Custom Search

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Human evolution: Quest for primitive human backfires

Best news I've heard all year, actually. Also the worst. Bear with me.

A friend writes to tell me that
Jared Diamond, geography prof at UCLA, ornithologist and popular science writer, is in hot water for writing a story in the New Yorker last year that described "vengeance wars" among tribes in Papua New Guinea that apparently has angered the tribes. The convoluted episode has resulted in his being vilified by anthropologists and by Stephen Jay Gould's widow, who runs Art Science Research Laboratory.
He is being sued for defamation by his New Guinea subjects.

The story is told in Science by Michael Balter, who also has a summary on his blog.

An anthropologist can no longer just visit a native tribe, take notes, and come home to write pretend science articles about their "primitive" habits. Today, many members of traditional peoples have computers, jobs, and political clout. Anthropologists are answerable to the people they write about, who are now paying attention.

In truth, this whole area has been marked by huge scandals over the years. I strongly recommend Patrick Tierney's Darkness in Eldorado, as a remedial text for anyone who took anthropology under a materialist system, where the profs were looking for evidence of "primitive" humans, and caused huge disruptions in aboriginal communities as a result.

Want to see a "primitive" human? Go to the bathroom and look in the mirror.

But ... I am concerned that this may be an instance of libel tourism. That just means looking for a favourable jurisdiction in which to launch a suit that would be considered frivolous in most jurisdictions, and would not gain standing in a court.

The only solution, in my view, is the one we are embarking on in Canada - reform of the defamation laws to clarify what we do and do not consider defamation. For example, if my - very traditional - view is adopted, we don't consider dead people, abstract ideas, religions, or groups to be plaintiffs for defamation. Defamation means that a live person suffered specific, identifiable harm as a result of demonstrably false or unprovable statements made about him/her.

If the person is a public figure, that bar should obviously be lowered. He who seeks greater power than his fellows must deal with greater detraction.

Find out why there is an intelligent design controversy:


Intelligent design and high culture: Mike Behe is not a creationist, but who cares?

Lehigh University biochemist Michael Behe, author of Edge of Evolution, a powerful challenge to essentially magical claims for what Darwinian evolution can do, protests - in his usual pacific way - the ridiculous claims that it can produce vast amounts of intricate machinery in a short period of time.

Of course, the American Scientific Affiliation list (= God dunit - hallelujah! - but we would never know, from the world we live in) has a huge investment in misrepresenting him.

A key issue is whether he is a creationist - that is, does he think that specific divine acts of creation are necessary?

Recently, he wrote me to say,
I tried to make my views as clear as possible in my books, and I even have a section in Chapter 10 of Edge of Evolution entitled "No Interference" where I say ID is compatible with absolutely no "intervention" (although, of course, in reality there may have been intervention -- who knows?).

Here's the money quote:

"But the assumption that design unavoidably requires “interference” rests mostly on a lack of imagination. There’s no reason that the extended fine-tuning view I am presenting here necessarily requires active meddling with nature anymore than the fine tuning of theistic evolution does. One can think the universe is finely tuned to any degree and still conceive that “the universe [originated] by a single creative act” and underwent “its natural development by laws implanted in it”. One simply has to envision that the agent who caused the universe was able to specify from the start not only laws, but much more." (p. 231)

[Some tenured nobody] apparently has not read my stuff too closely.
Oh, I wouldn't worry about that, Mike. Don't count on any of those people reading your stuff too closely. I remember the ridicule they heaped on you when that very fine book first came out.

It was Jackal City's night out.

Here is my view, for what it is worth: The ASA list types think they can front God to people who really should believe in materialism - as Darwin - in reality - did, from his early adulthood, and not as a result of his science research.

[I will post on that topic soon].

So the ASA types would give us the right to believe in God - on their terms. (= cringing in front of glamourous atheists, and so forth ... )

But suppose we just kick them all upside the full moon, and believe the evidence instead?

If there's a down side, it must be when they land. And that down side is for them, not us.

Indeed, that is the change that is taking place right now. So hang in.

Find out why there is an intelligent design controversy:

Labels: , ,

Human evolution: Hype, tripe, trumpets, and (lagging some way after, way out of breath) truth and realism

In the flailing New York Times, we read

STONY BROOK, N.Y. — Six years after their discovery, the extinct little people nicknamed hobbits who once occupied the Indonesian island of Flores remain mystifying anomalies in human evolution, out of place in time and geography, their ancestry unknown. Recent research has only widened their challenge to conventional thinking about the origins, transformations and migrations of the early human family.
Indeed, the more scientists study the specimens and their implications, the more they are drawn to heretical speculation.
A friend comments, "I sure am drawn to heretical speculation."

While we are here, a reader wrote me to ask,

Do you think that finds like the recent Messil Pit (Lemur) fossil and the Flores "Hobbit" find work against a case for Intelligent Design?
I replied,

It’s unclear to me that Flores man is really a separate species, but even if they were, they lived exactly like other ancient humans.

This recent Messil Pit find bolsters the case of the lemur supporters against the previously dominant tarsier supporters.

That only creates more confusion about origins, it seems to me, rather than resolving anything.

Where you have opposing histories, evidence that strengthens one history must weaken the other.

It does not necessarily add up to a gain in information.

What if the tarsier advocates find a fossil that bolsters their case in, say, 2012?

And who’s to say that won’t happen - as it has happened already?
One science writer, Ed Yong, seems to have got free of the hype.

Yesterday, the entire world changed noticeably as the media, accompanied by some scientists, unveiled a stunning fossilised primate. The creature has been named Darwinius masillae, but also goes by Ida, the Link, the Chosen One and She Who Will Save Us All...
Heck, even Google bit the farm. And here are some more links to the media meltdown.

I can but hope that many colleagues join Yong. We can't know what really happened until we establish what really didn't happen. There has not been a lot of that in this area.

Amid the media meltdown, here's an appropriately skeptical article from a source I would not have expected, New Scientist, (Chris Beard, "Why Ida fossil is not the missing link", May 21, 2009),

Apart from anything else, the actual history of the fossil would suggest approaching it with extreme caution rather than treating it as another occasion for ridiculous Darwin worship.

But too much is at stake for most pop science media; they can't stop now.

Find out why there is an intelligent design controversy:


Review: Alva Noe's "Out of Our Heads"

Here is my review of Alva Noe's Out of Our Heads at MercatorNet:
He raises vital issues but, unfortunately, he fails to offer a convincing solution. Arguing that consciousness must be understood as involving the body and the environment as well as the brain, he offers platitudes such as, “Where do you stop and where does the rest of the world begin?”

An interesting question, but if consciousness is real — and not well described by materialist theory — we are no closer to an answer even if our brains, bodies, and environment are all one world. He offers only a different description of the problem.

Noë seems to want to move away from reductive explanations, but not away from the materialism that underlies them. So he ends up with non-reductive explanations that still don’t explain. By the time he ends up arguing that most human language is like dogs barking, he sounds like the people he critiques.

Who links to me?