I will be the first to admit that I don’t have a normal emotional spectrum. It’s actually one of the things that freaked me out while reading The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson. I have a shallow emotional spectrum, but that really is only one of many conditions that make a person a psychopath, and I’m free and clear on quite a few of them. Empathy is one of the things I find most interesting in this regard; I am far more empathic than I am emotional. When other people are sad, I can genuinely feel that for them, but it’s a hell of a lot harder for me to feel it for myself. I don’t know why. Kinda weird, I know.
Empathy is one of those higher functions that I suppose is part of the overall Social Animal thing. That’s not to say that all social animals experience empathy; I don’t want to imagine an ant listening to his buddy and saying, “Yeah, man, I get how awful that must have felt to watch your best friend get stepped on…” But I believe that empathy ties us together socially and helps make societies work.
I was poking through Pharyngula just now, and I saw this post (The last intelligent creationist) which discussed the origins of the objection to evolution that says, “If evolution is real, how come there are still monkeys?” It’s a question I’ve been asked before, and the first time I was asked this, I couldn’t help but feel deeply disheartened at the lack of thinking by the asker. But it has come up a few times, and I figured I’d take a few minutes to address it here.
In order to answer this, a few key things need to be understood about evolution. When you get two distinct groups of a thing, it comes from those two groups being geographically isolated from one another. If you have two identical groups of fish living in two different and separate environments, the process of evolution will ensure that they adapt differently given their unique environmental issues. Naturally selected mutations that would help ensure the survival of one of those groups of fish may be entirely detrimental to the other. Say, for example, that one of these two groups lives in clear water with bright pebbles on the bottom of the water source and the other lives in murky water with lots of algae and a general greeny-browny hue to everything. If camoflague were necessary for the survival of both groups of fish, then what works in one environment would not work in the other.
Outside my window I can see a lot of beautiful green trees, mountains, houses, roads, cars, and a few office buildings. These things are amazing to me. What’s more, I don’t need a creator for them to be amazing. I understand these things and they stand on their own two feet without some cosmic force to lend them awe.
Trees are fascinating to me. For starters, it always blows my top to think that we are, however distantly, related to them. All things began with the same primordial ooze in whatever form and function that took. The trees that I can see may all be green, but they are a myriad of shades of green, each tree having it’s own diversity of colors and textures. Trees evolved to handle different requirements.
Wow. Texas sometimes surprises me. After all the talk of changing curriculum to incorporate (among other things) the teaching of Creationism alongside evolution in the science class, the board voted unanimously to reject all of the changes put forward by Creationists and keep their core content focused on actual science. This is huge, although I do hold the same concerns that PZ Myers shares.
This is a big deal for those who are not familiar with the story because of the sheer size of Texas. There are so many Texan students that any proposed changes to their text books become changes to the standard. Publishing companies are not going to write different texts for each state depending upon their ideological lean. Thus, if Texas was to approve changes that would introduce Creationism into the curriculum in a formal way, as opposed to the current slight-of-hand way, it would be in textbooks (whether taught or not) in far more than just the hands of Texas teenagers.
[I regularly notice that one of the top search hits to this site is some variation on the theme of "evolution for kids". It just makes sense that I take a few moments and write a post or two on the topic and hopefully help out those parents who are searching for this information. My intended audience in this case isn't actually kids, it is parents trying to find ways to communicate with their kids. Hope it comes in handy! To see other entries, go here.]
Your body is made up of cells. They are really small, and each one contains a lot of stuff. One of the things they contain is called DNA, and that’s a really important thing. DNA is like an instruction manual for building you, and it gets put together when your mom and dad made you.
Last night (in utter contradiction to the previous night’s nerdy TV endeavor) I watched a science program that made me really interested and thoughtful on the topic. Ape Genius is a Nova program (you can watch it free on PBS’s web site) about the intelligence of some of our primate cousins. Most notably, it talked about the chimpanzees of Fongoli, Senegal who have taken to handcrafting spears for hunting bush babies. There was a lot more to the show and I highly recommend watching it.
What I loved most was where my mind went. The researchers kept essentially asking at what point do we consider culture to exist. These chimpanzees not only are using creative intelligence, but are sharing those discoveries and learning from one another. They are, to the best of our knowledge, the only chimpanzees utilizing spears and the only non-human animals in the world that have designed weapons for the purposes of hunting.
Timmy hears voices. At a young age, unbeknownst to Timmy, his parents had him evaluated and he has been diagnosed as a classic, textbook example of schizophrenia. Timmy, however, believes that the chemical reactions in his brain that trigger these hallucinations are the voice of God and the voice of Satan at eternal war inside him. Obviously, the two come with completely different treatment options. Schizophrenia requires long term use of very dangerous chemicals, where an argument between God and Satan has no cure at all, because deities are notorious in most circles for not shutting up when asked. Should Timmy be taught both sides of the story, confirming his incorrect opinion and presenting it as equally valid to the scientific explanation?
Sally comes from a family who believe that the only medicine one needs is prayer. Through an astonishing set of circumstances, Sally enters school age without having had to have any significant medical interventions. This is also true of her classmates, all of whom believe in the healing power of prayer, and that medical doctors are liars who wish to lead you from prayer and righteousness. The parents raise the argument that their class should be taught about health in its proper context, as just one theory in balance with the other accepted theory of their local area, that God heals through prayer and prayer alone. Does their publicly funded school let the children decide for themselves?
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?
A few days ago, I posted my simplistic explanation of evolution here. Today, I saw something that does hand in hand with that, and I figured I would share it with you. Researchers at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities took a bunch of yeast, which as we all know is a single-celled organism, and let it live in conditions that lend themselves to not wanting to be alone. In a fairly short span of time, they witnessed multi-cellular yeast.
That’s right. They took something that lived entirely with one cell and made it have a bunch of cells. Oh my sweet ass, that’s some cool science.
I am not going to explain evolution in terms that a professor of evolutionary biology would find perfect. Instead, I am going to try once again to clear the air with regards to the people in my world who aren’t so sure about evolution being real. In other words, this isn’t going to be a tough bit of technical jargon, but it will get across the points that I regularly hear people say to me.
1. I just don’t see how we could have come from monkeys..
Well good, cuz the answer is that we didn’t. An evolutionary specialist would explain to you that we have a common ancestor with primates. We are most closely related to chimpanzees and bonobos, but we are more closely related to monkeys and great apes and orangutans than we are with horses, and we are more closely related to horses than we are to canaries.