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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Richard Dawkins interview on Fresh Air

I was driving home from the store tonight and totally by accident stumbled upon Terry Gross interviewing Richard Dawkins, evolutionary biologist and author of such books as "The Selfish Gene" and "The God Delusion." Knowing I was going to lose the reception, I raced home, turned on my computer, and downloaded the whole show off of NPR:

I am familiar with his work but have never finished a book of his, but I sat down with my dinner and listened to his interview. These were my first reactions:

First off, he is completely unapologetic about being an Atheist. In fact, half the time I was expecting him to start screaming into the microphone, "The science is right there, you idiots!" although that wouldn't be a very proper British thing to do. While I really admired his "passion for science" as he called it, I found that it made him blind to a couple of things.
One of those things was that most people don't think like him, they don't think like scientists. It's weird because he acknowledges this in the interview, and yet some of the arguments he makes as to why there is no God only make sense or seem logical if you are a very analytical atheist that has already accepted that we must have all evolved using the Darwinian model.
The best example of this was his designer argument:" if life on Earth came from a creator, then the creator has to have been more advanced than us, and must inevitably have evolved somewhere else," which he jokingly concludes means that either we all came from aliens or we had to have just plain evolved on our own. The thing is, he points out earlier in the interview why religious people aren't going to believe that, and he doesn't even realize it. He says that religion is the easy way, the easy answer, and that it takes a lifetime to learn even an iota of how the world really works and that it isn't in fact all magic. Most humans do not have time to study how even an iota of the world works. They have children, they are starving or diseased or at war, they have to get their jobs or get their kids to daycare. So if people don't have time to study why the world works, or even read a summary about how the world works, they'll take the easiest answer they can get, that they can understand.
I do think he has interesting ideas about why we accept what we learned as a youngster so readily: Whatever our parents told us usually kept us alive, so we evolved to listen to and believe our elders.
However, calling social and cross-species morality "a blessed mistake" I think is trying to uncomplicate the idea much too much, although again the family bands/reciprocity theory he mentions makes sense, but just to say that it accidentally carried over into larger society as a whole and to other species I think is generalizing it too much.
He also said that religion is responsible for most wars. I disagree with that. I'll conceed that religion often has an influence or is used as an excuse for wars, but it is not wholly responsible for wars. Maybe the Crusades or some of the jihadists today, but many more of the jihadists are doing it for political or economic reasons.
In the end, I really felt that while Dawkins had a lot of great theories and points and ideas, and a great passion for science and studying human evolution, he is not a great arguer as to why he believes in science over religion. "Because I've looked at the facts, so I know" (actual quote) isn't a strong enough argument as to why he's right and a bunch of religious people are wrong, and that's coming from an atheist who agrees with him. He's absolutely right that the argument "God must have created eyes because eyes are so complicated," isn't any sort of argument, but you can't just respond by going, "Nu-uh!"

Also, judging by the questions Terry Gross asked, I'd say she's either religious herself, or was simply playing devil's advocate the whole time.

symmetrical dancing

Just a quick update before the day starts to get crazy. Yes, technically the sun still isn't officially rising until well after 7:30 a.m. up here in the great white north. It makes me sad.

Anyway, I found this interesting study the other day about how human dancing really isn't all that different than male birds dancing, and we're all just looking for symmetry in our potential mates:,0,6232044.story?coll=sfla-news-science

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Northwest Anthropological Conference

I had such a good weekend: I presented my paper to a round of applause and great questions (which I actually knew all the answers to), I got to hear about some really awesome research going on in the Pacific Northwest, and was just really inspired overall. Eastern Washington reminded me a lot of central California and some places in CA that I grew up, although the trees were wrong (in CA they would have been oak, here they were some taller deciduous), and just the knowledge that is was four hours or more away from the ocean was freaking me out. I left really nice warm sunny weather on Saturday, however, to drive home into cold wet weather, but it still felt good to be coming home.

Friday, March 16, 2007

NWAC 2007 update

I'm at the conference. I'm about to present my paper. That is all.

Boy I'm nervous.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Moody teens and fighting humans and chimps

Recent research shows that there is a biological reason that adolescents are overly-emotional, as opposed to social or psychological reasons: My response: Great, but when do they grow out of it? I know some 21-year-olds who still aren't completely over that stage.

Next, we saw the movie "300" this weekend. It was bloody, but not too bloody, and overall an entertaining film. Rafe's two reactions were very similar to mine: 1) Great translation of what a comic book looks like onto the big screen, boobs included; and 2) "That is the best piece of pro-war, specifically Irag-war, propaganda I've seen!" It was indeed very good propaganda, and as another interesting statement: All the Greeks were played by white, British-looking actors, and all the Persians were played by either Black or Arab looking people (Xerxes was a Brazilian actor). Whites good, dark skin bad? Hmmm. Iranians (modern-day Persia) agree:

Finally, an interesting study for Rafe; one anthropologist has come out with the theory that hominids and our other ancestors evolutionarily kept their short legs for so long because it made them better fighters:
They already had a good reach with their arms, which many scientists assumed was for staying in trees, but this is an interesting take on why we kept our long arms and short legs: to beat each other up better. Woot!

I'm off to Eastern Washington tomorrow to present my paper. I'm not super-prepared, but I'm decently prepared, and have two more nights to practice my delivery.