the bible and help your cause, but if it is anything it isn't what you are saying it is. In a sense, it is whatever each person wants or needs it to be. And, no, I personally do not believe the creation narrative is literal, but who cares? Do you do this same sort of stuff to Dr Seuss or Mother Goose? You entirely left out the fact that there are two creation stories in Genesis which trip-up the "religious nuts" who try to apply it literally....

    Yes, Beowulf held some facts. Yes, so did the Illiad and the Oddysey, but these are not held up with Darwin's "Origins of Species" as works meant to be scientific. Please apply your petrie dish to the Song of Solomon or the book of Job. Narratives such as these were meant to carry a meaning, have worth with nuggets of truth, and that is the essense of Bultmannian theology -- find the "worth" of the narrative, the story, in the midst of the rest.

    If don't look at religious, philosophical or narrative works with the purpose of finding a meaning for life or a message then you're missing it and getting it wrong. Let's look at Acts and discuss the contradictory ways in which the story of Saul on the Road to Damascus is told. Let's discuss the differing demoniacs stories and how they conflict. Or let's talk about many problems with facts in the bible, in the stories, and how they don't match up. None of these detract from the purpose of it trying to provide people with answers to life's problems, difficulties, etc. And that's the message of it: dealing with death, sorrow, loss, poverty, etc. My gosh, stop trying to say it provides anything having to do with science. That's someone else doing that who is wrong and that's you doing that who is also wrong.

    The bible is a perfectly flawed book meant to provide answers to living life, not facts having to do with science....

  • by FuzzyDaddy (584528) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @11:01AM (#22588844) Journal
    The views of the Jewish commentators are significantly different. Rashi [wikipedia.org], a famous 11th century commentator [rashiyomi.com], wrote that the Genesis story "is not intended to teach us the order of creation". The point of the story, according to the commentators, was not teach how the world was created, but who created it.

    Most of the Jews I know don't worry too much about it. It's mostly, as far as I can tell, a christian preoccupation. (I haven't a clue what muslim thought is on the subject of literal creation - anyone out there know?)

  • Re:Define "Alive" (Score:2, Interesting)

    by turnipsatemybaby (648996) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @11:05AM (#22588898)
    Sorry, I can't tell if you're being sarcastic or not.

    You seem to have confused free-thinkers with religious types. Last I checked, free-thinkers don't have tele-evangelists trying to convince people to give them lots of money.
  • Re:Define "Alive" (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Omestes (471991) <omestes@gma[ ]com ['il.' in gap]> on Thursday February 28, 2008 @02:10PM (#22591338) Homepage Journal
    Quoth your Parents: "If everyone jumped off a cliff, would you?"

    I look at the diversity, and universality, of religion as proof of A) its arbitrariness; and B) that it, itself, is bestowed upon us by evolution.

    With A, the plurality of god's and beliefs, it makes it impossible to say "this is THE god", since basically your saying your "righter" than the vast majority of humanity present and throughout time, all of which would offer the SAME claim, with the SAME amount of fuzzy proof.

    With B, this does not bestow any special property on religion, or imbue it with any aura of validity. Just because something was useful at one time, does not mean it is useful now, nor, actually, does it mean it was useful at ANY time, actually. It just says that the mental machinery that exists in our head that lets us tie things into a "higher" ideology was not HARMFUL enough to keep us from passing it on, at some point in time.

    Yes, I do agree that the current wave of "scientism" is getting rather obnoxious, though. I don't think that science, as a largely mathematical system, can provide all of the answers to reality, and it especially cannot bestow meaning (which is existentially important). For this though, I turn to another, and oft neglected, universal of human history, aesthetics, and not religion which often has messy consequences due to its delusions of objectivity. When was the last war fought between artistic movements? Was the the Expressionist/Dada war of 1920?
  • by c0d3h4x0r (604141) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @07:33PM (#22595316) Homepage Journal
    I'm an atheist who had the unpleasant misfortunate of growing up in a small super-Christian town outside of Houston, Texas.

    In my experience, most people (both children and adults) who are dead-set against evolution don't understand the theory at all. They think it is saying that a monkey can magically and spontaneously turn into a human being. And they scoff at such a notion (as anyone would) and get deeply offended by it (as almost all people would, since almost all people think human beings are inherently superior to all other animals).

    All the scientific community needs to do to educate the religious public (and reduce its defensiveness) is to stop portraying evolution as an example of "apes turning into people over time" and instead portray it as "environment killing off individuals who aren't built for survival". That's much less offensive to the average person's sensibilities, and it allows them to open their mind to the concept without automatically rejecting it up front.

    Once a person can understand what evolution is, and see countless of examples of it at work in the world, then their mind can begin to open to seeing that humans aren't immune to it, and that it must be true for all living things.

"It's what you learn after you know it all that counts." -- John Wooden

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