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Friday, September 21, 2007

Human evolution files: Menopause explained! - or maybe not

Recently, an article appeared in New Scientist, a magazine for all things Darwin, wherein we are assured that "Caring grandmas explain the evolutionary role of menopause."

The article argues, based on research in Gambia prior to the introduction of modern medicine, that children were more likely to survive their mother's death if their maternal grandmother was alive (and presumably looked after the child):
... Daryl Shanley and colleagues at Newcastle University, UK, analysed the births and deaths of 5500 people in Gambia between 1950 and 1975 – before a modern medical clinic arrived. They believe this provides an approximation to the situation experienced by females during the evolution of humans.

Interesting idea - that life in Africa has not changed at all since the Old Stone Age.

It's an interesting article, all the more because menopause may not even require an "evolutionary" explanation.

The article explains,
Human female reproductive functions stop around age 50, and start tapering off even earlier. In other mammals, female reproduction simply stops because of ageing, at a variety of ages. But in humans the shutdown is deliberate and early. And it is genetically controlled, meaning the genes responsible were selected by evolution.

Wait a minute ... do we have any good reason to believe that in earliest human history most women even lived to be fifty years of age? How many people over 35 years of age, never mind 50, were the subjects of natural selection (which is what New Scientist means by "evolution")? Also, I wonder how many animals living in nature really outlive their fertility or die of old age.

Doesn't a woman develop all her eggs while a fetus herself, start to release them at menarche and go through them at a rate of about one a month? When the monthly release of eggs stops, that’s menopause.So, why bother with an evolutionary purpose for menopause? Isn’t menopause just the state of outliving one’s fertility?

Of course, in some cultures, mom's mom would raise the child of a dead mother, and in other cultures she might only raise a boy (not a girl). In others, maybe a child whose mother died is bad luck. Indeed, in some cultures I suspect that dad's mom would shove mom's mom out of the way and grab a BOY immediately.

In the cafeteria at Biola University in October 2005, I recall an eager young Darwinist proclaiming to me (rightly, I believe), "Evolution doesn't care about you when you are old." I may have been the only "old" person within 500 metres, but I was hardly alarmed to learn that "evolution" didn't care about me.

(I only wish that the Toronto snow shovelling compliance inspector had the same view ... Unhappily, he knows that I exist, and that I am a few years short of free shovelling, no matter how big the mountain of snow is.)

Hat tip to the first reader to spot an article in New Scientist explaining the evolutionary adaptation of living to be over eighty years of age and being no darn use to anyone who does not want to listen to extended yarns of ye good old days...

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Research: What can you believe about what you read?

Here's a sobering look at why we need to be a bit cautious when we are informed that such-and-so is the assured results of modern science. Take "epidemiology", for instance:
Even the way epidemiologists frame the questions they ask can bias a measurement and produce an association that may be particularly misleading. If researchers believe that physical activity protects against chronic disease and they ask their subjects how much leisure-time physical activity they do each week, those who do more will tend to be wealthier and healthier, and so the result the researchers get will support their preconceptions. If the questionnaire asks how much physical activity a subject’s job entails, the researchers might discover that the poor tend to be more physically active, because their jobs entail more manual labor, and they tend to have more chronic diseases. That would appear to refute the hypothesis.

Must reading if you are interested n health science issues.

British prof wants to be "nice" to Darwin doubters

British philosopher Mary Midgley argues that the opponents of intelligent design drive people to accept it:
Belief does not compete with science; it means different things. Dawkins is very angry with anyone who says there are mysteries, but science cannot answer some questions. We raise all sorts of questions beyond the material world. Then it's understanding we're after rather than information. These are not questions like "is there a box on the table?" but questions of inner life, that can't be settled in the lab.

I'm sorry, Dr. Midgeley, but that sort of thing will not wash any more. Many of us doubt Dawkins's view because we think it is NOT factually correct.

There IS a box on the table and Dawkins's view does not account for its contents.

It's not a question of mystery. There are certainly mysteries in the world, but the falsity of Dawkins's view is not one of them. It is available to anyone who reads Edge of Evolution or The Spiritual Brain, or any similar work, with an open mind.

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Nearby blogs: Anarchic Harmony on materialists and truth

William J. Murray, at Anarchic Harmony, asks whether materialists are just rationalizing bigotry:
The point I see delivered by materialists most often is that it's the truth, but I can't understand what truth is supposed to mean from a materialists perspective, or given that it exists and can be discerned, why it's important to them.

Most materialists believe that the universe is determined (with perhaps chaotic factors), and that they are programmed biological machines. As such, they only think something is true for the same reason a non-materialist thinks something is true: they are programmed by biology, physics, and chance to believe so. Determining what is "really" true would require that one can transcend their programming to some objective, neutral state - a impossibility to a materialist, since they **are** the programming.

Also, why would "truth" even be relevant to a materialist? Wouldn't "what works best for the desired goal" be the only meaningful consideration? Since they have no hope of discerning "what is true", and since in the long run it hardly matters as long as there is success, why cling to this irrelevancy?

Well, maybe they think political power IS truth. At least, that's what all twentieth century materialist systems have thought.

Baylor evo info lab shutdown: New Lilley correspondence publicized, plus film crew on scene

From Uncommon Descent
Peter Irons, it appears, has been corresponding about me with President Lilley of Baylor. In the last month Irons has forwarded to me a dozen or so emails in which he lays out for someone just what an execrable character I am; and then, usually without the other party’s knowledge or permission (at least from what I can tell), he forwards to me their response confirming that I am indeed an execrable character. I suppose if I were built differently I would be stung by these emails, but my usual reaction is amusement.

Having read some of the correspondence, I was amused too. How long do these people think they can keep the public from finding out that Darwinism is a bankrupt ideology? The one thing the Darwinists can do, in revenge, is keep an institution like Baylor from the honor and satisfaction of actually sinking it.

Read Lilley's reply to Irons here. Irons, apparently, has a long history as an activist.

However, Ben Stein's film crew, for the Expelled movie, headed by Mark Mathis, was on scene at Baylor, listening to bafflegab from educrats:
"With both of them it was really limited because they have a certain line they are holding, which the issues are all about procedures and not about the content," Mathis said, "and all the information we have seen says that that's not true."

Put it this way, Mark: It's the same old "overwhelming evidence" as supports the Darwinism, rammed down students' throats.

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