Field of Science

Incredible creatures that defy evolution I - logic for creationists

As I wrote yesterday, I was graciously sent Incredible Creatures That Defy Evolution I, II, and III, and now I have watched the first of them. And I immediately have one question:

How can one argue that a process cannot account for something if one does not understand the process?

Creationists, such as Dr. Jobe Martin, argue that many "creatures" are too beautiful and intricate to have evolved, and must have been created. But that assertion rests upon an inferior understanding of evolution:
Could time and chance come together and give us all the beauty we see in the world? Hi! I'm David Hames, and in the next few minutes we are going to take a close look at some animals that are going to shatter that very idea.
Yeah, but, the theory of evolution does not describe a process of time and chance alone. There's lots more, without which I'd agree that evolution would not be possible.

Dr. Martin starts by telling us that according to what he was taught about evolution, it started with the big bang. In my first post about Dr. Martin I argued that he didn't have enough education to understand evolution, and him saying that the big bang has anything to do with evolution confirms that right there. "Volcanic activity produced the water." Then lightning, x-rays, or something zapped these inorganic chemicals, and all of a sudden you have this little speck of life, he says that the scientists say. And the after about 3 billion years that speck of life became the first cell, which was somewhere around 600 billion years ago. I have listened to that sentence some ten times now, and I swear he says billion, rather than million, but even if he meant million, that's totally wrong. The first cell is way older that 600 million years, and there is no "speck of life" that isn't a cell, and oh my god it's already a total misrepresentation of what we actually know about cosmology, geology, abiogenesis, and evolution.

[Funny scene where Dr. Martin reads a page in a book from bottom to top.]

He then mentions The Assumptions... I know not yet what exactly he is referring to, but I trust he'll spill it soon. (At the end he never said, but perhaps at the end of number II or III in the series?)

Case #1: The bombardier beetle. It's quite a remarkable creature, and "there is no way a slow, gradual process is going to produce this bug". Not even if you include the newest additions to the theory, like punctuated equilibrium. How could this bug evolve? It need all of its parts all at once, or you just don't have the animal. So there.

[If you laughed at the remark about PE, then we're two.]

Case #2: The giraffe. It's an amazing system that enables the giraffe to lower its head to get a drink of water. And the giraffe can tell the difference between a zebra and a lion, which evolutionists can't explain either. At this point the narrative succumbs to an extreme parody of an evolutionary explanation: the giraffe runs away from the lion, but then passes out because it suddenly doesn't get enough oxygen to the brain. And while it's lying there being eaten by the lion, it thinks "oh, I better evolve something for this problem." Except the giraffe doesn't pass out, and that's another clever system, and how would that evolve? Ergo a designer.

Case #3: The woodpecker. Special beak. Special feet. Special tail feathers. The woodpecker doesn't get a headache from all that pecking at wood because God designed the woodpecker skull to be very thick. And the woodpecker has a very long tongue. The tongue has barbs, which God made. And glue. Just right. God made him that way. Dr. Martin could not find any evolutionists (that he asked) to tell him how the very long tongue of the European Green Woodpecker could have evolved. Not only does he then conclude that God must have done it, but that God did that to "challenge the evolutionary community".

Dr. Martin then explains how finding information about these cases that evolutionary biologists cannot explain is very hard, because they don't put them in textbooks. He says that when the scientists are faced with something they cannot explain the evolutionary history of, they fail to make the obvious conclusion that a designer did it, but instead suppress the evidence. But this is completely wrongheaded. Scientists look for natural explanations, and while they sometimes fail to explain something, that evidence is not suppressed, nor is it evidence of a designer. This is the typical age old god-of-the-gaps argument over and over again. If we can't explain it now, then God must have made it.

Case #4: The Australian incubator bird. Incredible. Evolution impossible. Only God can do that. [Dr. Martin tells us that its egg is almost a half pound in weight, which is almost as much as that of an ostrich - except that ostrich eggs are 3.1 pounds on average.]

Case #5: The beaver. It's an engineer! Ditto.

Case #6: The platypus. Electricity! "That's a miracle."

Case #7: The garden spider.

Case #8: The gecko. How? Why?

Case #9: The eye....

This was very painful to watch. The many interesting facts about these animals are completely ruined by the incessant mantra of "how could this evolve?" It's not even an attempt at some fancy explanation for how these animals could necessarily not evolve, a lá Dembski and Behe, but just incredible creatures that defy evolutionary explanations by scientists right now. Dr. Martin is just asking questions, and when he doesn't find an answer, then he concludes that God made them.

Very disappointing. I hesitate to watch the next two in the series.

Lastly, if I were to answer my question in the beginning the way Dr. Martin does, I might say that one in fact cannot argue that a process cannot account for something if one does not understand the process. In other words, Dr. Martin's query is completely vacuous, and merely rests upon ignorance.

Lisle's ultimate proof of creation proves nothing about creation

In April last year I wrote unfavorably about some videos I had not seen. Or, rather, I wrote to discredit Dr. Jobe Martin, trying to show that he had no background to evaluate the evolutionary origins of various species and traits. Of course writing about something I haven't seen is objectionable, and people did note this in the comments and in emails. Consequently, last week I received a courteous email from Dr. Martin's daughter, Mirren, who asked for my address so that she could send me the videos, because, as she said, "I believe it sure would make your position more credible if you could say that you had viewed these and we are offering them to you for free." Indeed. I received the package today containing four DVD's a three books. I will watch the videos as soon as possible (though I note that I am trying to write my thesis), and then I will write about my experiences with that here.

But I won't let you leave empty-handed today. Among three books were The Ultimate Proof of Creation: Resolving the Origins Debate, by Dr. Jason Lisle. Here's my review of the heart of the book, chapter three:

The ultimate proof is given in the beginning of chapter three, and goes like this.
[W]e know that biblical creation must be true because if it were not, we could not know anything at all. [p. 46]
I kid you not! That is all it is. There are of course explanations of what this means, and analogous examples, but the whole argument is captured in this one sentence. Lisle is even explicit that it is just this one sentence.

The example is air. To even make the argument that air doesn't exist, air is needed. Belief in air is not necessary, but air is. Similarly, Lisle contends, a Christian worldview is necessary to make an argument at all against creation.

So why is that? What is it about the Christian worldview and biblical creation that is so imperative for even making an argument in the first place?

Well, according to Lisle, the laws of logic stem from God, so without God, there can be no rationality, and thus arguments cannot be made at all.

Why, then, does logic lie with God, and the Christian God only?

In short, because it says so in the Bible. Again, I kid you not!
Rational reasoning involves using the laws of logic. There, a rational worldview must be able to account for the existence of such laws.


The Christian can answer these questions. For the Christian there is an absolute standard for reasoning; we are to pattern our thoughts after God's.


Laws of logic are God's standard for thinking. Since God is an unchanging, sovereign, immaterial Being, His thoughts would necessarily be abstract, universal, invariant entities. In other words, they are not made of matter, they apply everywhere, and at all times. Laws of logic are contingent upon God's unchanging nature. And they are prerequisite for logical reasoning. Thus, rational reasoning would be impossible without the biblical God.
The delusion here is so immense that I don't think that I can sort it out. But, the bottom line seems to be that because it says so in a book that God is unchanging, etc., then the laws of logic could not exist without him. And again, that goes for everyone (refer to the 'air' argument), even those who also claim to be able to make the exact same argument based on different scripture, as I am sure both some Jews and Muslims would.

Lisle continues:
Only in a biblical worldview can we know that contradictions cannot occur in reality; only the Christian has a basis for the law of non-contradiction, or laws of logic in general.
Lisle's thesis that logic (and uniformity of nature, and absolute morality) cannot be had without God, and without logic one cannot refute that logic, ergo the Christian God as described in the Bible, fails to persuade me, and most likely anybody else who isn't already leaning heavily towards being a believing Christian in the first place. Christians ought to be laughed out of the auditorium, as I am sure they would be if they had the nerve to present Lisle's ultimate proof of creation.

Gardner's broken skepticism

Martin Gardner, another famous skeptic, died a few days ago, and eSkeptic brings an interview with him by Michael Shermer from 1997. I am always disappointed when so-called skeptics cannot apply their skepticism everywhere, but must save some domain from inquiry. For example:
Skeptic: Inevitably skepticism leads to asking the God question. You call yourself a fideist.

Gardner: I call myself a philosophical theist, or sometimes a fideist, who believes something on the basis of emotional reasons rather than intellectual reasons.

Skeptic: This will surely strike readers as something of a paradox for a man who is so skeptical about so many things.

Gardner: People think that if you don’t believe Uri Geller can bend spoons then you must be an atheist. But I think these are two different things. I call myself a philosophical theist in the tradition of Kant, Charles Peirce, William James, and especially Miguel Unamuno, one of my favorite philosophers. As a fideist I don’t think there are any arguments that prove the existence of God or the immortality of the soul. Even more than that, I agree with Unamuno that the atheists have the better arguments. So it is a case of quixotic emotional belief that is really against the evidence and against the odds. The classic essay in defense of fideism is William James’ The Will to Believe. James’ argument, in essence, is that if you have strong emotional reasons for a metaphysical belief, and it is not strongly contradicted by science or logical reasons, then you have a right to make a leap of faith if it provides sufficient satisfaction.

It makes the atheists furious when you take this position because they can no more argue with you than they can argue over whether you like the taste of beer or not. To me it is entirely an emotional thing. [Emphasis added.]
I beg to differ. Whether you like beer or not is actually a matter of fact. What goes on in your brain - liking or disliking beer - is empirically testable, at least in principle. Sure, you have a right to make a leap of faith, but it will have nothing to do with truth or fact, and that is what being s skeptic is all about. Even as Gardner explains himself, I find his whole succumbing to emotional forces weak and unenligntning.

"[T]here are any arguments that prove the existence of God or the immortality of the soul", so there is no reason to embrace belief in it, either. Gardner's fear of death is just that, and has nothing to do with the existence of life after death.
Skeptic: Couldn’t someone make this same argument for belief in New Age hokum? Couldn’t they quote you in support of their beliefs?

Gardner: They could use that argument, except New Agers also have a whole series of beliefs that can be empirically refuted. Like reincarnation — the evidence against that is overwhelming. Most New Agers also accept most of the beliefs of the parapsychologists. They believe in ESP and PK and channeling. We have very strong empirical evidence against these beliefs. So I think there is a big difference between belief in God and belief in the paranormal.

William James made this clear in The Will to Believe. In the first place, it has to be a leap of faith about something that has overwhelming importance to an individual. Second, it has to be something for which there isn’t any strong empirical evidence or logical argument against it. So there is something radically different about belief in a mind behind the universe and the whole cluster of beliefs that the New Age movement presents.
The place Gardner got his idea of an afterlife and an immortal soul is Christianity, and for that religion there is as much evidence to refute as there is for New Age hokum.
Skeptic: So in your earlier statement that the atheists’ arguments are better than the theists’ arguments, you must mean only slightly better.

Gardner: Well, they are better in the sense that the theist has a tremendous problem of explaining the existence of evil, and to me that is the strongest argument against God. If there is a God and he is all powerful and all good, why does he allow evil into the world? Evil exists, so is God all good but not all powerful? Or is he all powerful but not all good? That is a very powerful argument and I don’t know of any good way to answer it.
Ironically, I don't think this is a problem for theism at all. The Bible is fallacious on so many accounts (check out “Oh, you can’t go through seminary and come out believing in God!”), so why not about God being omnipotent? The human writers of the Bible probably did not think of their God as someone who could do literally anything, but rather someone who could do all that they needed to get done, like defeating their enemies and providing a plenty harvest, etc. But even if we take it to mean that God can make a stick that is longer than itself, and is generally superb at breaking the rules of logic, then admitting that he is not all good should be easy. just take a look at the freakin' Old Testament! (E.g. the plagues.)

Mukhtar's birthday

Danish bus driver gets a real surprise on his birthday.

Usually I only cry when it involves emotional situations with children or interspecies love (that gets me every time, like when I saw a dolphin kissing a dog), but this one came close. I particularly like the shot of one pouting guy on the bus who refuses to sing along - there's gotta be one of those, too.

Religion and homosexuality in Denmark

A Danish journalist asks three Danish believers if it's possible to be a religious homosexual. A Christian, a Muslim, and a Jew.

Both the Christian and the Muslim answer that their god made them homosexual - this is, they didn't make any choice themselves - and therefore it cannot be wrong in the eyes of their god. The Jew finds that his sexuality is in the way of his religion. Because homosexuality offends other Jews, he cannot go to the synagogue and participate in other religious events. Neither of the three find that there is a problem with their personal god.

On top of that, the image that follows the article is somewhat racy:

Text: "Did you two call a mini-trans?" (that a word-play on a Danish transport service and a transvestite). The text on the right says "sex-bomb".

This cartoon is extra interesting because the paper is Politiken, the Danish newspaper that recently apologized this February for reprinting the Danish cartoons.

Video: Craig Venter announces synthetic cell success

If you haven't heard about the success of Craig Venter's team in synthesizing a living cell, then you forgiven. Unless you a scientists of any kind, in which case you must have been in a coma for the last couple of days.

Here's a TED video of Venter detailing the enterprise.

Two things I've learned as a student

The function of pain is to help you stay awake during boring lectures.
The function of fingernails is to inflict said pain on yourself.

Very effective. I highly recommend it.

Muhammad is drawn towards a caravan

The prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, gained many followers because his new religion allowed them to raid caravans with the blessing of Allah [source: Why I Am Not a Muslim by Ibn Warraq].

To honor the prophet, there are people all over the spheres drawing Muhammad today. Here is my contribution (this is not Facebook):

Muhammad leading his followers (left) in a raid on a caravan.

The fallacy of biblical homophobia

Seriously! Here's a serious radio host taking a serious approach to a serious problem in society: that of homosexuality. And then what happens? Some professor makes a mockery of her implying with thinly disguised sarcasm that other biblical verses should carry equal weight in our enlightened present. Of course they shouldn't. We can pick and choose to suit our needs. We are past slavery! Not homophobia! We still hate homosexuals (actually, only the men), right until society becomes enlightened in this respect also (which we will fight because it says so in the Bible).
In her radio show, Dr Laura Schlesinger said that, as an observant Orthodox Jew, homosexuality is an abomination according to Leviticus 18:22, and cannot be condoned under any circumstance. The following response is an open letter to Dr. Laura, penned by a US resident, which was posted on the Internet. It's funny, as well as informative:

Dear Dr. Laura:
Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God's Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination ... End of debate.
I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some other elements of God's Laws and how to follow them.
1. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?

2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

3. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of Menstrual uncleanliness - Lev.15: 19-24. The problem is how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

4. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord - Lev.1:9. The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

5. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?

6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination, Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don't agree. Can you settle this? Are there 'degrees' of abomination?

7. Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle-room here?

8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19:27. How should they die?

9. I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

10. My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev.19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? Lev.24:10-16. Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)

I know you have studied these things extensively and thus enjoy considerable expertise in such matters, so I'm confident you can help.

Thank you again for reminding us that God's word is eternal and unchanging.

Your adoring fan,

James M. Kauffman, Ed.D. Professor Emeritus, Dept. Of Curriculum, Instruction, and Special Education University of Virginia

(It would be a damn shame if we couldn't own a Canadian :)
This letter is at least a decade old by now, and the true authorship is in question.

The Bible explicitly says "Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable." Leviticus 18:22. At least I think it's about homosexuality. How does one lie with a woman? On her left or on her right? Other translations are more explicit: "Never have sexual intercourse with a man as with a woman. It is disgusting." But, how is it at all possible to have sexual intercourse with a man as with a woman? The man doesn't have a vagina! Or, is it assumed that sexual intercourse equals anal sex? Or oral sex? Since this is advice for a man only, can two women lie with each other? Can the man watch?

So many questions without answers that I need to know how to live my life.

Related posts:
The harm that homosexuality does
Homophobia as state policy
Homosexuality is not a choice
Homosexuality is catholic in the animal kingdom

Evolution highlights XIX

Fascinating story about how the dinosaurs could be so huge, have such small heads, and still have enough time to eat all they needed. They didn't chew their food.

Fascinating story about an experiment in Bahamas showing that for a certain species (Anolis lizards) competition among conspecifics is a larger factor determining the selective pressure than predation by birds and snakes. But it does seem like it could be a special (although not unique) case. Lots of species obviously have adaptations to cope with predators, such as great running speed, flight, gigantism, horns, armor, camouflage, mimicry, icky tasting flesh, and explosives, to mention just a few.

Notice the creationist comment at the end of this video.

My own hypothesis for the Neanderthal's demise

But first, here's what Olivia Judson says in her column in The New York Times:
Here, lots of ideas have been put forward — a sure sign that no one knows. Perhaps they died of mad Neanderthal disease, owing to a habit of feasting on one another’s brains. (This has been put forward as a serious hypothesis.) Perhaps they were victims of a changing climate. Perhaps they were “inferior” beings, unable to match our capacity for innovation in the face of adversity. Perhaps their populations became too small, and too sparse, for them to find mates. Or — and this is the most haunting possibility — perhaps they were eventually murdered by their puny cousins. That is, us.
To summarize:
  • disease
  • climate change
  • competition with humans
  • population decline
  • genocide
Disease is a distinct possibility, for example during a period of low population size, which could be due to climate change and competition with humans, smothered with humans murdering them whenever their paths crossed. But, with the new evidence of interbreeding from Svante Pääbo's team, I'd like to propose a new hypothesis.

And I'll note that it's much, much easier to write with the tongue in the cheek than it is to actually speak.

The evidence is, again, that some Neanderthals and humans had sex and fertile offspring, because there are clues from the newly sequences Neanderthal genome that humans carry some of their DNA (actually, only among human lineages that left Africa, as opposed to those who stayed - Yoruba dna Khoi-san, specifically).

So what I propose is that what happened was that when Neanderthal men laid eyes on the women of the newcomers, they found these human ladies so fair compared to their own brutish women that they summarily lost interest in their own kind, and instead focused on mating with human females.

You can just picture it: supermasculine Neanderthal spots sexy human female who couldn't possibly resist his strength (as if his brutish appearance wasn't perfectly enticing in the first place). This would explain both the new evidence for interbreeding and the extinction of the Neanderthals.

Denyse O'Leary on dating Neanderthals

The big paper with Svante Pääbo's team on the Neanderthal genome and Neanderthal and human having sex has been blogged to smithereens in the last week. Deservedly. For a few pointers you may start with my own post.

Today one of my favorite bloggers weighed in:
Every father on this list wants his daughter to date and later marry a Neanderthal, right?

Oh, wait, This just in: Most fathers don't even want their daughters to date, let alone marry, a guy who plays the guitar in the subway for a living, let alone, there was a time when one of a father’s jobs was to check out suitors for his daughters’ hands.

Girls can be unduly influenced by romantic issues, but good fathers tend to ask boring stuff like “What is your annual income?”

Put more simply: If ten years later the girl comes trudging back to her parents’ house with three kids in tow and that guy is playing folk music somewhere far away, with his hat on the pavement, well ...

But even worse. According to New Scientist, that guy’s daughter could be dating something now housed in a zoo? And Dad doesn’t care? And she shouldn’t be in therapy?

I used to wonder if the world had gone mad. Now I accept the fact and do not care.
This is so precious! Denyse O'Leary manages to turn a great scientific study into some thoughts about fathers worrying or not about who their daughters date. The shallowness is deep, so to speak, and is the staple of Post-Darwinist. I love it!

Night courting

I'm a Dane, and I've often had trouble explaining what that means, beyond being born in Denmark. Who are the Danes? When I lived in New York (1998-2002), I met exciting people from all over the world, and they all had something interesting to say about their country. The Japanese eat raw fish, the Chinese eat anything, the Americans invented pizza, etc. (New York was a lot about food, plus a few other things), but the Danes aren't special in any of these ways, because we are so small, and everything we do someone else does, too. And as a side note I could mention that I am pretty cross that all the old women who kept the lore of the people were accused of being witches and then burnt on the stake. Christianity has been supremely efficient at replacing pagan customs in Denmark.

But, today I am redeemed. Two words, as they say (except it's always much more than that): Night courting.
Premarital sexual activity was, in fact, common, and young men in many villages were permitted to sleep over in the bed of a young woman in the custom called night courting. Village customs thus set the stage for the Sexual freedom and independence of both women and men that is characteristic of Denmark today.
A-ha! Had I only known sooner. I mean, sooner than coming to New York. That would have been glorious. We could have celebrated night courting on a regular basis, in addition to what sexual freedom we thus enjoyed.

But seriously, I do wish I had had the knowledge to boast about our promiscuity. Yeah yeah, you may have your folk dances and your fancy dresses, but we have night courting, so... so come visit us anytime. What I couldn't have done for tourism, had I only known.

Neanderthals and humans got fiddly

ResearchBlogging.orgThe big news this week in evolution is of course the sequencing of the Neanderthal genome, and the evidence that humans carry some DNA from our extinct cousins. The paper was published in Science yesterday, and has a total of 56 authors, including team leader Svante Pääbo. The abstract reads
Neandertals, the closest evolutionary relatives of present-day humans, lived in large parts of Europe and western Asia before disappearing 30,000 years ago. We present a draft sequence of the Neandertal genome composed of more than 4 billion nucleotides from three individuals. Comparisons of the Neandertal genome to the genomes of five present-day humans from different parts of the world identify a number of genomic regions that may have been affected by positive selection in ancestral modern humans, including genes involved in metabolism and in cognitive and skeletal development. We show that Neandertals shared more genetic variants with present-day humans in Eurasia than with present-day humans in sub-Saharan Africa, suggesting that gene flow from Neandertals into the ancestors of non-Africans occurred before the divergence of Eurasian groups from each other.
The blogosphere has been all over this fascinating news: Jerry Coyne (for the illustration) and Carl Zimmer (with lots of background), Iddo Friedberg, and Christie Wilcox.

Usually such newsworthy research gets one article in Science Daily, but this time there are four:

Neandertal Genome Sequence Published in Science

Complete Neanderthal Genome Sequenced: DNA Signatures Found in Present-Day Europeans and Asians, but Not in Africans

Neanderthal Genome Yields Insights Into Human Evolution and Evidence of Interbreeding With Modern Humans

Neandertals 'Hardly Differed at All' from Modern Humans

Evidence now suggests that humans not only lived side by side with Neanderthals, but also had sex with them, and that that led to offspring that lived in the human population. But I already knew that, because one of my Danish friends has so big Neanderthalic brow ridges that he can rest a bottle of (cold) beer on his forehead if he leans back a little. Neat trick in the summer heat that must have been under positive selection.

But seriously, for me the really interesting thing about this possibility is that it suggests that Neanderthals contributed something really valuable to human DNA. Genes affecting metabolism, cognitive abilities, and our skeletons. We may speculate that these contributions even made it possible for humans to invade northern Europe with its colder weather, or gave us some other advantage that led to humans taking over the niche previously occupied by Neanderthals. Perhaps it was the sex that made it all possible.

Green RE, Krause J, Briggs AW, Maricic T, Stenzel U, Kircher M, Patterson N, Li H, Zhai W, Fritz MH, Hansen NF, Durand EY, Malaspinas AS, Jensen JD, Marques-Bonet T, Alkan C, Prüfer K, Meyer M, Burbano HA, Good JM, Schultz R, Aximu-Petri A, Butthof A, Höber B, Höffner B, Siegemund M, Weihmann A, Nusbaum C, Lander ES, Russ C, Novod N, Affourtit J, Egholm M, Verna C, Rudan P, Brajkovic D, Kucan Z, Gusic I, Doronichev VB, Golovanova LV, Lalueza-Fox C, de la Rasilla M, Fortea J, Rosas A, Schmitz RW, Johnson PL, Eichler EE, Falush D, Birney E, Mullikin JC, Slatkin M, Nielsen R, Kelso J, Lachmann M, Reich D, & Pääbo S (2010). A draft sequence of the Neandertal genome. Science (New York, N.Y.), 328 (5979), 710-22 PMID: 20448178

Bipedalism an adaptation to what?

Sean B. Carroll sings the praise of Tim White of the University of California, Berkeley, who has just been named one of the one hundred people who most affected the world in 2010 by Time Magazine. Great news, that an paleoanthropologist and evolutionary biologist can make such headlines.
Since 1981, they have collected thousands of fossils from a valley in Ethiopia whose sediments span 6 million years. Their masterpiece, unveiled last October, is a 4.4 million-year-old skeleton of Ardipithecus ramidus — the oldest and most complete in the human family, predating Lucy by 1.2 million years.

"Ardi," a 4-ft. female, transforms our picture of our early ancestors. Ardi was at home in trees, but she also walked upright. A woodland dweller, she refutes the belief that modern posture was an adaptation to living on the savanna. Gaps in human history remain, but White has filled a big one. [Emphasis added.]

Just because Ardi walked on two feet and lived in trees, we now know that walking upright was not an adaptation to living on the savanna?

I don't think so.

For example. Ardi could have lived in a habitat that was both forest and savanna. It could thus be that it was the selection pressure of walking upright on the savanna that made her (i.e., Ardi's conspecifics) bipedal in the first place.

Alternatively, just because Ardi et al. started walking on two feet while living in the forest, it doesn't follow that walking upright is not an adaptation to life on the ground out of the forest. Bipedalism may not at first have been an adaptation to life on the savanna, but it could well have been a crucial adaptation later on, when they moved into the savanna. So, at first an adaptation to something else while in the trees, and subsequently to life on the savanna. An exaptation, if you like.

It could even be that the first instance of bipedalism was not an adaptation at all, but came about through neutral evolution, which later on made Ardi et al. supremely suited to life on the savanna.

The harm that homosexuality does

Times are slow here on Pleiotropy. I'm working on my thesis, which leaves little time for blogging. Except, today a post on this blog named Undeception irked me enough to respond thus:
"No one seems to want to address the fact that it is neither hateful nor boneheadedly intolerant for people to be distressed when someone they care about has embraced something they are convinced is harmful to that person, or when someone with influence over people they care about acts in a way that effectively legitimizes harmful behavior."
Maybe that's because it's trivial. Of course it is neither hateful nor intolerant to be distressed. But, being hateful and intolerant towards that person is.
"And when you seek to enlighten them and change their behavior, aren’t you doing exactly what they’re doing to homosexuals when they attempt to reform them?"
No, it is clearly not the same. Experience tells us that people who don't realize that their house really is on fire will nevertheless suffer the consequence soon enough. Homosexuals will not, if everyone else treats them with respect. Experience tells us that if it were not for religion and the shame and intolerance of other people, there would be no problem with being homosexual.
"But please think twice before assuming that every Christian opposed to homosexuality does so for prideful or otherwise nefarious reasons."
Perhaps not for nefarious reasons, but such Christians legitimize the nefariousness of those Christians who put emphasis on the text that says homosexuality is wrong, while they ignore the verses that say eating shellfish is an abomination.

Homosexuals don't actually DO anything to Christians, and that should be the bottom line. Christians, on the other hand, take their way of life and impose it on the rest of us. How many times have a homosexual knocked on your door? How many times have a missionary? How many invitations have you gotten to join a church? And how many to events where homosexuals tries to convert you?
Basically, my intent is to say that if I'm not harming you, for example by asking you to become gay, then please mind your own business. And, if you object that gays are harming you because God Hates Fags, then my counter is that religious people are harming me in a much more direct way that doesn't need to invoke the supernatural (i.e., nonexistent), but merely a reminder that religion interferes in the politics of this secular-by-name nation every single day. In a bad way, always (from my point of view).

I'll procrastinate tomorrow

I was going to procrastinate today, but I'm putting it off until tomorrow.

It's very bad, but I forgive myself:
The key finding was that students who'd forgiven themselves for their initial bout of procrastination subsequently showed less negative affect in the intermediate period between exams and were less likely to procrastinate before the second round of exams. Crucially, self-forgiveness wasn't related to performance in the first set of exams but it did predict better performance in the second set.
So much for the irrelevance of research.

Carnival of Evolution™ accepted and published

The 2010 May edition of our beloved Carnival of Evolution is up today on the official blog for Springer Verlag's journal, Evolution: Education and Outreach. And with that, surely getting your post accepted in CoE is now akin to peer-review on some level. Thanks to Adam M. Goldstein for hosting.

An excerpt:
The squeamish are advised to prepare themselves before visiting GrrlScientist’s post about a newly identified genus of leech (“those spineless blood sucking animals”) which makes its home in the nose of mammals. The photographic evidence is compelling, to say the least; indeed, so is the science. A second posting discusses recent work on the genetics of personality based on the genetics of the Great Tit, a bird (Parus major). Those Tits with a variant in the DRD4 gene show a greater tendency to explore their environment, offering suggestions about how humans with this variant might behave. (Incidentally, the title of this post, “What do great tits reveal about human personality,” is no doubt likely to show up in Internet searches for topics not having to do with evolutionary biology….) She also writes about recent work in which UV rays are used to shed some new light (sorry, couldn’t help it) on fossils, revealing details about fossilized feathers in a Microraptor gui skeleton.
Next month CoE will be hosted by Dr. Zen on Neurodojo. We are going to try to make it a special edition featuring brain evolution, but that of course only works if people submit posts about brain evolution. Doesn't take much brains to figure that out. Or does it? So, you have a whole month to write up one (good) or two (better) posts pwning brain evolution. CoE has a fast track review system, and Dr. Zen will be the functioning as both editor and reviewer(s) in this edition. Use this form on Blog Carnival to submit your posts.

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