Just Above Sunset
May 1, 2005 - "Fossil Rabbits in the Precambrian"

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As noted in these pages - November 28, 2004: The Triumph of Idealism - and around the November 24 anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin's 'Origin of the Species' (1859) –


In an October 29 New York Times article on George Bush, Nicholas Kristof reports: "Characteristically, he does not believe in evolution - he says the jury is still out - but he does not actively disbelieve in it either; as a friend puts it, 'he doesn't really care about that kind of thing.'" (Also see in these pages May 9, 2004: On your knees, America!.)


Well, some do care about that kind of thing, and are puzzled by moves in various states to, if not forbid reaching about evolution, at least force schools to give equal time to a theory called Intelligent Design.

Intelligent Design is the theory – if you want to call it that – that life and all we see in the world are too complex to have been created by nature alone. So there must be a god – or something. This is not proof God exists, as the is no direct evidence, just an appeal to logic. So it is hardly scientific theory – just an idea. Evolutionary theory is big on digging us evidence to support what is contended. Intelligent Design doesn’t seem to need such baggage. But if Intelligent Design shows a creator, what about what was created? Cancer. Milwaukee. One wonders about the intelligence.

For those of us who wonder, it seems in late March we all seemed to have missed the Atheist Alliance International annual conference out here in Los Angeles, where evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins presented the alliance's top honor, the Richard Dawkins Prize, to those odd magicians Penn and Teller. This was, no doubt for their HBO series “Bullshit” - which debunks what needs to be debunked. It’s not that great a show – slender and sarcastic – but they pick some good targets.

Better to go to someone of substance – like Richard Dawkins himself – who was interviewed by Gordy Slack in SALON in an item that was posted on April 28, 2005: The Atheist: Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins explains why God is a delusion, religion is a virus, and America has slipped back into the Dark Ages.

Slack tells us that at the moment Dawkins is the Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University, a position created for him in 1995 by Charles Simonyi, a Microsoft millionaire. And that earlier this year Dawkins signed an agreement with British television to make a documentary about the destructive role of religion in modern history, tentatively titled "The Root of All Evil." And he’s working on a new book called “The God Delusion.” This not Penn and Teller.

Some of what he says?

Well, with the theory of evolution under attack – “Hey, it just a THEORY after all!” – what about its validity?


It's often said that because evolution happened in the past, and we didn't see it happen, there is no direct evidence for it. That, of course, is nonsense. It's rather like a detective coming on the scene of a crime, obviously after the crime has been committed, and working out what must have happened by looking at the clues that remain. In the story of evolution, the clues are a billionfold.

There are clues from the distribution of DNA codes throughout the animal and plant kingdoms, of protein sequences, of morphological characters that have been analyzed in great detail. Everything fits with the idea that we have here a simple branching tree. The distribution of species on islands and continents throughout the world is exactly what you'd expect if evolution was a fact. The distribution of fossils in space and in time are exactly what you would expect if evolution were a fact. There are millions of facts all pointing in the same direction and no facts pointing in the wrong direction.

British scientist J.B.S. Haldane, when asked what would constitute evidence against evolution, famously said, "Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian." They've never been found. Nothing like that has ever been found. Evolution could be disproved by such facts. But all the fossils that have been found are in the right place. Of course there are plenty of gaps in the fossil record. There's nothing wrong with that. Why shouldn't there be? We're lucky to have fossils at all. But no fossils have been found in the wrong place, such as to disprove the fact of evolution. Evolution is a fact.


Well, the most powerful man in the world says the jury is still out. Who are you going to believe?

Why the resistance to Darwin? The answer is obvious?


It comes, I'm sorry to say, from religion. And from bad religion. You won't find any opposition to the idea of evolution among sophisticated, educated theologians. It comes from an exceedingly retarded, primitive version of religion, which unfortunately is at present undergoing an epidemic in the United States. Not in Europe, not in Britain, but in the United States.

My American friends tell me that you are slipping towards a theocratic Dark Age. Which is very disagreeable for the very large number of educated, intelligent and right-thinking people in America. Unfortunately, at present, it's slightly outnumbered by the ignorant, uneducated people who voted Bush in.

But the broad direction of history is toward enlightenment, and so I think that what America is going through at the moment will prove to be a temporary reverse. I think there is great hope for the future. My advice would be, Don't despair, these things pass.


Well, perhaps. But it may be a long wait.

Oh, and this on the difference between atheism and agnosticism, and on the Intelligent Design business –


It's said that the only rational stance is agnosticism because you can neither prove nor disprove the existence of the supernatural creator. I find that a weak position. It is true that you can't disprove anything but you can put a probability value on it. There are an infinite number of things that you can't disprove: unicorns, werewolves, and teapots in orbit around Mars. But we don't pay any heed to them unless there is some positive reason to think that they do exist.

… For a long time it seemed clear to just about everybody that the beauty and elegance of the world seemed to be prima facie evidence for a divine creator. But the philosopher David Hume already realized three centuries ago that this was a bad argument. It leads to an infinite regression. You can't statistically explain improbable things like living creatures by saying that they must have been designed because you're still left to explain the designer, who must be, if anything, an even more statistically improbable and elegant thing. Design can never be an ultimate explanation for anything. It can only be a proximate explanation. A plane or a car is explained by a designer but that's because the designer himself, the engineer, is explained by natural selection.


Well, the most powerful man in the world says the jury is still out. Who are you going to believe, him or David Hume?

And what about this new book, “The God Delusion” that he’s writing?  Delusion?


A delusion is something that people believe in despite a total lack of evidence. Religion is scarcely distinguishable from childhood delusions like the "imaginary friend" and the bogeyman under the bed. Unfortunately, the God delusion possesses adults, and not just a minority of unfortunates in an asylum. The word "delusion" also carries negative connotations, and religion has plenty of those.

… A delusion that encourages belief where there is no evidence is asking for trouble. Disagreements between incompatible beliefs cannot be settled by reasoned argument because reasoned argument is drummed out of those trained in religion from the cradle. Instead, disagreements are settled by other means which, in extreme cases, inevitably become violent. Scientists disagree among themselves but they never fight over their disagreements. They argue about evidence or go out and seek new evidence. Much the same is true of philosophers, historians and literary critics.

But you don't do that if you just know your holy book is the God-written truth and the other guy knows that his incompatible scripture is too. People brought up to believe in faith and private revelation cannot be persuaded by evidence to change their minds. No wonder religious zealots throughout history have resorted to torture and execution, to crusades and jihads, to holy wars and purges and pogroms, to the Inquisition and the burning of witches.


He’s saying religion is dangerous? Of course he is.

And Slack asks him this – “Fifty years ago, philosophers like Bertrand Russell felt that the religious worldview would fade as science and reason emerged. Why hasn't it?”

The answer is not surprising.


That trend toward enlightenment has indeed continued in Europe and Britain. It just has not continued in the U.S., and not in the Islamic world. We're seeing a rather unholy alliance between the burgeoning theocracy in the U.S. and its allies, the theocrats in the Islamic world. They are fighting the same battle: Christian on one side, Muslim on the other. The very large numbers of people in the United States and in Europe who don't subscribe to that worldview are caught in the middle.

Actually, holy alliance would be a better phrase. Bush and bin Laden are really on the same side: the side of faith and violence against the side of reason and discussion. Both have implacable faith that they are right and the other is evil. Each believes that when he dies he is going to heaven. Each believes that if he could kill the other, his path to paradise in the next world would be even swifter. The delusional "next world" is welcome to both of them. This world would be a much better place without either of them.


Well, some of us are working on that. As old-fashioned as it is, some of us thought the Enlightenment was a good idea.

But we have, it seems, returned to an age of faith – except for Richard Dawkins, and those of us cheering him on.


By the way, this is a Darwin Fish – as seen on the back of the car of a friend, a doctor in New England – 


A late note from Ric Erickson, Editor of MetropoleParis, regarding these matters –


RE 'Fossil Rabbits'  Saturday, April 30, 2005 – Paris, France


Dr. Dawkins - "My advice would be, Don't despair, these things pass."


Editor of Just Above Sunset - "Well, perhaps. But it may be a long wait."


Would you believe 50,000 years?


Tonight on Arte-TV, the very same Dawkins, in a show focused on the idea that we became 'we' about 50,000 years ago.  Monkeys aren't 'we' and never will be in a million years.  But 'we' are evolving.  'We' have always been evolving.  Even red-neck cracker 'wes' are evolving.


Shown - cave paintings and how they were possibly done.  A dude spit the paint on the cave walls!   Fine sez I, but what did they use for lights?  Man, how did they get down so deep in those slimy dripping caves without flashlights with super-bunny batteries?  Did they use fireflies?


Anyhow, another thing the cave paintings show, prove - man was comfortable enough 30-40,000 years ago to take time off from hunting bears to spend a lot of time underground fooling around painting bison and bears on cave walls.  Show me a red-neck cracker that can come close to this!  Nothing in them caves in the red states but empty beer cans.


Shown - Cro-Magnon Joe wasn't 'we.'  This dude made a heavy-pointed spear that took him maybe 15 minutes to make.  It was stout and heavy.   For it to be effective he had to get real close.  This is why Cro-Magnon Joe was built solid.  He could take a beating and the race would go on.


Then 'we' come along, a lot more flimsily-built than our predecessor.   'We' take the time, half a day maybe, to make a spear really sharp, but light.  Add a little simple sling to it, and weak as we are we can toss the thing about 20 metres further - all these dudes talk in metres, logo no? - than old muscle-bound Cro-Magnon.  Result - 'we' get the bear and it's dead, D E A D, but if it ain't, we're further away fast, 'cause we're lighter and scareder.  Punk chickens but 'we' bring home the bacon!


And here's the modern twist - while some of these 'wes' are down in the old caves painting up a storm, our girlfriends are putting holes in pearls so they can string them together and hang around their necks, sort of to say, 'Hey lookit me! Don't I look sweet?'  Shown - 50,000 year-old pearls, and how to put holes in them using simple tools carried by every hardware store 50,000 years ago.


All of this, mostly shown by guys digging around in Africa and Europe, from Columbia, Harvard, and of course, the good doctor Dawkins from the old UK.  He mainly talks and puts it all into context, while the other guys and gals are out in the bush in sweaty short pants whacking away at stones or sticks with stone knives, or tossing spears around, and other boy scout stuff.


What's neat, is that 'we' were doing these things a Very Long Time before we became so civilized and paranoid, and started to worry about 'why we came to be,' and ignorantly assumed it wasn't 'us' at all but mumbo-jumbo in the sky, 40-year floods and diverse other miracles.


Somebody, tonight, even pointed out that our use of the Internet proves that we are still evolving.  That we are at home with multitasking is supposed to be a good sign rather than one of split attention-spans, where everything becomes half-right, partly-finished, and won't put a sharp point on a spear to save out lives, by God!


Show me a living cave painter, who isn't on welfare!   Alley Oop - where are you?




Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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