The Creationists vs Darwin

View previous topic View next topic Go down

The Creationists vs Darwin

Post  eddie on Mon May 30, 2011 11:39 pm

Almost Like a Whale by Steve Jones – book review

With a cool assurance that should persuade the open-minded and thrill the converted, Steve Jones tackles the arguments Creationists routinely level against Darwin

Tim Radford guardian.co.uk, Friday 27 May 2011 07.59 BST


Jones uses On The Origin of Species as a roadmap to explore the 20th century evidence Darwin lacked when he proposed his dangerous idea. Photograph: Corbis

Like a one-man tribute band, Steve Jones plays Darwin's greatest hits. Unlike most tribute bands, he delivers a surer performance than the original. He is a more natural raconteur than Darwin and he knows a great deal more about Darwinian descent with modification.


Almost Like A Whale: The Origin Of Species Updated by Steve Jones

Neither statement reflects on Darwin's greatness. The first is simply an observation about contemporary taste, and the second is a reminder of the nature of science, which builds upon, overtakes and redirects even the greatest achievements of the past. But Almost Like a Whale is a tribute, all the same: Jones uses the same chapter titles as On the Origin of Species, follows the same sequence of themes, and punctuates his own improvisations with telltale riffs and licks sampled from the master.

The performance is so elegantly composed, so deftly performed and so consummately timed that, at various points it is possible to confuse Jones with Darwin himself, who indeed is quoted both directly and openly, and subtly and without warning, in every chapter. Anyone who embarks on this book is in danger of double vision: I began reading it by itself, but soon had the Origin open for cross reference at parallel chapters, so fascinated had I become in the ways that the style of the very unVictorian Jones would modulate itself to incorporate graceful lines directly from Darwin.

When the book first appeared in 1999, it was warmly welcomed, although at least one critic wondered why Jones lumbered himself with the scaffolding first erected by Darwin: why didn't he give us the full Jones-alone version of evolutionary thinking? I thought he already had, if indirectly, in books before and since. The value of choosing the Origin as a roadmap is that Jones could stick to Darwin's story but at the same time begin to discuss in the light of 20th century scholarship all those things Darwin could not have known, or felt troubled by.

Roughly 100 years after the publication of Origin, two complete, unexpected and once-unimaginable scientific revolutions independently reinforced the brilliance of Darwin's insights. One of them is the revolution in genetics delivered by the identification of the double helix of DNA. The other is confirmation of a dynamic Earth, complete with oceans that open and close, mountains that grow and collapse, and continents, "great arks of rock that wander the globe and, now and again, collide."

The first of these provides the machinery Darwin could not have known about, nor even guess at, for the tiny changes upon which natural selection would act. The second could account for so much of the unexplained biogeography of evolution that puzzled the great man and his peers.

But, besides completely new science, there is now a huge body of confirmatory evidence painstakingly won from the older sciences of palaeontology, geology, botany, zoology, oceanography, anthropology, microbiology, epidemiology and medicine, all of which were directly stimulated by Darwin's theories: the sage of Down House gave the natural scientists a set of precise questions, and new answers began to emerge everywhere. So, there is a lot to be said for an attempt to update and annotate the first sacred text of evolutionary biology.

But there is a second reason, one that quietly insists on its own validity all the way through this book. To the Creationists, Darwin is the great Satan. They do not feel that they have to prove that Steve Jones, Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Dawkins and Edward O Wilson are wrong, or Haldane, Huxley and a hundred other natural historians. All they have to do is demonstrate that Darwin is unproven, or fundamentally flawed, or that he had delivered "only a theory". That is why so many of them keep producing arguments that Darwin, with the evidence available to him at the time, could not satisfactorily address. Almost Like a Whale addresses them, and it does so with a cool assurance that should persuade the open-minded, and thrill the already converted.

The latter, of course, will read it for the headlong pleasure of the accumulated biological intricacies and subtleties and unresolved questions that exist within the confirmation of Darwin's great idea; and for the clever parallels within the exposition of the human-imposed notion of species and variety (what, for example, is a German? Who fits the 1913 definition of "German blood?" Before 1870, were the Rhinelanders German?)

This is a subject that can choose its instances and analogies from all history and geography, and marvels appear on almost every page. The humpback whale can carry 1,000 lbs of barnacles: to challenge these tiny parasites its skin grows at a rate 300 times faster than human hide. Poppies can leave 30,000 seeds in a square yard of soil: of course they began to bloom when grazing stopped and the Flanders Fields were cultivated by swords, shells and blood after 1914. A bomb that hit the Natural History Museum caused a fire that was quelled by hoses and in the warmth and the flood a mimosa seed collected in China in 1713 germinated and began to flower: a strange awakening that illustrates life's tenacity, and at the same time its fragility.

Jones is terrific, too, on the geological record and its caprices. The rocks have yielded 165 species of extinct elephant; only two species roam the planet today. Nine billion passenger pigeons once blackened the skies of America; the last perished in 1914, but fossil evidence for the creature's existence has never been found. Without a written record, no one now would ever know it had been there.

Throughout, where possible, Jones glosses, expands or enriches Darwin's themes using Darwin's examples – pigeons, dogs, farm creatures, bees, Galápagos finches – but with fresh observation and research. The whole story is told with the focus, energy and occasional droll asides that might be the Jones trademark.

I wanted to hear just a little more about his own youthful collecting mania (cheese labels?) and my favourite of many throwaway Jones lines, involving the life cycle of the sea squirt that "after an active life, settles on the sea floor and, like a professor given tenure, absorbs its brain."

I began by suggesting that Jones's tribute is in some ways more far-reaching than Darwin's Origin, and with a better view of its subject: but that too is less treasonable than it might sound. Not only does Jones stand, to play with Newton's metaphor, on a giant's shoulders; the real reward of this book is to remind us, once again, what a colossus Charles Darwin really was.

Tim Radford's geographical reflection, The Address Book: Our Place in the Scheme of Things was published by Fourth Estate on 28 April

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2011

eddie
The Gap Minder

Posts : 7840
Join date : 2011-04-11
Age : 60
Location : Desert Island

Back to top Go down

Re: The Creationists vs Darwin

Post  eddie on Thu Jun 16, 2011 8:11 pm

The Origin of Our Species by Chris Stringer - review

A valuable guide to human prehistory

Peter Forbes guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 15 June 2011 10.00 BST


The Lascaux cave paintings. Photograph: Ray Roberts/Alamy

"If there has been no spiritual change of kind / Within our species since Cro-Magnon Man . . ." The poet Louis MacNeice was voicing a commonplace that was accepted by most experts on human evolution until very recently – in fact still is by some. The evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould put it like this: "There's been no biological change in humans in 40,000 or 50,000 years. Everything we call culture and civilisation we've built with the same body and brain."


The Origin of Our Species by Chris Stringer

The Cro-Magnons were the creators of the cave paintings at Lascaux and Altamira – the ice age hunter gatherers whose art astounds us ("We have learned nothing," said Picasso, after seeing Lascaux). They were modern humans who entered Europe only about 40,000 years ago, and there, despite the hostile ice age environment, created the first artistically sophisticated culture. But that wasn't the end of human evolution. Modern genomics has now shown us that biological evolution actually accelerated from this point on, especially since the beginning of farming 10,000 years ago.

The wealth of cross-referring evidence now available from fossils, archaeology and genomics has made the study of human evolution itself a rapidly evolving topic, and Chris Stringer is in the thick of this ferment. He is Britain's foremost expert on human evolution and, as a palaeontologist at the Natural History Museum, has been involved in much of the crucial research. This probably accounts for the fact that in writing this popular account he cannot altogether wrench himself away from the academic arena in which one authority is forever contesting the findings of another. Such wrangling is unfortunately necessary because if recorded history has, as Eliot wrote, "many cunning passages", that's as nothing compared to the waxing and waning of human fortunes, battling with ice ages and natural catastrophes over hundreds of thousands of years of evolution. And the evidence, of course, is indirect and has to be pieced together from analyses of mineralised fragments of the past.

Stringer is most concerned with the period from the emergence of Homo sapiens in Africa, around 195,000 years ago, to their arrival in Europe and the subsequent demise of the Neanderthals (who had left Africa hundreds of thousands of years before). The archaeological record shows Homo sapiens in Africa several times on the verge of a cultural breakthrough, but this is not consolidated until their arrival in Europe. Stringer writes: "It is as though the candle glow of modernity was intermittent, repeatedly flickering on and off again."

The introduction of farming, first in Iraq and Turkey, was the single greatest event in the evolution of Homo sapiens since its emergence. From farming flowed, in an incredibly short time, population growth, craft, art, religion and technology.

New cultural practices led to radical genetic changes, the ability of northern Europeans to digest cow's milk being the most dramatic. This followed the adoption of cattle rearing and reverses the idea that genetic mutations have initiated innovation. Just as often, it seems, it has been culture that has led, genes that have followed.

Although new fossil and archaeological evidence continues to mount, the driving force in understanding human evolution today, as Chris Stringer emphasises, is genomic. It is now possible to compare the genomes of Neanderthals with modern humans and with chimpanzees. This work will go on for many years – the genome consists of 3bn letters, any one of which might mutate – but already dramatic results are emerging.

Stringer has been a strong advocate of the dominant Out-of-Africa theory that modern humans emerged from that continent and entirely replaced earlier human types such as Homo erectus, Homo heidelbergensis and the Neanderthals. But while Out-of-Africa still holds sway, the picture is losing some of its classical simplicity. Last year, the Neanderthal Genome Project, led by the Swedish biologist Svante Pääbo, finally established that modern humans in Europe and Asia (but not Africa) have some admixture of Neanderthal genes, thus ending decades of speculation. And in December last year the same team produced a total surprise: a genomic analysis of human remains from a cave in Denisova, southern Siberia, which proved to be genetically distinct from all known human types. The team declined at this stage to give the find a Linnean species name, but, by analogy with the Neanderthals, named it Denisovan after the location. The actual Denisovan specimens in Siberia were 30-50,000 years old, and the type predated both modern humans and Neanderthals.

Apart from having what is probably a new species to fit into the pattern of human evolution, the big shock of the Denisovans is that they also have contributed something to the modern human stock in Melanesia (the islands north of Australia that include Papua New Guinea). We now see a pattern emerging of interbreeding between modern humans and earlier types: Neanderthals in Europe and Asia and Denisovans in Melanesia. There will surely be further finds. Especially interesting is East Asia, first peopled by Homo erectus as long as 1.7m years ago.

Stringer's book does not quite live up to its magisterial title; the story is still too much in flux for that. But to follow the dramatic announcements that will be appearing in the media pretty regularly from now on concerning new fossil finds and detailed genetic knowledge on the mutations that distinguish us from Neanderthals, other hominins, and apes, you will need a primer to make sense of the story so far. Here is that book.

Peter Forbes's Dazzled and Deceived: Mimicry and Camouflage (Yale UP) won the 2011 Warwick prize for writing.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2011

eddie
The Gap Minder

Posts : 7840
Join date : 2011-04-11
Age : 60
Location : Desert Island

Back to top Go down

Re: The Creationists vs Darwin

Post  eddie on Fri Apr 27, 2012 12:02 am

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2d_F-kpVkQo
Mark Steel on Charles Darwin (1/3)


Last edited by eddie on Fri Apr 27, 2012 12:04 am; edited 1 time in total

eddie
The Gap Minder

Posts : 7840
Join date : 2011-04-11
Age : 60
Location : Desert Island

Back to top Go down

Re: The Creationists vs Darwin

Post  eddie on Fri Apr 27, 2012 12:04 am

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X4meZeuDCHU&feature=relmfu
Mark Steel on Charles Darwin (2/3)

eddie
The Gap Minder

Posts : 7840
Join date : 2011-04-11
Age : 60
Location : Desert Island

Back to top Go down

Re: The Creationists vs Darwin

Post  eddie on Fri Apr 27, 2012 12:06 am

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=luNYt-tfdTg
Mark Steel on Charles Darwin 3/3

eddie
The Gap Minder

Posts : 7840
Join date : 2011-04-11
Age : 60
Location : Desert Island

Back to top Go down

Re: The Creationists vs Darwin

Post  Sponsored content Today at 8:33 pm


Sponsored content


Back to top Go down

View previous topic View next topic Back to top

- Similar topics

 
Permissions in this forum:
You cannot reply to topics in this forum