Friday, October 02, 2009

Ardi: "The Pelvis Looked Like an Irish Stew"

From the Time magazine article about the new "Ardi" fossil ("Ardipithecus ramidus"):
Deducing such details of social behavior is, admittedly, speculative — and several researchers are quick to note that some of the authors' other major conclusions need further discussion as well. One problem is that some portions of Ardi's skeleton were found crushed nearly to smithereens and needed extensive digital reconstruction. "Tim [White] showed me pictures of the pelvis in the ground, and it looked like an Irish stew," says [Alan] Walker. Indeed, looking at the evidence, different paleoanthropologists may have different interpretations of how Ardi moved or what she reveals about the last common ancestor of humans and chimps.

Casey Luskin is having some fun with the quality of the new fossil ("Ardipithecus ramidus") here and here:
So what do we have with “Ardi”? We have an extremely crushed “Irish stew” fossil that has undergone extensive reconstruction in order to become part of a PR campaign to make bold claims of ancestral status to the human line, even though at base its qualities are very similar to previously known fossils, and there's a lot of skepticism about the claims being made. In other words, we have the typical media circus that we find every time a new "missing link" is found.

I read the general media articles and I wonder: What ever happened to good ol' enlightenment skepticism? Casey Luskin is one of the few to hold on to some.

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Thursday, October 01, 2009

Darwin's Pit Bull and High Priest of Ultradarwinism

From a review of Richard Dawkins' Greatest Show on Earth:
If Thomas Henry Huxley was famously "Darwin's bulldog", then Richard Dawkins is probably best described as "Darwin's pit bull". He gets his teeth into an argument, locks on and shakes it until submission is the only option. There's a certain glee when he admits to being "the devil's disciple" or the high priest of "ultradarwinism", and his admission has an undeniably macho swagger about it. Real men (and women) take the toughest line on natural selection. Suffering and pain in nature and humanity are merely there to service the genes. Anything else is "Sentimental, human nonsense. Natural selection is all futile." There is something bracing about belonging to this most astringent and clear-sighted set. Deluded theists! Wishy-washy agnostics! Welcome to the Fight Club. One is reminded of lines by Dawkins's favourite poet, WB Yeats: "Cast a cold eye / On life, on death. / Horseman, pass by."

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Randy Olson on Richard Dawkins: "An Anti-Religious Form of Tourette's Syndrome

A rather humorous review of Richard Dawkin's new book, The Greatest Show on Earth is by Randy Olson, the director of Flock of Dodos. A portion:

Implying that your audience is stupid does not qualify as a great new angle. Yet this is precisely what Dawkins does. He opens the book by mentioning his two previous books about evolution, and then, with a nearly audible scoff, adds that back when he wrote those books (when people, apparently, were smarter?) he didn't have to argue that evolution actually happened. "That didn't seem to be necessary," he says.

By the first chapter he is comparing his predicament to a history professor forced to teach "a baying pack of ignoramuses" and dealing with a "rearguard defence". Today, he proclaims, "all but the woefully uninformed are forced to accept the fact of evolution".

It's really kind of comical. If "spot the condescensions" is a new drinking game, then bottoms up! There's one in just about every chapter. Though Dawkins says from the outset, "This is not an anti-religious book", he can't help but knock religion throughout, For instance, he writes: "God, to repeat this point, which ought to be obvious, but isn't, never made a tiny wing in his eternal life." Young Earth creationists are, he writes, "deluded to the point of perversity". You get the sense that Dawkins just can't control it. It's as if he suffers from an anti-religious form of Tourette's syndrome.

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