November 7, 2005 | David F. Coppedge

Stupid Evolution Quotes of the Week

Two articles in the popular press tried to make the case that monkeys have humanlike characteristics.  Maybe they proved the converse, at least for some humans.

  1. Does this add up?  Reporting on experiments suggesting monkeys have the rudiments of math skills, at least in the ability to compare sizes of things, MSNBC News writer Bjorn Carey wanted to emphasize how similar they are to us.  He said, “This finding is the most recent in a series of discoveries that indicate our primate cousins display humanlike characteristics.  Monkeys like to gamble and enjoy looking at other monkeys’ bottoms.  Chimpanzees have been found to crack under social pressures.”
  2. On the Origin of Humor by Sexual Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Jokes in the Struggle for a Wife:  Science Now laughed with, but not at, a study that showed differences in the way men and women respond to humor.  There must be a Darwinian angle in here somewhere:  “There are a variety of ways to interpret the findings, says neuroscientist Gregory Berns of Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, one of the more politically incorrect being that women are more easily entertained than men.  Another is that women find humor more important in behavior than men do, consistent with ideas that humor evolved differently between the sexes as a mating strategy–men act the comics and women respond by laughing at them. Er, with them.”  But ScienceNow left us hanging without a punch line for the title, “Y Did the Chromosome Cross the Road?”
  3. Are humans still evolving?  Reporting on a comparative genomics study between humans and chimpanzees, Ker Than on Live Science started by praising the power of natural selection:  “The evolutionary process that Charles Darwin discovered almost 150 years ago, responsible for transforming dinosaurs into birds and allowing the walking ancestors of whales to take to the seas, is still quietly at work in humans today.”  In the next paragraph he called DNA the “software of life.”

While supporting natural selection, Ker Than managed to include his usual dig against the creationists: “The validity of Darwin’s natural selection has been attacked lately by a small but vocal group who argue that it cannot explain all the complexity seen in nature.  They advocate a concept called ‘intelligent design,’ in which a higher being is responsible for the variety of life.  Scientists dismiss intelligent design as cloaked creationism and say that there are no significant problems with the widely accepted theory of evolution.”  (Emphasis added in quotes.)

So if you are a gambling butt-gazer with a nervous breakdown, you can take comfort in the fact that macaques empathize with you.  Supposedly if the macaques keep up such antics they will become philosophers in due time.  Didn’t Kipling say that to be a man requires keeping your head while all around you are losing theirs?  Macaque antics reveal no special human propensities.  Parrots and dolphins exhibit better intellectual skills than monkeys, but no Darwinist considers either of them our “closest living relative.”  Why not turn the idea around, and say that any man who dwells on derriere jokes is devolving into a macaque, or any human who swims is devolving into a whale?  After all, Michael Ruse has forcefully warned against embedding any ideas of progress into Darwinian theory.
    Ker Than has been a malicious demagogue against intelligent design throughout the Dover trial, worse than Antonio Lazcano (see 11/04/2005 entry).  These two quotes show that nothing he says about Darwinism or ID can be trusted.  In promoting Darwinism, he erred with his definition of natural selection: “Darwin’s natural selection is the process by which nature rewards those individuals better adapted to their environments with survival and reproductive success.”  In addition to slipping an embedded personification fallacy about rewards into his definition, he blindly slipped into the tautology trap: if fitness is defined in terms of reproductive success, it loses all independent meaning: the fit survive because the survivors are fit.
    In attacking ID, Ker Than linked it to belief in a “higher being”.  ID makes no claims about the nature or source of the designing intelligence, but only that the effects of intelligent causes are detectable.  But then he also borrowed ID vocabulary in defining DNA as software, which always has an intelligent cause.  He also erred historically in giving Charlie credit for “discovering” natural selection.  If he can’t even define the most basic terms right or keep his concepts consistent, how can his opinions be worth anything?  Such reporting is better suited to a job at

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Categories: Dumb Ideas

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