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Darwinism and Its Discontents – Book Review Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Posted by henry000 in anti-creationism, anti-fundamentalism, anti-ID, Behe, biology, book review, Charles Darwin, Christianity, consilience, creationism, Darwin, Darwinism, Dawkins, evolution, genetics, geology, God, Gould, Haeckel, human evolution, philosophy, Piltdown Man, punctuated equilibrium, rationality, reason, religion, science, scientific theory.
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I have been thinking about the ideas in this book for about four decades and have decided that the time has come to put them all together.

This is the opening sentence of Professor Michael Ruse’s latest book Darwinism and Its Discontents. Ruse is a well-known evolutionary philosopher and has been a great defender on Darwinism for a number of years. And with an opening statement like that, naturally I was thrilled to read what the discontents are all about, and if they matter at all.

The book is a defender of Darwinism and the fact of evolution from all sides of attacks, and is understandably light on refuting creationism of various flavours, so read this book to cement your understanding of Darwinism and evolution – I certainly learned a good deal from it.

Darwinism is defined as a particular theory in which evolution works. Its heart lies in the concept of natural selection, the chief causal process behind all organisms, and is the widely accepted evolutionary mechanism by the scientific community. However, it has always been under attack from various disciplines in social science, philosophy, religion, and even within science itself, and Ruse writes how these attacks are categorically mistaken.

Darwinism and Its Discontents Cover

The first chapter goes through the historical background of Darwinism. Ruse includes a number of notable historical figures ranging from people who did not have direct contribution to Darwinism such as Lyells and Malthus, to modern day scientists such as Fisher, Haldine and Wright. The conclusion of the chapter is right on spot – why was Darwin important? Because it was after him that a revolution happened – that life is a naturalistic, not a supernatural or God-inspired one.

The next few chapters are, I think, the highlights of the book as they outline what the fact of evolution is, its path, its cause and its limitations. Ruse presented the concept of consilience argument – that is, direct evidence supporting evolution from a myriad of fields of studies: palaeontology, biogeographical distribution, classification, morphology, embryology and so on. These chapters are essential in understanding the science of Darwinian theory of evolution – population genetics, adaptation, physical constraints on the phenotype, drift, and of course, natural selection, as well as a dash of Gould’s famous punctuated equilibrium theory.

The second half of the book then takes a different turn. It examines humans, the mistakes and dishonesty made in the history of evolutionary science (such as the Piltdown Man and Haeckel’s drawings) – and finally, Ruse looks at Darwinism from philosophical and religious point of views.

Overall I thought this book is very well balanced and not too technical for the layman; however it is definitely not an introductory level kind of book. If you are looking for the whole creationism vs. evolution debate then this is not an ideal book; conversely if you are looking for a book that covers a wide areas of Darwinian evolution – from past to present and across various disciplines, then this book is it.

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Human Protein Evolution Retraced – at Atomic Level…! Saturday, August 18, 2007

Posted by henry000 in adaptation, Darwinism, evolution, human evolution, mutation, protein, science.
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I think this is breaking-news stuff. Apparently for the very first time, scientists are able to track very precisely and at an “unprecedented detail” – in fact at atomic level to be exact – of the evolutionary path of an important human protein.

Here is the summary: using state-of-art computational and molecular technology, the ancestor of an important human protein was recreated in labs. These are then subjected to high tech particle physics analysis where the atomic structures of the protein through the past 450 millions of years were revealed.

Says one of the scientists involved:

“This is the ultimate level of detail,” Thornton said. “We were able to see exactly how evolution tinkered with the ancient structure to produce a new function that is crucial to our own bodies today. Nobody’s ever done that before.”

Specifically, only 7 mutations are required for the protein to evolve to its current structure, and the mutations are dependent on each other. As a scientist remarked, much to the dismay of anti-Darwinians,

“This study has refined our knowledge of evolution because it helps address the question of whether adaptation occurs through large or small effect mutations,” said Padilla. “This study shows that small changes may enable large adaptations to occur. These large adaptations may then by further refined by smaller adaptations.”

It is a short and not an overly technical article which is worth a read.

Pics of the Creation Museum Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Posted by henry000 in anti-evolution, Bible, Christianity, creation museum, creationism, evolution, fundamentalism, God, human evolution, museums, photos, pics, rationality, religion.
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If you ever wondered what the new $US27 million dollar Creation Museum looks like inside, then check this out – apparently a couple of young atheists have visited the museum and took quite a number of photos.

You can’t help but notice the number of biblical references in the museum. I know I am stating the obvious here – the museum is simply a plain Christian advertisement without any scientific credentials. And what’s more disturbing is that the number of kids there were – even one child is one too many.

Post the photos, spread the words so that less people go there.

Here are some samples from the photo album.

Creation Museum Sample 1

Above – Isn’t that, er, evolution?

Creation Museum Sample 2

Above – Eve and Adam – of course…

Creation Museum Sample 3

Above – Great real-life models – see what $27 million dollar can bring?

Creation Museum Sample 4

Above – Unlabelled rocks?

Evolving Out of Kansas Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Posted by henry000 in anti-fundamentalism, art, artwork, comic, evolution, fundamentalism, funny, human evolution, humour, Kansas, parody, sarcasm, United States.
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This is just so clever that I have to post it!

… why didn’t I think of this?

Courtesy of The Friendly Atheist.

Awesome Artwork on Evolution – Like You Never Seen It Before! Monday, May 14, 2007

Posted by henry000 in anthropology, art, artwork, dinosaur, evolution, graffiti, human evolution, humour, science.
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Wow… I just could not resist duplicating this piece of panoramic image of a graffiti on evolution!

http://blublu.org/sito/walls/2007/big/mix001.jpg

Courtesy of Reddit.

Oh, note that some readers have pointed out that the humans do not descend from dinosaurs, so the mural artwork is inaccurate scientifically. But full credit to the artist(s) who managed to graffiti it.

In case the link doesn’t work, here is my own copy of it.

“Out of Africa” Theory of Human Evolution Gets Further Confirmation! Saturday, May 12, 2007

Posted by henry000 in Africa, anthropology, Australia, Australia Aborigines, evolution, genetics, homo erectus, human evolution, Melanesian, New Guinea, science, world.
3 comments

The fascinating tale of human evolution gets another important story added to it, this time with a new DNA research done on Australian Aborigines and Melanesians from New Guinea, which further confirms the hypothesis that all humans originated from a group of people from Africa around 50,000 years ago. This is known as “Out of Africa” or the single origin theory.

Up till now the fossils and tools found in Australia have cast doubt on the Out of Africa hypothesis, since they differ significantly to South Asia. This implies that the early settlers in Australia might have interbred with the local homo erectus population that was already there (which migrated out of African some two to one million years ago), “or because there was a subsequent, secondary migration from Africa”.

But the research done using mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and Y chromosomes DNA shows that:

there was no evidence of a genetic inheritance from Homo erectus, indicating that the settlers did not mix and that these people therefore share the same direct ancestry as the other Eurasian peoples.

The researchers suggest that the variations in fossil and tool records can be explained with the thousands of years of isolation that the aboriginal population faced, since the land bridge joining Australia and Asia was submerged into water some 8,000 years ago.

This, in combination with an earlier report, further confirms that the Out of Africa hypothesis is becoming the firm theory of how humans have evolved. We can mainly thanks to the advancement in the science of genetics.

Below is a map of mtDNA migration, courtesy of Wikipedia:

mtDNA Migration, Wikipedia

Genes and Brains Tell the Tale of Human Evolution Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Posted by henry000 in Africa, anthropology, Australopithecus, evolution, genetics, homo erectus, homo sapien, human evolution, science, world.
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This wonderful article titled “Beyond Stones & Bones” provides a great summary of recent discoveries to human evolution, in particular in the area of genetics and brain science.

The great tale of human evolution is just so fascinating. A vital part of it is the use of genetics to tell the story. A delightful example provided in this article is that of using body lice to infer when human lost their body hair for good. It goes like this: body lice live in cloths, so by the time they appeared, human would have started to cover themselves with some sort of clothing, which implies loss of body hair. Now body lice is evolved from head lice (which lives in our hair), so by comparing their DNA changes, which happens at regular rate, we could calculate when human started to lose body hair for good. Using this clever technique, scientists concluded that this happened about 114,000 years ago.

Human Evolution

Using DNA scientists have worked out that humans and chimps evolved apart around 5 to 6 millions years ago, supported by the fact that the climate became dramatically colder around that time. The recent discoveries of the HAR1 and PDYN genes shred some light on how the brain plays its part in the evolution. The HAR1 gene may “… likely helped the cortexes of our ancestors develop the elaborate folds characteristic of a complex brain”, and that the PDYN gene may have advanced brain chemistry.

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