Low-hanging testicles

Jerry Coyne has a post commenting on a review of his book Why Evolution Is True at the BioLogos site. Jerry is always funny, and not at all deserving of his reputation in some circles as a misanthrope. If you read the WEIT blog regularly, you’ll know that he’s always picking on these folks for mixing up religion and science. Poor folks! Why can’t the biologists just let the BioLogos crowd be so they can go on reconciling God with His creation in peace and quiet?

Well, because He did a pretty bad job of it. And Jerry has a little list:

Organisms are full of flaws.  Considering only humans, we have descending testicles that can cause problems, very difficult childbirth in females, vestigial wisdom teeth (and appendixes) that can become impacted or infected, and our recurrent laryngeal nerve, which, instead of connecting the brain and larynx by the shortest route, loops way down around the heart and comes back up again.  These are not features an intelligent designer would have given us. But those features are completely understandable in light of evolution.  The nerve, for example, was constrained to form a long loop because a blood vessel moved backwards during our evolution from fishy ancestors, forcing the nerve (which once lay next to that vessel) to elongate around it to retain its connection with the larynx.

I’m always wondering how IDers and their ilk can reconcile a benevolent designer with…childbirth. Any man who’s ever seen a woman go through labor knows what I’m talking about. It’s torture. Not to mention the women who’ve actually gone through it. I’m surprised they aren’t all atheists. Maybe there’s a T-shirt in that thought.

Here’s my limerick about it:

If life on this earth was designed
with all of us neatly in mind
why isn’t it clear
just why we are here,
not to mention the crippled and blind?

If there’s an intelligent designer, I want my money back.

A Review of Summer for the Gods by Edward J. Larson

Clarence Darrow in action

Edward J. Larson has written a brilliant, judicious account of the trial of John Scopes, a schoolteacher prosecuted by the state of Tennessee for teaching the theory of evolution in a public school. The trial was dubbed the “trial of the century” (it wasn’t the first) for its illustrious protagonists. The prosecution was led by the anti-evolution politician William Jennings Bryan, who argued that Darwin’s theory directly attacked religious belief in the divine origins of man. He claimed such teaching would provoke the disintegration of social values and the ruin of morality. He saw his mission on the witness stand as a crusade. The people of Tennessee are Christians, he stressed, and they — not high-falutin’ experts — should decide what was fit or unfit to be taught in their schools.

Clarence Darrow, the iconoclastic defense lawyer and self-declared agnostic, led the defense. Darrow’s position was that what was at stake was a return to medievalism and the bludgeoning of the human intellect in the name of orthodoxy. It was, in his view, a question not of religious truth but of human rights.

The centerpiece of the trial was the joust between Darrow and Bryan. Darrow grilled Bryan on his literalist reading of the Bible, laying bare the flimsy intellectual foundations of such blind faith. Bryan, for his part, held to his position that it didn’t matter if what the Bible said seemed incomprehensible to us; it was the word of God. He did, however, concede that the six “days” of creation were best interpreted as geologic “ages,” a concession that later fundamentalists would never forgive him.

Bryan died a week after the trial. Some of his supporters blamed Darrow. H.L. Mencken, who reported on the trial for the Baltimore Sun, gave a brief eulogy: “If the village barber saved any of [Bryan’s] hair, then it is curing gallstones down there today.”

The Scopes Trial has echoed across America’s cultural battlefields for over eighty years, most recently in the Katzmiller vs. Dover ruling of 2005 that the teaching of Intelligent Design “violated the constitutional bar against religious instruction.” In light of such recent attempts to dress up creationism in sheep’s clothing, we might be grateful to William Jennings Bryan for his honesty; at the very least, he felt his religion was strong enough to survive the assault from science and reason on its own merits — or die fighting.

From The American

Harun Yahya (2)

Somehow a number of Yahya apologists have found my little post and commented. One comment in particular I found interesting:

Author probabley (sic) confused with the evolution theory. Getting hair longer, growing fingernail or kids getting taller, is not the purpose of evolution theory. This is quite normal natural process and within the same speciey (sic). Evolution theory says, one speciey (sic)transform into antoher (sic!). For example, Fish became corodile (sic), human was animal or monkey.

Well, I never wrote that growing fingernails and long hair were the be-all and end-all of evolution. And humans are animals. I don’t even claim to completely understand the underlying mechanisms of evolution, just as I don’t understand exactly how gravity works, or medicine. I’m not a biologist. But when a guy like Harun Yahya sends his lavish “Atlas of Creation” to real scientists like Richard Dawkins, it’s a laughable affront to the scientific community and those of us who appreciate what science is all about.

Everything evolves, all the time, from the animal body to the cosmos itself. Nothing is fixed in our universe. Once this is grasped, evolution from one species to the next (where does one species end and another begin anyway?) is not such a great leap. Of course, if you think God or Allah created Adam from scratch and pulled Eve from his rib then you might find yourself in great difficulty accepting the basic principle of evolution.

A suggestion to my Turkish readers (now that I have so many): I am delighted that you are so thirsty for knowledge of the real world. Harun Yahya is not your friend. He will teach you nothing about science. For that you must lose your fear of atheism, Darwin, Dawkins and all the rest. There never was any such thing  as a crocoduck or a fronkey. This is not what evolution is about. A wide world of discovery awaits you. If you should lose your faith and become atheists, well, you might just enjoy the intellectual freedom you get from it.

In Case You Thought Bats Were Birds

They’re not. And they’re not kosher, either, which is odd because we find them among other non-kosher birds: storks, cormorants, owls, herons, the hoopoe (Israel’s democratically elected national bird) and the ever-abominable falcon in Leviticus 11:13-20 (JPS Version, for you citers out there). Of course, I crosschecked other versions of the Bible and they all say the same thing. This is no mistranslation. The authors of the Bible really thought bats were birds. Of course, we know they’re mammals–like us.

Thanks to Richard Dawkins for pointing this out in his recent book The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution.

My Life as a Creationist

Well, it didn’t last long. I had just discovered God and was attempting to bend the world to my perception of the Bible. I remember being in a plane, crossing the Atlantic, when I read an article about the Dover School District creationism scandal (must’ve been 2005–so long ago!) My gut reaction was, unsurprisingly, “Of course evolution is bullshit! The handiwork is God’s and His only.”

What is surprising–or surprisingly unsurprising–is that this holier-than-thou attitude followed a lifetime of secular normalcy. It was due to my recent “discovery” of God, and my consequent insistence on fitting the universe into my nutshell conception of that God, that was responsible for such a foolish thought. This now seems inconceivable to me, like a brief loss of memory before I awoke to my rightful place among thinking, reasoning humanity.

Creationsim is not science. The Bible is, in many ways, a fascinating and wonderful book (so is Moby-Dick, for that matter). But it is not the true tale of how things have come to be as they are on this earth. It is a collection of writings by humans who knew far less about the nature of the universe than we do, and even the least educated among us is better informed scientifically than the authors of the Torah and Gospels.

I just wanted to get that off my chest.

The Case Against Creationism

Richard Dawkins has a new book out, The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution. An excerpt from it graced the Timesonline the other day, and Jonah Lehrer’s enthuisiastic review of it is here.

The elegance of evolution
The elegance of evolution

Dawkins writes:

Imagine that you are a teacher of Roman history and the Latin language, anxious to impart your enthusiasm for the ancient world — for the elegiacs of Ovid and the odes of Horace, the sinewy economy of Latin grammar as exhibited in the oratory of Cicero, the strategic niceties of the Punic Wars, the generalship of Julius Caesar and the voluptuous excesses of the later emperors. That’s a big undertaking and it takes time, concentration, dedication. Yet you find your precious time continually preyed upon, and your class’s attention distracted, by a baying pack of ignoramuses (as a Latin scholar you would know better than to say ignorami) who, with strong political and especially financial support, scurry about tirelessly attempting to persuade your unfortunate pupils that the Romans never existed. There never was a Roman Empire. The entire world came into existence only just beyond living memory. Spanish, Italian, French, Portuguese, Catalan, Occitan, Romansh: all these languages and their constituent dialects sprang spontaneously and separately into being, and owe nothing to any predecessor such as Latin.

Instead of devoting your full attention to the noble vocation of classical scholar and teacher, you are forced to divert your time and energy to a rearguard defence of the proposition that the Romans existed at all: a defence against an exhibition of ignorant prejudice that would make you weep if you weren’t too busy fighting it.

If my fantasy of the Latin teacher seems too wayward, here’s a more realistic example. Imagine you are a teacher of more recent history, and your lessons on 20th-century Europe are boycotted, heckled or otherwise disrupted by well-organised, well-financed and politically muscular groups of Holocaust-deniers. Unlike my hypothetical Rome-deniers, Holocaustdeniers really exist. They are vocal, superficially plausible and adept at seeming learned. They are supported by the president of at least one currently powerful state, and they include at least one bishop of the Roman Catholic Church. Imagine that, as a teacher of European history, you are continually faced with belligerent demands to “teach the controversy”, and to give “equal time” to the “alternative theory” that the Holocaust never happened but was invented by a bunch of Zionist fabricators.

Dawkins is bound to come under scrutiny for daring to suggest that creationists are as intellectually dishonest–and downright dangerous–as Holocaust-deniers. Dawkins even coins a new term, history-deniers, to define them. After all, nearly everyone who insists upon a creationist reading of the universe (IDers included) does so for religious reasons, just as the Holocaust-deniers deny the irrefutable mountains of evidence stacked up against their claims for ideological reasons. Well, the bad news is that Holocaust-denial has gone international, while history-denial just won’t go away.

The Late, Great Agnostic

Robert Green Ingersoll had many memorable things to say about a great many topics. He loved Shakespeare and Thomas Paine above all other authors. Most people have never heard of him, but he was one of America’s most famous speakers in the late nineteenth century.

Ingersoll had this to say about Darwin’s then-novel theory of evolution by natural selection:

“I believe that man came up from lower animals. When I first heard of that doctrine I did not like it. My heart was filled with sympathy for those people who have nothing to be proud of except ancestors. I thought, how terrible this will be upon the nobility of the Old World. Think of their being forced to trace their ancestry back to the duke Orang Outang, or to the princess Chimpanzee.

After thinking it over, I came to the conclusion that I liked that doctrine.”

And so should we.