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Friday, February 26, 2010

Another Reason for Right-Wing Extremists To Hate Evolution 

A new study published in the March 2010 issue of the peer-reviewed scientific journal Social Psychology Quarterly advances a new theory that more intelligent people are more likely than less intelligent people to adopt "evolutionarily novel preferences and values." It's summarized on the front page of ScienceDaily.

"Evolutionarily novel preferences and values"?

Apparently, humans are not biologically designed to stay up late, for example, for the obvious reason that our earliest ancestors had no artificial lighting. So ... "Being nocturnal is evolutionarily novel" (which makes my 19-year-old nephew, and many other college students, about as novel as they come).

Innocent enough, perhaps. But here's where the study gets political: "...humans are evolutionarily designed to be conservative, caring mostly about their family and friends, and being liberal, caring about an indefinite number of genetically unrelated strangers they never meet or interact with, is evolutionarily novel. So more intelligent children may be more likely to grow up to be liberals."


There is measurable data to support this hypothesis: "Young adults who subjectively identify themselves as 'very liberal' have an average IQ of 106 during adolescence while those who identify themselves as 'very conservative' have an average IQ of 95 during adolescence."

Double ouch.

But here's the money shot: "Similarly, religion is a byproduct of humans' tendency to perceive agency and intention as causes of events, to see 'the hands of God' at work behind otherwise natural phenomena. 'Humans are evolutionarily designed to be paranoid, and they believe in God because they are paranoid,' says [the study]. This innate bias toward paranoia served humans well when self-preservation and protection of their families and clans depended on extreme vigilance to all potential dangers. 'So, more intelligent children are more likely to grow up to go against their natural evolutionary tendency to believe in God, and they become atheists.' "

Let the head-exploding commence.

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Saturday, September 19, 2009

And a Dumb Blonde Shall Lead Them 

Meet Carrie Prejean, Values Voter Summit headliner and political guru. When the values of American beauty pageant contestants become the values of the iPootValues Voter, we feel like lying in a hammock and taking the next several years off from political activism. These folks seem sufficiently bent on self-destruction that they don't need any nudging from me.

You can't really satirize what is already satirizing itself so thoroughly. The former Moral Majority is packing some serious intellectual heft these days, no? A Barbie doll channeling George W. Bush tells the super righteous at the Values Voters summit:
"As I saw my goals and aspirations flash by me, I knew God had a plan for me .... God chose me for that moment."

All the Christian conventioneers applauded as though an archangel had come down from heaven to hand over The Restored Stone Tablets (or the Satin Sash of Righteousness and Breast Augmentation). Who knew God took such an interest in Vaselined teeth and runway strutting?

Said our good ole boy on the scene, "It wudn't nuttin but wut she said about The Gay that mattered."

The last time the Right Wing used a beauty pageant contestant as their life raft, we believe Anita Bryant took 'em all down with the ship.

The world we live in offers too much brilliant silliness. Dan Brown, the Absolute Worst Writer in the Universe, coins more money with a new thriller. Meanwhile, a serious new film biography about Charles Darwin will likely not be released in the god-blessed United States of America because it might "prove hugely divisive in a country where, according to a Gallup poll conducted in February, only 39 per cent of Americans believe in the theory of evolution."

Maybe we're all too dumb to survive as a sub-species. When the end comes, I'll be out back in the hammock.

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Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Band Uniforms Scare the Christians 

Some Missouri Christians are so firm in their faith that a band T-shirt at the Smith-Cotton High School depicting the evolution of brass band instruments got them all bunged up, and consequently the school has banned the T-shirts (which otherwise do not violate the school's dress code).

Depicted evolution. Now do you get it?

"The shirts ... are light gray and feature an image of a monkey progressing through stages and eventually emerging as a man. Each figure holds a brass instrument. Assistant Band Director Brian Kloppenburg said the shirts were designed by him, Band Director Jordan Summers and Main Street Logo. Kloppenburg said the shirts were intended to portray how brass instruments have evolved in music from the 1960s to modern day. Summers said they chose the evolution of man because it was “recognizable.” The playlist of songs the band is slated to perform revolve around the theme “Brass Evolutions.”

The school's assistant superintendent confiscated the T-shirts and just incidentally made explicit how the mullahs are destroying American education, insisting that science is an extension of their narrow religious beliefs: "Pollitt said the district is required by law to remain neutral where religion is concerned."

That's it ... the practice of science, let alone its expression in a humorous way on a band T-shirt, must reflect the religious paranoia of a small group of parents in a Missouri community.

A leader of the skeered Christian parents, one Sherry Melby, who is also (my gawd!) a teacher in that school system, said, "I was disappointed with the image on the shirt. I don’t think evolution should be associated with our school."

No, wouldn't want that. Instead, you've got an ignorant bigotry associated with your school.


Monday, August 31, 2009

Book Review 

Taking a break from American history reading, I decide to learn a little something about evolution and delve into one of the most exciting books I’ve read in years, “The Song of the Dodo” by David Quammen. It’s a relatively old book, published in the mid-’90s, but it’s all new to me and written with the wry zip of a born cut-up. Couldn’t put it down.

The book is named for the dodo because that bird was one of hundreds of island species that went extinct not so terribly long ago, about the end of the 17th century. It had evolved without the need for wings – no natural predators, until Europeans arrived on Mauritius and found it easy pickin's. Quammen records that the name “dodo” possibly comes from a nickname given it by Dutch sailors, meaning (roughly) “lard ass.”

Ole Lard Ass opens the door to a history of the study of evolution. Charles Darwin got himself to islands to discover the species that began to open his eyes, as did Alfred Russel Wallace, Darwin’s chief rival for the claim of thinking up the “origin of species.” Quammen assumes that Wallace got to the truth first but received no credit for it, partly because he was a rank amateur and Darwin was the revered professional. “Islands give clarity to evolution,” says Quammen: “Islands have been especially instructive because their limited area and their inherent isolation combine to make patterns of evolution stand out starkly.”

Quammen is not a mere armchair adventurer. He’s followed the footsteps of those pioneering biologists, petted the marine iguanas of the Galapagos, hunted the invasive brown tree snakes in the dark of Guam, nearly had his butt amputated by a Komodo dragon on the island of Flores in the nation of Indonesia. Those and dozens of other eye-witness accounts enliven this book.

If the sum total of Quammen’s reportage is melancholy, and if you’re particularly susceptible to the ecological blues, you might want to focus on the subtitle of this book before plunging in: “Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinctions.” Scientists who study ancient bones have charted a series of five mass extinctions of species going back to the late Ordovician period (440 million years ago), followed by one in the late Devonian period (370 million years ago) and then the Permian extinction 250 million years ago, which eliminated more than half the extant families of invertebrate marine creatures, and the mass extinction at the end of the Triassic period (about 215 million years ago) and then the Cretaceous extinction 65 million years ago, which claimed the last of the dinosaurs. Human life had no hand in any of these because human life did not yet exist.

But in the later millennia of the Pleistocene epoch, only tens of thousands of years ago, a sixth mass extinction of animals got underway and is still continuing today, helped along by the appetites and hobbies of mankind, since this most recent extinction began about the time that humans began hunting in armed and cooperative packs.

“Eons in the future,” Quammen sums up, “paleontologists from the planet Tralfamadore will look at the evidence and wonder what happened on Earth to cause such vast losses so suddenly at six points in time: at the end of the Ordovician, in the late Devonian, at the end of the Permian, at the end of the Triassic, at the end of the Cretaceous, and again about sixty-five million years later, in the late Quaternary, right around the time of the invention of the dugout canoe, the stone ax, the iron plow, the three-masted sailing ship, the automobile, the hamburger, the television, the bulldozer, the chain saw, and the antibiotic.”

Quammen’s section on the extinction of the passenger pigeon is especially poignant, since these mountains harbored so many millions of them up through much of the 19th century. They gave their names to hundreds of places called “Pigeon Roost” in Ohio, Indiana, and in Watauga County, N.C., among dozens of other places. They were “harvested” by the thousands by teenage boys and by their fathers as a kind of prank, knocked off their roosts at night with sticks. It was so easy, killing them. The last confirmed wild passenger pigeon was shot dead in Sargents, Ohio, on March 24, 1900. The very last known, formerly wild passenger pigeon died in the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914.

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Sunday, February 01, 2009

Mummies Don't Believe in Evolution 

The Gallup Poll found that two-thirds of Republicans don't believe in evolution. Big surprise, that. But worse, that same Gallup poll, in June 2007, found that 49 percent of those surveyed said they believed in evolution while 48 percent said they didn't. Thanks, GOP, for the creeping moss of anti-science and stupidity.

For example, the chairman of the Texas State Board of Education, a freakin' DENTIST, thinks the earth and all its creatures are no more than 10,000 years old. This single man has it within his grasp to set back science education in all Texas public education by, oh, a hundred years. The Republican Guv of Texas, Rick Perry, would support that move.

Lousy-anna is even worse off already. Its State Board of Public Stupidity already allows "science" teachers to introduce "Intelligent Design" materials into classrooms. St. Paul said on several occasions to Christ's disciples, "I would not have you ignorant." The educational bureaucrats of Texas and Lousy-anna are apparently willing to exactly reverse that wish.

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