My audiobook kick

March 9th, 2012

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I’ve just finished listening to The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution.  What a great book.

What I enjoyed was how many of my  little questions it answered ( e.g. how is carbon 14 formed and how do we know historical rates of formation or how is the radiological clock reset in igneous rocks)   while putting  the big picture together in an utterly convincing and overwhelming series of  overlapping sources of evidence. Even addressing young earth creationism, and Noah’s flood theories in a logical thoughtful manner.    I got my (largely sympathetic) elementary school teacher wife to listen, but she thought the first chapter was so “pompous”  (”baying pack of ignoramuses” stood out)  that nobody that wasn’t already convinced would hear him out.  That seemed a shame if, as he says, the goal is convince the unconvinced. 

 I enjoyed every moment, and learned a lot. The chapter on embryology was the clearest description I’ve ever heard  of  the role of  DNA in developing organisms, and I found the connections he brought out among  a whole series of poor design elements in mammalian bodies a convincing illustration that there was no such thing as intelligent design.

It amazes me that 40% of American’s and 60%  of Republican’s believe “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so?”  How can there be any hope for humanity when so much of  western “civilization” is a close-minded, superstitious bunch  of  ignoramuses? No wonder we have  idiots like Rick Santorum  mouthing this same nonsense and demanding we get rid of real education.  No wonder it’s profitable for Fox “News” to pander to them.

Dawkins makes interesting observations about the extremely gradual pace of evolution,  points out that speciation  is defined by an inability to interbreed, and that at the moment of divergence and for many   generations  afterwards  if the populations merged they could still interbreed.   In another book he used the example of family pictures.  You, your father, grandfather  etc.  stacked up for millions of generations.  No two pictures near each other in the stack look very different and at no point could you say “here, this individual starts a new species”  but given sufficient distance between pictures there are significant differences.   If you go back far enough in the stack, you’ll  see a picture that looks more like home erectus than homo sapiens, and much, much further back you’ll see a  lemur like creature, and eventually a fish like creature.

A logical implication of this is that you can’t say  who was the “first human”  and more than you could say who was the last australopithecus.  Adam and Eve aren’t meaningful.  So if you accept evolution and you accept a “soul” (whatever that means to you)  you’ll need a soul for every plant cell, bacteria, and animal.  Because it’s clear from an overwhelming  ( and now with DNA Cladistics rapidly growing) preponderance of evidence  that we gradually grew from simpler to complicated creatures with no special markers between us and the rest of life.

Being Grateful for Richard Dawkins

December 20th, 2011

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I just finished listening to the Audible Audiobook version of  The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True.  I don’t think I learned a lot that I didn’t know, but I enjoyed every moment of the book.  Clear, entertaining, often humorous.  I’d like every child in America to hear it.   It rings of truth with every word, and it would be a wonderful beginning for a young mind.  Richard and his wife take turns reading, and I found myself thinking they are lucky to found one another.

I’m similarly lucky, and I know that I greatly appreciate not having to hide myself at home.  It’s hard enough to stay underground with my family of origin, and it’s even more difficult to be quiet in the workplace,  while listening to fundamentalist, conservative rubbish.  Of course, having seen the treatment of other rational people, I still think it’s worthwhile to stay in the secular “closet” there.  I’m still surprised that an environment composed almost entirely of engineers can support such superstitious people, and that they feel so free to demonize those who disagree with them.

I noticed that there’s a  “Reason Rally” in March of this year.  I’m hopeful I can make that.  It would be awfully refreshing to be lost in a mass of reasonable people.  I remember how the early Obama rallies felt, with a hugely diverse crowd of warm caring and hopeful people, and I suspect that a rally of atheists would feel the same.   I’ve lost faith in Obama to represent my views, but I haven’t lost faith in humanity.

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