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PostSubject: Evolutionary queries   Thu 11 Oct 2012, 23:14

I never know where to put some topics, but this will have to do. The discussion on mammary (or memory!) glands seems to warrant somewhere more official than the bar, but also I have a query about evolution more basic (and silly?) than that.

Meles was explaining about the nipples and why they might be in different places on different species. He talked of either random or useful reasons for this. But I am a little puzzled by evolutionary theory. It seems that the general idea is that species have evolved behaviours and bodily parts useful to them. Animals and humans have taken on something that is advantageous to them. But there seem a few questions to be answered about this (they no doubt have been answered but not in my reading). If there is one mutant or one animal that behaves differently from others, how does this lead to a whole community adopting the behaviour or, even more unlikely to my mind, having it hard-wired into their genetic makeup? If one animal has a new arrangement for its nipples, why does that lead to every member of that species having it. I know societies were smaller in the past, but there would still have been various communities of particular species separate from each other.

Or do these changes take place very gradually, so the nipple came slowly to the front over generations? And the giraffe's neck got longer little by little? (That still doesn't fully explain why all giraffes became long-necked. I suppose the ones that didn't stayed a different species.) Will our nipples eventually come to our noses? And the giraffe become as tall as Mount Everest?

And then there's which came first - the flower or the bee? the chicken or the egg? how do any of these essential symbiotic relationships begin?

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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Thu 11 Oct 2012, 23:38

Quote :
the chicken or the egg?

A chicken is just an egg's way of getting another egg.

The basic premise is that genetic mutations arise quite randomly but those that confer a survival or reproductive advantage have a better change of being passed on to future generations simply because the bearer is more likely to live and breed. This is natural selection but there's also sexual selection in which the characteristic which improves the organism's reproductive success may not, in itself, have a survival advantage. the peacock's tail is an instance.

Behaviour is more complicated in that in some behaviours - navigation in birds for example - are genetically programmed but others are learned and/or passed on culturally. When behaviour improves the survival rate of offspring then it becomes particularly important.

The factor that allows a characteristic to become dominant in species is time. Eons in which the offspring of that individual gradually accumulate small changes which refine and accentuate those characteristicss which eventually define that species.

If you're interested, read Dawkins, he's excellent and very accessible.
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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Fri 12 Oct 2012, 03:36

Could it be that the ape found it convenient to just use the two top mammary glands because the young one was easier to hold that way, and therefore the other glands which she may have had fell into disuse.
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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Fri 12 Oct 2012, 08:05

normanhurst - over on the Tumbleweed thread, wrote:
I just wonder where along the evolutionary trail did it become beneficial for the elephant types, not sure of the correct term… is it pachyderm or mastodoms,? to evolve the present ‘feeding station’. With hippopotamus closely related to the horse etc… where the hell do elephants fit in. I wonder if the mammoth had the same arrangement or are they a one off.

Just another couple of points: hippos, although sometimes called 'river horses' are not closely related to horses at all, and despite resembling pigs and having an even number of toes (like pigs) their nearest living relatives are the whales and porpoises from whose line they diverged about 55 million years ago. The common ancestor of whales and hippos split from other even-toed ungulates (the group which includes pigs, sheep, cattle, deer, camels, and giraffes) around 60 million years ago. In turn this group of even-toed ungulates spit from the odd-toed ungulates (the group which includes the horses) a bit earlier still. It is interesting, although probably not significant, that hippos give birth underwater, the new born having to swim to the surface for its first breath - just like whales.

Extinct elephant species certainly had the same nipple placement as modern elephants. This has been clearly shown in the case of mammoths from carcasses found frozen in Siberia. This is what one would expect, as Indian elephants are are actually closer related to extinct mammoths than they are to African elephants, but all living elephants have the same arrangement.

The closest living relatives of elephants are the sirenians (manatees and dugongs), but hyraxes are also closely related (at least more closely than hyraxes are to anything else alive today). Hyraxes are small furry animals that look a bit like chunky guiniea pigs:



But surprising though it seems they share many anatomical features with elephants: the distinctive shape of certain bones, the fact that they have small tusks and a similar arrangement of teeth, and that they have toenails. Being related to elephants, hyraxes are of course also related to manatees, but in manatees many of these anatomical features have been lost (toenails) or greatly modified (teeth).

The term pachyderm, meaning 'thick skin', was coined in the 19th century but is not now a valid scientific term as it includes animals -elephants, hippos, rhinos - from vastly different families.


Last edited by Meles meles on Fri 12 Oct 2012, 08:48; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : Briefly got muddled between my cetaceans and sirenians)
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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Fri 12 Oct 2012, 09:22

Humans like all mammals in embryo have milk lines " Milk lines are precursors to the mammary glands and nipples. All mammals, male and female, have a pair of symmetrical milk lines along which breast tissue, nipples, and areolas may develop.
Humans develop milk lines as early as week six of foetal life. Babies develop milk lines that go from the axillary region (armpits) down the torso to the groin, and sometimes to the feet.

By week nine of foetal life, most milk lines fade away, except for those in the chest area. Occasionally, milk lines will persist and may be connected to extra breast tissue and extra nipples."

I can't think of any mammal species other than primates and maybe elephants (and the marsupials) that could suckle on the move. For the primates where the new born is developmentally, comparatively, and in humans very, immature this ability to must be a significant advantage when the investment in each offspring is so high. I should have a look to see what the evolutionary psychologists have to say about this as well. Maybe later.
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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Fri 12 Oct 2012, 09:56

Did anyone watch Andrew Maxwell's programme on BBC3 about Conspiracy theories? He did the 7/7 bombings in the first one, and managed to (mostly) convince 4 people who thought the Govt did it, that they were probably wrong.

However, the second program was taking 5 creationists around the Grand canyon, California, etc, to try to convince them that evolution is not a conspiracy by scientists. One of them was swayed, but the rest were the perfect example of the human genius for sticking to your opinion, in spite of all the facts!

Religion is wonderful!
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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Fri 12 Oct 2012, 10:21

We talked about that on the 'Reincarnation' thread, Giraffe, but as it was off topic, it is probably more suited to this one.

Maybe you could explain to Caro about your neck.
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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Fri 12 Oct 2012, 10:24

ferval wrote:
I can't think of any mammal species other than primates and maybe elephants (and the marsupials) that could suckle on the move.

Whales? But that is a bit of a cheat and I know what you mean, ferval. Incidentally whales' nipples, just two in number I believe and located abdominally, are, for reasons of streamlining, hidden in longitudinal mammary folds which may well reflect the mammalian milk lines that you refer to. Whale calves cannot actually latch on and suck due to the structure of their mouths and so whales breasts discharge the milk quite forcibly by muscle action into the calf's mouth.
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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Fri 12 Oct 2012, 10:51

ferval wrote:
Quote :
the chicken or the egg?
If you're interested, read Dawkins, he's excellent and very accessible.

The numerous essays by Stephen J Gould are also very good, and draw in all sorts of fascinating historical details eg medieaval views of a flat Earth, the efficiency of Victorian London's postal service, Martin Luther, American baseball teams, Gilbert and Sullivan operas, the develpment of the type-writer.... but always with a specific evolutionary message as the main thrust of the essay. I find them very entertaining despite them tackling some very complex and sometimes controversial points about evolution.

His essays have been published in several books: Bully for Brontosaurus, Eight Little Piggies, Hens' Teeth and Horses' Toes, The Flamingo's Smile, The Dinosaur in a Haystack, The Mismeasure of Man... and others.


Last edited by Meles meles on Fri 12 Oct 2012, 11:52; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : selling and punctuation)
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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Fri 12 Oct 2012, 11:28

He's great too and the debate between the two of them were fascinating and entertaining. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dawkins_vs._Gould

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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Fri 12 Oct 2012, 11:29

ferval wrote:
He's great too and the debate between the two of them was fascinating and entertaining. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dawkins_vs._Gould

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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Fri 12 Oct 2012, 12:45

ferval wrote:
.... the debate between the two of them (Dawkins and Gould) was fascinating and entertaining.

It hadn't immediately occurred to me, but by my mentioning Gould just after you had mentioned Dawkins it might have been perceived that I sided with Gould over Dawkins. It did not intend that at all I was only drawing attention to another erudite and entertaining writer on evolutionary (and other) matters.

study
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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Fri 12 Oct 2012, 13:47

I didn't assume that at all MM, just that we're fortunate to have two such good writers on what could be pretty impenetrable stuff for non specialists.
I love these academic disagreements, the one between Johanson and Leakey was a cracker as well. It seems that the further back in the past you go, the more acrimonious the disputes.
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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Fri 12 Oct 2012, 14:05

Stephen Jay Gould is sorely missed. Any man who could prove without a shadow of lingering doubt that fish do not exist and have never existed is a loss to our species.
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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Sat 13 Oct 2012, 11:54

There'a new series on More 4 ( not channel 4) next week with Dawkins http://www.channel4.com/programmes/sex-death-and-the-meaning-of-life/episode-guide/series-1/episode-2

With luck he'll be dealing with the evolution of moral codes rather than just pointlessly arguing with the usual nutters.
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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Sat 13 Oct 2012, 12:09

Who - the Archbishop of Canterbury or Lord Sacks?



Richard Dawkins, the Archbishop of Canterbury (Rowan Williams) and Sir Anthony Kenny ("a representative of ignorance"!) discuss human nature and ultimate origin:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HWN4cfh1Fac


All terribly polite, gentle and humorous.


Last edited by Temperance on Sun 14 Oct 2012, 08:02; edited 1 time in total
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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Sun 14 Oct 2012, 08:00

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/science-vs-god-richard-dawkins-takes-on-archbishop-of-canterbury-7440051.html

I didn't know T.H. Huxley was known as "Darwin's bulldog". That might be worth putting on the Doggy Thread.
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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Sun 14 Oct 2012, 08:47

Sound quality is slightly better here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hb4aanpsx6Q&feature=relmfu

PS Sir Anthony Kenny - a former Roman Catholic priest - was excommunicated in 1965. Not many people can put that on their CVs.
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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Sun 14 Oct 2012, 09:42

I can - got it in writing too from a cathedral in Dublin, along with a load of mumbo-jumbo that, if spoken nine times on the trot, might impress a fictional goddess to speak to her son and get me back into his magic gang's favour. And of course demand for a small payment. All written in really bad Latin too and signed by a paedophile-protector, so it was official. Apparently a schoolteacher of mine with whom I had crossed theological swords took exception to possibly sharing his afterlife with me and had taken steps to get me black-balled. He was very disappointed when I thanked him afterwards - he'd really hoped he'd hurt me, the perfect little christian that he was.

What was really funny was that I had never been part of his particular cult to begin with - it had just been assumed on the basis of local demographics and general bigotry. I checked with a member of their chief rival cult however afterwards and was told that the excommunication unfortunately (his word) applied to them too. However getting the ban lifted in their case was easier. Just a tiny bit of mumbo-jumbo and maybe bake some fairy cakes for their next bring'n'buy sale.

I made the cakes and even helped out at the bring'n'buy - but avoided the mumbo jumbo part. I was enjoying the excommunication bit too well (and still am) but he did need help with his gutters.
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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Sun 14 Oct 2012, 10:25

And then there's one of my ex's who was an ordained catholic priest, but then completely lost his faith and decided he was an atheist. In the Anglican church that probably wouldn't have mattered, but the catholic lot are a bit old-fashioned in this and regard a belief in God as something of a requirement. Nevertheless they were prepared to bend over backwards to try and keep a hold of him. So he had an official letter stating that since they were sure he would eventually see the error of his ways and return to the fold, they would not take any action at all. It even stated that he could still legally marry people, but added that they'd rather he didn't for the time being as that might make things awkward for them. He was even allowed to keep all the fancy dress and props.

But I think we are somewhat drifting off topic.


Last edited by Meles meles on Sun 14 Oct 2012, 10:44; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : typos)
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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Sun 14 Oct 2012, 10:35

According to Catholic theology even Lucifer has merely "lapsed". In fact technically all those who aren't Catholics and never were have also simply "lapsed", though through no fault of their own. The fault lies with someone else in the past (there's always someone at fault in Catholic theology) and these people have simply inherited the sin. A friend of mine was once told that, as a Church of Ireland member, he could in fact atone for this sin and the penance had been backdated according to a specific formula approved by the Pope throughout as many generations as there were since the original defection had occurred. He was good at maths so could work it out. Essentially it was around twenty years solid reciting alternate Hail Marys and Act of Contritions so he passed up on it.

But we're straying from evolution in a biological sense and into the evolution of institutionalised stupidity.
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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Sun 14 Oct 2012, 10:42

nordmann wrote:
He was very disappointed when I thanked him afterwards - he'd really hoped he'd hurt me, the perfect little christian that he was.


I honestly don't know what to say, so I'd best say nothing.

Except Sir Anthony Kenny seems OK, so you're obviously in good company.

What nonsense this all is - a long, long walk is needed today, I think.

Who was it said, "Hell is other people?"
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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Sun 14 Oct 2012, 15:12

Please can someone explain what Dawkins meant when he said that you could be a determinist without being a genetic determinist? I'm not challenging anything, I simply do not understand the terms - they seem to mean different things according to who it is you are talking to and how drunk they are.

I thought Kenny's question about computers was interesting. Do computers have free will?

Is programming a kind of predestination?

Makes me think of what Trike posted over on the Reincarnation thread about how eventually we will be able to download our own brains or "consciousness" (whatever consciousness is). Is this the next stage of our evolution? This is where my brain shorts out.

I had to laugh at Dawkins' story about his friend who always ends any argument about consciousness by shouting: "I am not conscious!"


Last edited by Temperance on Sun 14 Oct 2012, 17:45; edited 1 time in total
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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Sun 14 Oct 2012, 15:25

Trike wrote:
I see the subject has been moved to the Religion and Superstition section, no matter, thought about posting here at the start.

If we can all hang on for a few more years we may be able to download into a computer, a sort of silicon immortality

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mind_uploading

although our reality may itself be a computer simulation, various papers on attached link;

http://www.simulation-argument.com/



This is Trike's post and his links - hope you don't mind me putting it here, Trike.

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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Sun 14 Oct 2012, 17:25

I don't mind at all, Temp.

T.
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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Sun 14 Oct 2012, 18:19

For anyone who wants to read some speculative fiction Dougal Dixon's book about a multi human future;

http://www.sivatherium.narod.ru/library/Dixon_3/01_en.htm
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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Sun 14 Oct 2012, 20:05

Has anyone read Denis Alexander's book, "Rebuilding the Matrix: Science and Faith in the 21st Century"?

Alexander seems a reasonable sort of chap - a Christian, but not a "nutter" - but you never can tell.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/sep/12/religion.evolution
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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Sun 14 Oct 2012, 20:47

Alexander is no nutter. He is however a far better biologist than he is a theologist, just as one could equally validly say that Richard Dawkins is a far better biologist than he is a spokesman against theology. In both cases each man writes with complete sincerity but each leaves the reader, especially the one who is looking for guidance or help resolving the same problem in their own minds, with as many questions unanswered as when one picks up their books. To my mind both are guilty of creating false dichotomies, not as wilful untruths to prosecute an assertion, but simply in trying to present a sequence of logically connected deductive propositions which, they hope, will cumulatively lead to their respective main points. Utlimately for Alexander it is that God exists and does not conflict with evolutionary theory, for Dawkins it is that god cannot exist or need not exist within evolutionary theory, as faith in such an entity is at best an unnecessary hypothesis and at worst an actively destructive influence working against scientific reason.

When I read Alexander's book I was impressed with his analysis of Platonic versus Aristotlean versions of how logic itself works - an argument that preceded christianity by some centuries and which ended up being an important factor in its own development in its early years. Most christians are unaware of the ancient roots of the principal points of diversion which have dogged their schismatic and fractured philosophy (mainly because they choose not to believe that they subscribe to a philosophy per se). I was also impressed with his demolition of so-called "intelligent design", a far more damning indictment of that fallacy as it was coming from someone who, one gets the impression, would secretly have reserved some relief for it being true - if nothing else it would make life much simpler for him in terms of not having to question his faith.

But his false dichotomies, straw men arguments and sometimes just plain wrong assertions regarding historical people, their context and their expressed views all made for an ultimately cringey experience as one progressed through his chain of thoughts. The effect in the end was not being delivered of a logically arrived at conclusion but of an illogically contrived conclusion which merely demonstrated that Alexander's dilemma - reconciling faith-based received wisdoms with flatly contradictory knowledge accrued scientifically - is simply that, a personal dilemma faced by him and others like him. No nearer resolution for having written it in a book, and the reader therefore no nearer an understanding of why he chooses to live with that dilemma.

I went through a few years of reading books by people engaged with just this dilemma, whether justifying it or condemning it, and simply ended up with the distinct impression that the real issue is not whether these two distinct mind-sets can be reconciled or accommodated by the individual, but whether one should waste time trying to adopt both if one is a believer in christianity (or similar), or in trying to probe or argue against others adopting such a compromise if one is completely scientific in one's approach to understanding reality. It seems that the best non-religious scientists can do is simply ignore the quandary (which, after all, isn't theirs) and plough on working to construct as full an understanding of the real world as possible the way they know best. By the same token those struggling with the quandary and who want to contribute still to that process should just keep quiet too and get on with it.

If the notion is to persuade a wavering readership one way or the other then both are doomed to failure anyway.
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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Sun 14 Oct 2012, 22:16

The egg was first. The bird that produced it wasn't *quite* a chicken.
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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Mon 15 Oct 2012, 08:53

Quote :
When I read Alexander's book I was impressed with his analysis of Platonic versus Aristotlean versions of how logic itself works - an argument that preceded christianity by some centuries and which ended up being an important factor in its own development in its early years. Most christians are unaware of the ancient roots of the principal points of diversion which have dogged their schismatic and fractured philosophy (mainly because they choose not to believe that they subscribe to a philosophy per se).

Thank you for your reply about Alexander - you are actually very fair.

Re quote above - what you say about Christians not accepting that they subscribe to a "philosophy per se" is extremely interesting. You see, I think I do - or I am trying to. This particular thread is not the place to ask questions about that, but your thoughts - and Tim's - on such a topic would be interesting. I've just discovered Benjamin Jowett - no doubt hopelessly out of date, but what Jowett (Essay on St. Paul) says about how in Alexandria "the Jew and the Greek mingled minds... the law of Moses and the prophets and the dialectic of Plato and Aristotle met together...a belief in a personal God assimilated to the doctrine of ideas..." makes such obvious sense. I also like his comment, "The great instrument whereby Greek philosophy was brought into harmony with the Jewish scriptures was allegorical interpretation." Is this is the mysterious "meat" that Paul talks of - the meat that Christians were/are not ready for - or cannot stomach?

But, as ever, there is so much more to read and think about. My own ignorance appals me, and when I say that I am not being what Minette used to call 'umble.
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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Mon 15 Oct 2012, 09:45

Quote :
No nearer resolution for having written it in a book, and the reader therefore no nearer an understanding of why he chooses to live with that dilemma.

My feelings exactly after listening to the Dawkins - Williams discussion. William's mental contortions in trying to accommodate a recognition and acceptance of the science with a transcendental belief in a god concept I find inexplicable What's his god for? Unless that god directly intervenes and has a personal relationship with his creation, he might as well be a natural force like gravity. When anything began to touch on that, he retreated to the 'That's difficult' position. Dawkins, who didn't really do very well I thought, said more than once 'We don't know' but that's different, that's expressing an currently incomplete understanding and not the 'We can't know' which is the fall back position of the religious.

I've been desperately trying to recall a debate that was on an LP in the 60s about at what point in foetal development the soul entered the body. I don't suppose anyone can help there?
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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Mon 15 Oct 2012, 10:47

ferval wrote:
'We can't know' which is the fall back position of the religious

That is usually lumped together under the dubious title of 'faith', along with the uncomfortable questions that the religious would rather not have to answer.
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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Mon 15 Oct 2012, 10:53

Perhaps it isn't a matter of choice - although I can hear the snorts of derision from here at such a daft thought.

I like this poem, written by that total loser, Francis Thompson. Thompson was definitely a nutter - an opium addict and vagrant. Interesting bloke, though.

http://www.houndsofheaven.com/thepoem.htm

George R. Price quoted a line or two from "The Hound of Heaven" in his suicide note - not a cheery thought, I'm afraid, but there you go.

On a lighter note, I've just been reading (with great sympathy) an anecdote told by Augustus Hare. When at Oxford, Hare had the privilege of walking occasionally with the great Jowett who would, however, during the course of their perambulations, often remain disconcertingly silent. Hare recalls how on one such excursion he and Jowett reached a milestone. At this point Hare decided timidly to venture an opinion on something or other. Complete silence until the next milestone was reached. Jowett then replied: "Your last observation was singularly commonplace."

Yelp.

Right, sublime to the ridiculous now. No more Benjamin J. for a bit - a cup of tea, a chocolate Hob Nob and last night's episode of "Dowton Abbey".
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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Mon 15 Oct 2012, 11:03

Islanddawn wrote:
ferval wrote:
'We can't know' which is the fall back position of the religious

That is usually lumped together under the dubious title of 'faith', along with the uncomfortable questions that the religious would rather not have to answer.

Well, that's us lot sorted out then!

God, I got hammered in the pub yesterday (arguing unwisely with a biblical "expert" about St. Paul's "Pastoral" letters being forgeries which I believe they are, but he said are not), and then I come here and get hammered by the atheists about everything. I give up. Nowhere to run. Best just to smile, nod your head and agree with everyone.

PS But Sir Anthony Kenny remains a great, great comfort - "a representative of ignorance". You and me together, kid.
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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Mon 15 Oct 2012, 11:21

I'd love to come to your pub Temp, it sounds great, but I'd just sit quietly and listen, at least for the first few glasses after which I'd no doubt make a complete horlicks of myself.

Isn't 'getting hammered' the point of going to the pub?
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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Mon 15 Oct 2012, 11:35

ferval wrote:
I'd love to come to your pub Temp, it sounds great, but I'd just sit quietly and listen, at least for the first few glasses after which I'd no doubt make a complete horlicks of myself.

No, you wouldn't, ferval. Just a bunch of drunken old hippies who like arguing. But I regularly make a complete horlicks of myself. Final humiliation yesterday was being told to go home and read Pelagius's "words to a young friend".

It was just the same when I argued about the turnip content of Cornish pasties. No one listened to me then. And I have since been proved right.


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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Mon 15 Oct 2012, 12:14

Excuse me, but who are you excluding from the 'drunken old hippy' designation? I shall get my afghan, straighten my headband and storm unsteadily out.
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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Mon 15 Oct 2012, 12:34

I have just been informed that Francis Thompson was possibly Jack the Ripper.

But apologies - we stray further and further from the topic and it is all my fault. I really will shut up now.
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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Tue 16 Oct 2012, 15:02

An attempt to get the thread back on track.

I mentioned George R. Price in an earlier post. Price, I believe, proved mathematically that there can be no real goodness in this world. There is no such thing as selfless altruism: altruism is always selfish.

Price was "rationalistic, scientific and did not believe in God", but while living in London (where he worked at the Galton Lab with Bill Hamilton, the evolutionary biologist described as "the greatest Darwinian since Darwin") he apparently underwent some kind of profound religious experience. He became a committed Christian and determined that by his own actions he would "transcend his own mathematics". Price took literally the biblical injunction to "go sell all thou hast": he gave away everything in an attempt to help the homeless and destitute in London. Sadly he was exploited and robbed by the very men whom he tried to save. Depressed and almost destitute himself, this man, whose work "had impressed and influenced the two greatest evolutionary biologists of the 20th century", ended up killing himself. Bill Hamilton had to identify the body, and he and John Maynard Smith, along with a few homeless alcoholics, were the few mourners at Price's funeral. Price now lies in an unmarked grave in St. Pancras' cemetery in London: Hamilton's later work - as he acknowledged - was based on the findings of his tragic former colleague.

It is a sad story of a lonely and eccentric genius. Oren Harman published a biography: "The Price of Altruism: George Price and the Search for the Origins of Kindness" in 2010. I would like to read it, but the reviews all say it is full of difficult maths and science. It will be interesting to see if Richard Dawkins mentions Price and his work next week.

Oren Harman talks about Price for a few minutes here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pU-s_5zkGL0


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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Tue 16 Oct 2012, 16:45

This week Temp, it was on last night. http://www.channel4.com/programmes/sex-death-and-the-meaning-of-life/episode-guide/series-1/episode-2

There's something about Dawkins' 'in the flesh' as it were that I find very hard to engage with but I can't quite work out why. If it wasn't that I am already a (non) believer, I'm doubtful if he would convert me. Even this series where he claims to be addressing the issues of the evolution of some aspects of behaviour, he still manages to drag God(s) into it. If he would just lay out his conclusions on evolution without telling you what to make of it, I'd be much more sympathetic. I also find the books where he is proselytising for atheism annoying; I was given 'The God Delusion' ages ago and I haven't read it yet.
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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Tue 16 Oct 2012, 17:03

Much as I am a great admirer of Dawkins, and by and large am in concord with him, I do have to agree with you, ferval, that 'in the flesh', ie live on TV etc.. I do find him very cold... "hard to engage with" you said, and yes I think I would agree. But when reading his written words I always find his arguements well constructed, inclusive of the reader, and quite frankly compelling. I thoroughly enjoyed 'The God Delusion' but at the same time it only said what I've been thinking, and saying, for years... although he did put it far better than I ever could. Perhaps he preaches best to the already converted.

He is best, I think, when he is on his home turf, talking biology and evolutionary science. Too often, all too often, he is taken as the spokesperson for atheism, and although his written arguements are brilliant, his stage presence lacks something... I can understand how people say that, while they believe what he is saying to be true, they still remain unconvinced overall. He doesn't always engage with his audience (although that's often hard when the audience insists on simply ridiculing every arguement he offers, simply because it contradicts what the Bible says) and so he often fails to carry his audience with him. But I have to admit that, having seen some of the pro-God You-tube interviews etc with him, he has the tolerance and patience of a saint to deal with some of the rude, ignorant, bigots who are just out to "get" him... "in the name of the Lord".

Frankly, I think he is best as an academic.... but the role of champion for atheism does seems to have become stuck with him, poor man. But I thank god, dog, God, providence, higher power, destiny, evolution, fate, whatever.... that someone is speaking up for me and all the others who refuse to believe in all the great sky fairy myths, in this god-damned, god-infested world!


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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Tue 16 Oct 2012, 17:32

Pretty much my thoughts exactly MM, I wish - and this must make me sound so shallow - that atheism had another poster boy, one with some more charisma. He's so much better on the science although 'The Devil's Chaplain' struck a good balance I thought.
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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Tue 16 Oct 2012, 17:47

ferval wrote:
Pretty much my thoughts exactly MM, I wish - and this must make me sound so shallow - that atheism had another poster boy, one with some more charisma.

I'm claiming no beliefs on their behalf but I'm pretty sure that Stephen Fry and the late Douglas Adams are/were both close friends of Richard Dawkins, as well as being great.... well, let's say great fellow skeptics. As is Salman Rushdie, but, brilliant author and thinker though he is, sadly there's just TOO much religious bagage there!

And Richard Dawkins, poor chap, is now 72 years old , although he neither looks nor acts that age.

As you say ferval, we need another poster boy!
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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Tue 16 Oct 2012, 18:04

ferval wrote:
I wish - and this must make me sound so shallow - that atheism had another poster boy, one with some more charisma.

Here you are, you two. Brando was an atheist. What a shame he got so fat - he looks lovely here. He could definitely convert me. He would have made an excellent Pontius Pilate in some biblical epic.







For anyone who missed the Dawkins programme, "Sex, Death and the Meaning of Life" (sounds like a Monty Python film), it is repeated on Thursday at 2.30am on C4.
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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Tue 16 Oct 2012, 18:38

Is it just me, but Brando actually looks a bit like a younger (much younger) Dawkins? Dunno, perhaps it's just the long hair.

Or maybe that was deliberate, eh Temp? I never know with you.
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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Tue 16 Oct 2012, 19:00

It would be helpful, however, if the spokesperson were still alive, given any intervention from the great beyond would rather spoil the message.

The shade of Douglas Adams would be most acceptable but not the blessed Stephen, the man's ubiquitous and considered omniscient already so there might be some confusion.

edit - embarrassing slip there, spokesman, tut tut.


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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Tue 16 Oct 2012, 19:33

Meles meles wrote:
Is it just me, but Brando actually looks a bit like a younger (much younger) Dawkins? Dunno, perhaps it's just the long hair.

Or maybe that was deliberate, eh Temp? I never know with you.

A confession, MM. I think the real reason I got chucked out of the Bible Study group was not because I questioned the authenticity of some of St. Paul's letters (which I did). That was bad enough to be sure, but saying that I thought Richard Dawkins was actually quite sexy was completely unacceptable. The combination of the words "Dawkins" and "sexy" in one sentence was simply too much for some of the ladies present. Realising the enormity of what I had said, I quickly tried to change the subject to lemon meringue pies for the Harvest Festival, but it was too late: the damage was done, and I was ejected into the outer darkness where - alas - I have been languishing ever since.

But back to evolution. I'm about to watch 'Creation' again. It's a superb film about Darwin starring Paul Bettany. Toby Jones is excellent as Bulldog Huxley.


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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Tue 16 Oct 2012, 22:22

To be serious again, I do find it disturbing that 'Creation', a thoughtful and intelligent BBC film, beautifully shot and acted, should have been considered "too controversial" for American audiences. The film dealt sensitively with - among many themes - Darwin's agony over the implications of his work.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/6173399/Charles-Darwin-film-too-controversial-for-religious-America.html
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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Tue 16 Oct 2012, 22:30

i've just been watching this http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p00ynyl9/Order_and_Disorder_Energy/, Jim Al Khalili, on thermodynamics, mainly on entropy. Now he can present a programme which is quietly devastating to many of the precepts of religion without fuss or outright confrontation and is so much more effective for that.
He's not as pretty though and as for Prof. Simon Schaffer, he would have horrified my tooth obsessed aunty.
Oh dear, I really am shallow.
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PostSubject: Re: Evolutionary queries   Sun 21 Oct 2012, 13:44

ferval wrote:
This week Temp, it was on last night. http://www.channel4.com/programmes/sex-death-and-the-meaning-of-life/episode-guide/series-1/episode-2

There's something about Dawkins' 'in the flesh' as it were that I find very hard to engage with but I can't quite work out why. If it wasn't that I am already a (non) believer, I'm doubtful if he would convert me. Even this series where he claims to be addressing the issues of the evolution of some aspects of behaviour, he still manages to drag God(s) into it. If he would just lay out his conclusions on evolution without telling you what to make of it, I'd be much more sympathetic. I also find the books where he is proselytising for atheism annoying; I was given 'The God Delusion' ages ago and I haven't read it yet.

I watched the programme, ferval - it was good. Dawkins came over, as ever, as such an interesting (even if extremely annoying) man, and he did have the decency to acknowledge the good that that Ray Lewis chap was doing with those tough London kids. Lewis appeared to fancy himself as a sort of cross between Martin Luther King and a ruthless sergeant major, didn't he? But possibly just what those kids need? Dawkins was certainly silenced by Lewis's "without that (some kind of belief) we've just got intellectual masturbation, Richard" comment. Left him speechless - although I'm sure Dawkins could have come back with a killer riposte. Perhaps he just chose not to - I think he was very impressed by Lewis's sincerity.

I got the George Price biography ("The Price of Altruism") out of the library last week (found it, interestingly, not in the biography or even science sections, but with the philosophy books). I've been ploughing my way through it since Thursday - highly recommended for anyone interested, not just in "the origins of kindness" (i.e. evolutionary biology), but also in history and/or theology. The biography (and it is so much more than a biography) ranges dizzyingly from Peter Kropotkin, the Russian anarchist who wrote "Mutual Aid in Animals" and who decided he needed "to rescue Darwin from the 'infidels', men like Huxley who had raised the 'pitiless' struggle for personal advantage to the height of a biological principle", to Darwin himself and his aggressive atheist friend, the Ealing Bulldog. I'm a third of the way through and haven't got to the hard sums yet...

One thing I have read - that actually got me wondering if William Shakespeare was an evolutionary biologist as well as everything else - was all about the role the mammalian hormone, oxytocin, plays in promoting human warmth, kindness, love, altruism. Oxytocin is a hormone produced in huge quantities (usually) in the bodies of women during childbirth and breastfeeding; but all humans, even men, produce it too. Or rather we are all *supposed* to produce it: psychopaths and sociopaths, male or female, apparently don't. Clever old Shakespeare writing all that stuff about "the milk of human kindness"! Seems the thoroughly unpleasant Lady Macbeth was not evil at all, just sadly deficient in an important neuromodulator. I'll never read these lines in quite the same way again:

"...Come to my woman's breasts

And take my milk for gall."

and

"I have given suck, and know

How tender 'tis to love the babe that milks me:

I would, while it was smiling in my face,

Have pluck'd my nipple from his boneless gums

And dash'd the brains out, had I so sworn

As you have done to this."

I suppose lack of oxytocin explains the strange phenomenon of women (and other female animals?) who harm their young - an activity that seems to make nonsense of "passing on the gene" theory.

But how depressing to think that love is no more than an hormonal ruse - just a trick of nature. Haven't got to George in London yet with Hamilton and Maynard Smith and the homeless alcoholics. I'm really interested to read about how Price's "beautiful" maths (a "supremely elegant equation") proved that altruism doesn't exist (not that I'll be able to understand the maths), and how he later came to question his own findings. Apparently he just couldn't bear it.
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