Posts Tagged 'science'

The Fight Over Darwin Continues

From The Telegraph – Richard Dawkins unleashes a bit more bile towards those proponents of relativity (in the non-Einstein-ian sense), in a review of “Why Evolution is True”

“A scientist arrogantly asserts that thunder is not the triumphal sound of God’s balls banging together, nor is it Thor’s hammer. It is, instead, the reverberating echoes from the electrical discharges that we see as lightning. Poetic (or at least stirring) as those tribal myths may be, they are not actually true. “

From a philosophical standpoint, nothing can be known, beyond doubt, to be objectively true, because our senses can be fooled, our minds can be leaky vessels, etc. Descartes gave us “je pense donc je suis” as a starting point for, generally speaking, trusting that the information we receive is largely true and real. What matters is that we can get through the world using this information. Even if it is all illusion, or if everything actually happens/happened/will happen simultaneously and time and choice are merely a function of our brains bursting through the event, we have no other way to go. We have to move forward through time because we can’t perceive how to go backward. Science is an ongoing practice to see just how far we can trust it.

What’s neat is that current scientific exploration has found that once we get to the incredibly big, or the incredibly small, physics (that is, the rules that seem to work according to our senses) fall apart. At the nano level, boundaries cease to properly exist, and we find that vast expanses of the universe are filled with stuff we can’t actually perceive. Which is to say, science has found where limits lie, and we’ve started to try and figure out what rules apply, what tools we can use to turn what we can’t perceive into something we can.

Of course, Dawkins is still easily infuriated because a selection of polls tell him that most people don’t seem to really ‘get’ science, that creationism/intelligent design is something that people actually want to teach children, as opposed to actual evolution (to the point that there are anecdotes of evolution-fearing children screaming in the classroom).

Most people then, too, must have a bizarre sense of human history. I have a hard time remembering the relationships between eras and ages, and wouldn’t be able to say for sure what was happening about 10,000 years ago, but to estimate that as the beginning of human history, (which is, I think, technically closer to 200,000 years ago, with our genus being about 2.5 million years old) seems like pretty bad math.

To be whipped into a righteous and indignant fury over determined ignorance is entirely understandable, I do it myself all the time, and to publish books (libraries of them) in refutation is clearly important, but I do wonder at it’s effectiveness. Given our collective intelligence and vast resources, to defend ignorance with religious fervor simply to maintain a literal interpretation of a myth should be downright embarrassing. And yet some people simply turn away from evidence, convincing themselves that they pass some sort of test of faith when they refuse to believe what’s right in front of them. How would yet more convincing change their minds?

While the scientifically minded (not always irreligious or liberal) don’t want to offend (not always, anyway), they certainly don’t want to be so passive that their children start thinking that there are equally compelling arguments for evolution and creationism. Really, the only sure way of success is for there to be an evolutionary advantage to believing the senses over what religious people or books tell you. But is there? The more highly educated one is (and therefore less likely to be literally religious, if of any faith at all), one is less likely to reproduce in large numbers. Are the offspring more successful? Well, if they don’t blow themselves up or go into a convent or monastery, they will likely be Catholically reproductive, too.

And then?


Sloppy Sciene to Reinforce 1950s Gender Rules

Jezebel points to news coverage of “research” printed in the Journal of Theoretical Biology that uses game theory to suggest that if women deny sex early on in dating/relationships, they will be more likely to attain a commitment from a ‘good’ (“reliable”) male, as they are more likely to wait.

Professor Robert Seymour, from University College London (UCL), who created the model, said (…) “A male’s willingness to court for a long time is a signal that he is likely to be a good male. (…) A male is assumed to always want to mate with a female, but a good male is more willing to pay the cost of a long courtship in order to claim the prize of mating.”

“The female’s strategy is a compromise – a trade-off between on the one hand the greater risk of mating with a bad male if she mates too quickly, and on the other hand the time cost of delay. ”

His most telling comment: She cannot eliminate this risk completely unless she decides never to mate.
(quoted from the Telegraph).

Naturally, this study trips up logically where it makes a few broad, gender-based assumptions:
a) all men (‘good’ or ‘bad’) want only sex (‘good’ = willing to wait, ‘bad’= not)
b) all women (who aren’t divided at all) want commitment over sex
c) only women use the courtship period to ‘gather information’ about their ‘mate’
d) all men aren’t interested in commitment

It’s frustrating that this kind of “research” is even getting funding. With a premise so heavily flawed, how can one hope to gain any valid information? If one is really interested in finding out the evolutionary basis for long courtship periods and monogamy, surely one should start out by looking at what the advantages are for the parties and communities involved, and then draw conclusions, rather than the other way around.

In this case, the conclusions were, sloppily, drawn first, and based entirely on the assumption that all men want the same thing, all women want the same thing, no men and women want the same thing, and relationships are a kind of competition where each gender attempts to get the most of what they want while surrendering the least of what the other person wants.

Needless to say, this also completely ignores the 10% or so of the population that aren’t heterosexual, and the portion that remains single.



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