If you haven’t taken the time to like Evolution on Facebook, you should. It is a daily stream of really incredible photography and detailed information on the latest in evolutionary news and research, and I just love it. I try to avoid the comments because you often wind up with Creationists mucking about and generally being Creationists, but the posts and their related articles are wonderful.
Today, I read one of their posts about a newly-discovered gene (miR-941) that has been identified in us human types that doesn’t exist in any of our primate relatives. It appears that was a random combination of junk DNA from around 1 to 6 million years ago (we were humans back then) that had some serious benefits and, as such, took root in our species. This particular gene helps our brains develop, particularly in the areas of using words and using tools.
I hate it when the faithful tell me that morality comes from God, or that it was inspired by their book (whichever book the current faithful read, as all others are garbage). Morality is a sensible evolutionary adaptation that can be seen in all social animals. You don’t become a social animal unless you are receiving some benefit from the society of others, and if you can’t trust them not to eat you or rape you, then it isn’t worth it. Our morality is a natural off-shoot of those social rules, and there’s no magic required to see how it benefits the individual to respect moral rules.
I was cruising FreethoughtBlogs just now, and I ran across this Alethian Worldview article called The Biology Of Morality which includes the abstract of a recent publication which is behind a pay wall, and as such I haven’t read. However, I thought I’d pass it along, as I found it remarkably interesting and know that some of my readers would too.
I suppose the God-botherers would just add that God obviously intelligently designed the chemical pathways of morality into us. Intelligent design’s just another get out of jail free card when it comes to legitimate conversations about humanity’s development.
I just read a great explanation on Pharyngula of the mystery of menstruation. It isn’t a mystery in terms of the mechanism, we have understood menstruation for a very long time. However, the question that is posed is why we humans and only a handful of other mammals menstruate, and that has been an unknown for quite some time. However, research may have found the answer, and that answer may have significant potential for solving several women’s health issues.
At any rate, I found PZ’s breakdown of the research quite fascinating, and I hope you do too.
Babies are dumb. Maybe not as dumb as people who buy wigs for their dogs, but still, they’re pretty damned dumb. If you ask a baby to solve for x, the odds are the baby won’t even come close to getting it right. Take for example this recent conversation that I just made up:
Jim: Hey baby, if 2x + 17 is 38, solve for x.
Baby: That would mean that 2x = 21, so therefore x=10.
That’s right. Babies wrongly round down. Dumb baby.
I’m being silly, of course, but it actually is fascinating stuff. Most if not all other species (I’m no expert here) pop out of their moms and are essentially ready to roll. They may take some time to get the wobble out of their legs, but that’s hardly the same thing. So why are people so dumb at birth?
One of the first steps I took towards my eventual atheism happened when I met someone who had been brain injured. The trauma they experienced had very dramatic impacts to the person’s personality. As a young Christian, I wondered about the “fairness” of allowing God to judge us on actions that took place after significant brain injury. If someone were suddenly “turned naughty” at no fault of their own, how could they be judged for sinning? What of the soul of the person? Is that still good? Do they get a pass on bad behavior? And if so, why not other people?
The end result of that train of thought for me was clear. Our physical brains dictate our actions. There is no soul guiding us. The mind is, at least in my opinion, a subset of the brain. The mind is the part of us that confuses us into thinking we have free will.
I try not to give too much time to Ken Ham or his ilk, but every now and then I feel the need to comment on something he says or does. But honestly, if I were to comment every time Ken Ham did something stupid, this blog would be impossible to keep up with. As for today’s comments, I read a post on Pharyngula about his book, Already Compromised, and there were a couple of things in it that I needed to smug away about.
Point 1, In Which Ken Ham (Potentially) Proves His Detractors’ Point For Them
One of my biggest complaints against Ken Ham and Answers In Genesis is the notion that they are biblical literalists. I mean, let’s face it, there is absolutely no way that the Bible is meant to be taken exactly literally. Everything we learn about the world around us shows that it is at best a collection of stories told by people who didn’t know what we do now, and who wanted to explain things as they made sense to them. But the Ken Hams of the world want you to absolutely believe that every word in the bible is an absolute truth.
Again, I’m taking baby steps here that have probably been handled by brilliant philosophers the world over, making my seemingly-to-me massive shift in view around the topic of free will see about as exciting as the local newspaper switching from Times New to Times New Roman, but this whole free will thing has been tugging my brain a lot over the past few days.
So last night, after reading my blog post and some conversation on the topic, the Lovely Lady looked at me coyly and asked, “So what does all this mean in terms of you loving me?”
Tread carefully, Jim. You have entered dangerous territory, and you are a novice.
I think I accidentally blew my head open. I had actually a few days ago started on a piece here about the debate around free will. I’m not a philosopher, but it is something I have been thinking about lately, and I wanted to share my thoughts.
But the trouble was, I talked myself out of my position.
I had wanted to say that I believed that we were free to think for ourselves, that we were not the playthings of the divine, and that we were not merely clumps of chemicals reacting to the various forces in the physical universe. I had wanted to express that that sort of thinking leads to nihilism. I had wanted to express that I felt free will came from the ridiculous power of our amazing brains.
I just read an interesting bit of news and thought I would share it. It turns out that researcher Masaki Kamakura has isolated a protein within royal jelly that is integral in the formation of queen bees. Royal jelly, aside from being a major fixture in the alt med community, claiming to boost the immune system, lower cholesterol, and help with inflammatory diseases, is made by and for bees. All bee larvae eat it for the first few days of development, but the queen bee gets it all the time.
Kamakura has published a paper in Nature which describes how he isolated the protein in question, and what happened when he gave it to fruit fly larvae. Essentially, the fruit fly got big. Real big. And he was able to evaluate what genetic trigger he was pushing by exposing the larvae to the protein.
I must apologize to my faithful readers for last week. I’m afraid that I was swamped in all aspects of life, and that resulted in my writing damn near nothing all week. There were several scratched attempts at blog entries, but I would lose the thread of what I was trying to say due to the crush of other pressures, and the writing wasn’t worth publishing by the time it was finished. So as much as you missed me, I missed having coherent thoughts.
However, this morning I stumbled across an article on NeuroLogica about some fascinating findings in the area of sexual preference that I thought I would share. It turns out that the pattern of same-sex relations in mice can be impacted by manipulating the way their brains handle serotonin.