The greatest story every told is unravelling in your genes...
"Light will be thrown
on the origin of man and his history."
- Charles Darwin, "The Origin of Species"
"When we no longer
look at an organic being as a savage looks at a ship, as something wholly
beyond his comprehension; when we regard every production of nature as
one which has had a long history ; when we contemplate every complex structure
and instinct as the summing up of many contrivances, each useful to the
possessor, in the same way as any great mechanical invention is the summing
up of the labour, the experience, the reason, and even the blunders of
numerous workmen ; when we thus view each organic being, how far more interesting
- I speak from experience - does the study of natural history become!"
- Charles Darwin, "The Origin of Species"
"We must, however,
acknowledge ... that man with all his noble qualities, with sympathy which
feels for the most debased, with benevolence which extends not only to
other men but to the humblest living creature, with his god-like intellect
which has penetrated into the movements and constitution of the solar system-
with all these exalted powers- Man still bears in his bodily frame the
indelible stamp of his lowly origin."
- Charles Darwin, "The Descent Of Man"
"The formation of different
languages and of distinct species and the proofs that both have been developed
through a gradual process, are curiously parallel."
- Charles Darwin, "The Desent Of Man"
Let me lay my cards
on the table. If I were to give an award for the single best idea anyone
ever had, I'd give it to Darwin, ahead of even Newton or Einstein and everyone
else. In a single stroke, the idea of evolution by natural selection unifies
the realm of life, meaning and purpose with the realm of space and time,
cause and effect, mechanism and physical law. It is not just a wonderful
idea. It is a dangerous idea.
- Daniel Dennett, "Darwin's Dangerous Idea"
Darwin was one of our
finest specimens. He did superbly what human beings are designed to do:
manipulate social information to personal advantage. The information in
question was the prevailing account of how human beings, and all organisms,
came to exist; Darwin reshaped it in a way that radically raised his social
status. When he died in 1882, his greatness was acclaimed in newspapers
around the world, and he was buried in Westminster Abbey, not far from
the body of Isaac Newton. Alpha-male territory.
- Robert Wright, "The Moral Animal"
Along with William
Shakespeare and Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin is Britain's greatest gift
to the world. He was our greatest thinker.
- Richard Dawkins, Honourary President, Darwin Day.
Charles Darwin was
the originator of the most dangerous idea in history. He disenfranchised
God as our creator and revealed the animal origins of humanity.
- Robin McKie, "The Guardian"
Today Charles Darwin
is best known for establishing the fact of evolution and for recognizing
the major role of natural selection in driving it.
- Jared Diamond
Darwinism did not strip
meaning from the world but intensified it, 'by identifying it in as many
aspects of life as possible'.
- Neal Ascherson reviews "A Reason For Everything" by Marek Kohn for "The Observer"
"To be human: To be
the place where the falling angel meets the rising ape."
- from Terry Pratchett's "Hogfather"
"The art which adds
to Nature is itself Nature."
- Polixenes, in Shakespeare's "A Winter's Tale"
How do I know about
Darwin to begin with? And the answer was this: I was taught him as part
of history as well as part of biology. After the voyage of the good ship
Beagle and the amazing discoveries that attended it, Darwin decided to
change his own theistic views and also to challenge the rooted conceptions
of Christian Victorian society... Why not make schoolchildren study the
history of the argument? It would show them how to weigh and balance evidence,
and it would remind them of the scarcely believable idiocy of the ancestors
of "intelligent design." The tale is both amusing and instructive, and
it is a vital part of the history of the 19th and 20th centuries. How could
intelligent scientific secularism lose if this were part of the curriculum?
- Christopher Hitchens, "MSN Slate"
We do not and we should
not teach rubbish and superstition alongside science. "Intelligent design"
is not even a theory. It is more like a mentality. It admits of no verification
or falsity and does not deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as a
series of hypotheses and experiments that have served us well in analyzing
the fossil record, the record of molecular biology, and — through the unraveling
of the DNA strings — our kinship with other species. And this is to say
nothing of the possibility of medical advances that may astonish us in
our own lifetimes. To put astrology on the same blackboard as the Hubble
telescope would be an approximate analogy.
- Christopher Hitchens, "MSN Slate"
For so-called fundamentalists,
the difficulties of keeping to the sentence-by-sentence literal truth of
the biblical account of the Creation should not be much greater than they
already are, even if a delegation of Flores hobbits arrived in Downing
Street demanding equal rights and bus passes... Only if the Floresians
were brighter and could conceive of universal ideas, conversing excitedly
perhaps about what should be on Saturday night television once Saturday
night and television had been invented, would they be capable of sustaining
an immortal soul.
- Christopher Howse, "Do Little People Go To Heaven?", "The Spectator"
Perhaps no order of mammals presents us with so extraordinary a series of gradations as this [step by step, from humans to apes to monkeys to lemurs] - leading us insensibly from the crown and summit of the animal creation down to creatures, from which there is but a step, as it seems, to the lowest, smallest, and least intelligent of the placental Mammalia. It is as if nature herself had forseen the arrogance of man, and with Roman severity had provided that his intellect, by its very triumphs, should call into prominence the slaves, admonishing the conqueror that he is but dust.
- Tim Flannery, "The Eternal Frontier"
"Our creationist detractors charge that evolution is an unproved and unprovable charade-- a secular religion masquerading as science. They claim, above all, that evolution generates no predictions, never exposes itself to test, and therefore stands as dogma rather than disprovable science. This claim is nonsense. We make and test risky predictions all the time; our success is not dogma, but a highly probable indication of evolution's basic truth."
- Stephen Jay Gould
"We are here because one odd group of fishes had a peculiar fin anatomy that could transform into legs for terrestrial creatures; because the earth never froze entirely during an ice age; because a small and tenuous species, arising in Africa a quarter of a million years ago, has managed, so far, to survive by hook and by crook. We may yearn for a 'higher' answer - but none exists."
- Erich Fromm
Natural selection is not the only process that changes organisms over time. But is the only process that seemingly designs organisms over time.
We admit that we are like apes, but we seldom realise that we are apes.
When we die, there are two things we can leave behind us: genes and memes. But as each generation passes, the contribution of your genes is halved. Socrates may or may not have a gene or two alive in the world today, as G.C Williams remarked, but who cares? The meme-complexes of Socrates, Leonardo, Copernicus and Marconi are still going strong.
We are survival machines - robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes.
"But nature - that is, biological evolution - has not fitted man to any specific environment. On the contrary, ... he has a rather crude survival kit; and yet -this is the paradox of the human condition - one that fits him to all environments. Among the multitude of animals which scamper, fly, burrow and swim around us, man is the only one who is not locked into his environment. His imagination, his reason, his emotional subtlety and toughness, make it possible for him not to accept the environment but to change it."
In the ways of Nature," said Marcus Aurelius, "there is no evil to be found." Animals are aggressive not because they are savage, or bestial or evil (those are words with very little explanatory power) but because such behaviour provides food and defence against predation, because it spaces out the population and avoids overcrowding, because it has adaptive value.
The noses of women, we cannot help noting, are often at the same level as the armpits of men.
Because men, compared to male chimps, have such relatively small testicles (large testicles indicate a species where many males mate, one after the other, with the same female), we might guess that promiscuous societies were uncommon in the immediate human past.
- Desmond Morris, author of 'The Naked Ape' and 'Manwatching'
"Our ancestors were eating meat over 2.5 million years ago. We mainly ate meat, fish, fruits, vegetables and nuts. We have to assume our physiology evolved in association with this diet. The balanced diet for our species was what we could acquire then, not what the government and doctors tell us to eat now."
- Lionel Tiger, Rutgers Anthropology Professor, "The Case for Eating like Cavemen"
Women do not avoid fighting because they are dainty or scared, but because they have a greater stake than men in staying alive to rear their offspring. Women compete with each other just as tenaciously as men, but with a stealth and subtlety that reduces their chances of being killed or injured.
- The Guardian
In my simplicity, I remember wondering why every gentleman did not become an ornithologist.
Bird taxonomy is a difficult field because of the severe anatomical constraints imposed by flight. There are only so many ways to design a bird capable, say, of catching insects in mid-air, with the result that birds of similar habitats tend to have very similar anatomies, whatever their ancestry. For example, American vultures look and behave much like Old World vultures, but biologists have come to realize that the former are related to storks, the latter to hawks, and that their resemblances result from their common lifestyle.
- Jared Diamond, "The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee"
Among the beguiling
cases we meet are a convent girl who found herself changing sex on puberty;
infants who, echoing Cyclops, are born with a single eye in the middle
of their foreheads; a child discovered to have the remains of 21 foetuses
embedded in his brain; a soldier whose heart was on the right-hand side
of his body rather than the left; a village of long-lived Croatian dwarfs...
it turns out that on average each of us contains 300 potentially harmful
mutations: and one in 10 of us has an extra rib. As he says, we are all
mutants, but some of us are more mutant than others.
- Peter Tallack reviews "Mutants" by Armand Marie for "The Times"
The frontier of genetic
medicine is a wonderful place to be... But genetic screening... is not
necessarily good for you. Would you have a test for dementia in your 20s
when the condition may not affect you for another 60 years? Probably not.
But if your family medical history is littered with early heart attacks
you might as well have a test for predisposition to coronary heart disease.
- Dr Maurice Gueret, "The Irish Independent"
Our tests indidcate
that you're mortal. I'm afraid we'll be unable to offer you insurance.
- Dr Maurice Gueret, on the attitude of some risk screening companies
Last year, the journalist
Malcolm Gladwell conducted a survey of chief executive officers of Fortune
500 companies for his book Blink. He discovered that while in the US population
14.5 per cent of all men are 6ft (1.83m) or taller, among CEOs of Fortune
500 companies the proportion is 58 per cent. And while 3.9 per cent of
American adults are 6ft 2in or taller, almost a third of the CEOs were
- Daniel Finkelstein, "The Times"
Even at its fastest,
genetic change is extremely slow. One of the fasest major genetic changes
is the increase in the number of people able to use lactose, the sugar
present in milk. The highest peak registered is 90 percent, in Scandinavia.
This level may have been reached over a period of around ten thousand years,
starting from an initial incidence of 1 to 2 percent, or maybe lower. The
same time lapse may apply to lightening of skin color and generally to
the Scandinavian's virtual loss of skin, eye, and hair pigmentation, starting
from original colorings that were perhaps similar to the Lebanese of today.
- Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza, "The Great Human Diasporas"
Fifteen hundred years is ample time in which to lose mutual comprehension. Iceland was colonized by the Norwegians at the end of the ninth century AD. Today's Icelanders, with considerable effort, can understand people from the Scandinavian peninsula, but the Scandinavians hardly understand the Icelanders. A thousand years is the minimum time span for a language to change so much that it becomes incomprehensible.
New research has estimated
that up to one in 12 Irish males could be descended from Niall of the Nine
Hostages, an Irish warlord who ruled as high king of Tara between the years
379 and 405 AD. During his tenure, King Niall sired 12 sons, including
Eoghain and Conall, after whom the counties Tyrone and Donegal were named.
Niall's Y chromsome popped up in one Irishman in eight, with a much higher
concentration of royal genes in the north-west region. Royal chromosomes
were found in ten percent of men in western and central Scotland and two
percent of European descendants in New York. Given historically high Irish
emigration, Niall's descendants could run to 2-3 million men worldwide,
research at the Smurfit Institute of Genetics in Trinity College Dublin
- from Dublin's "Metro" newspaper
Ireland's Celtic indigenous
population can be traced back to fishermen from Iberia, and particularly
from Spain, who arrived about 6,000 years ago, new DNA evidence has revealed.
The study has also revealed that Ireland invaded Scotland even before it
was invaded by the British. While the first signs of settlement in Ireland
can be traced back almost 9,500 years, this new study from a team at Oxford
University reveals that those numbers were so small and this movement from
Iberia represents the first significant influx of people. DNA analysis
conducted by Prof Bryan Sykes has shown that Celts are almost identical
in terms of genetic make-up as inhabitants of Spanish coastal areas, whose
ancestors migrated north first to Ireland and then to Britain... The fact
that the Celts came from Iberia first and not central Europe is also different
to what was previously thought. The new study also suggested that well
before British invasions of Ireland, settlers in the north of Ireland invaded
Scotland and took advantage of the chaos left by the withdrawal of the
Roman Empire in about 500AD.
- from "The Irish Independent"
Britain and Ireland
are so thoroughly divided in their histories that there is no single word
to refer to the inhabitants of both islands. Historians teach that they
are mostly descended from different peoples: the Irish from the Celts,
and the English from the Anglo-Saxons who invaded from northern Europe
and drove the Celts to the country’s western and northern fringes. But
geneticists who have tested DNA throughout the British Isles are edging
toward a different conclusion. Many are struck by the overall genetic similarities,
leading some to claim that both Britain and Ireland have been inhabited
for thousands of years by a single people that have remained in the majority,
with only minor additions from later invaders like Celts, Romans, Angles
, Saxons, Vikings and Normans... In all, about three-quarters of the ancestors
of today’s British and Irish populations arrived between 15,000 and 7,500
years ago, when rising sea levels finally divided Britain and Ireland from
the Continent and from one another. As for subsequent invaders, Ireland
received the fewest; the invaders’ DNA makes up about 12 percent of the
Irish gene pool, Dr. Oppenheimer estimates, but it accounts for 20 percent
of the gene pool in Wales, 30 percent in Scotland, and about one-third
in eastern and southern England. Still, no single group of invaders is
responsible for more than 5 percent of the current gene pool.
- Nicholas Wade, on the work of Dr. Stephen Oppenheimer, "The New York Times"
There are two reasons
why chicken is bland. One is that all meat gets its flavour from fat, and,
apart from the skin, the parts of the chicken we eat are low in fat. Chicken
breast also has very low levels of the chemical umami, which is associated
with the savory taste. But there is one other factor which has given us
that staple exclamation of reality survival shows: "It tastes like chicken!"
Relieved celebrities have blurted this out after biting into wriggly grubs,
barbecued rat and a smorgasbord of other delights. So many other meats
taste like chicken, because the chicken taste evolved in a common ancestor
of many of today's animal groups. The US evolutionary biologist Joe Staton
says that fish have their own distinctive cooked taste because they evolved
earliest. Amphibians, which evolved next, were the first creatures to taste
like chicken. But the chicken taste really took over with the rise of the
dinosaurs, which tasted like chicken on a monumental scale before giving
rise to today's birds. Say what you like about the usefulness of Prof Staton's
research, but you can't knock his commitment to best practice in food traceability.
- from "The Irish Independent"
"Space and force pervade language. Many cognitive scientists (including me) have concluded from their research on language that a handful of concepts about places, paths, motions, agency, and causation underlie the literal or figurative meanings of tens of thousands of words and constructions, not only in English but in every other language that has been studied."
Meme, n : A unit of cultural transmission. Examples - tunes, ideas, fashions, catch-phrases.
The haven all memes depend on reaching is the human mind, but a human mind is itself an artifact created when memes restructure a human brain in order to make it a better habitat for memes. The avenues for entry and departure are modified to suit local conditions, and strengthened by various artificial devices that enhance fidelity and prolixity of replication: native Chinese minds differ dramatically from native French minds, and literate minds differ from illiterate minds. What memes provide in return to the organisms in which they reside is an incalculable store of advantages - with some Trojan horses thrown in for good measure...
Fears in modern-city dwellers protect us from dangers that no longer exist, and fail to protect us from dangers in the world around us. We ought to be afraid of guns, driving fast, driving without a seatbelt, lighter fluid, and hair dryers near bathtubs, not of snakes and spiders. Public safety officials try to strike fear in the hearts of citizens using everything from statistics to shocking photographs, usually to no avail. Parents scream and punish to deter their children from playing with matches or chasing a ball into the street, but when Chicago schoolchildren were asked what they were most afraid of, they cited lions, tigers and snakes, unlikely hazards in the Windy City.
- Anjana Anhuja, "Adam Smith Was Right", "The Times"
The conventional wisdom in the social sciences is that human nature is simply the imprint of an individual's background and experience. But our cultures are not random collections of arbitrary habits. They are canalized expressions of our instincts. That is why the same themes crop up in all cultures - themes such as family, ritual, bargain, love, hierarchy, friendships, jealousy, group loaylty, and superstition. That is why, for all their superficial differences of language and custom, foreign cultures are still immediately comprehensible at the deeper level of motives, emotions and social habits. Instincts, in a species like the human one, are not immutable genetic programs; they are pre-dispositions to learn. And to believe that human beings have instincts is no more determinist than to believe they are the products of their upbringing.
It is the assumption of this book that there is a typical human nature. It is the aim of this book to seek it. Just like a surgeon, a psychiatrist can make all sorts of basic assumptions when a patient lies down upon the couch. He can assume that the patient knows what it means to love, to envy, to trust, to think, to speak, to fear, to smile, to bargain, to covet, to dream, to remember, to sing, to quarrel, to lie. The 'smile' of a baboon is a threat; the smile of a man is a sign of pleasure: it is human nature, the world over.
"I have shown that those who deplore Artificial Intelligence are also those who deplore the evolutionary accounts of human mentality: if human minds are non-miraculous products of evolution, then they are, in the requisite sense, artifacts, and all their powers must have an ultimately "mechanical" explanation. We are descended from macros and made of macros, and nothing we can do is beyond the power of huge assemblies of macros."
Your sweet little book
is a bizarre collection of out-of-context quotations, misquotations, misleading
quotations, non sequiturs, errors of fact and just about every other dirty
intellectual trick known to man.
- Tim O’Neill, describing an anti-evolution book by the Jehovah's Witnesses
Darwin's theory of evolution on the grounds that it is "just a theory".
This is a valid criticism: evolution is indeed merely "a theory", albeit
one with ten billion times more credence than the theory of creationism
- although, to be fair, the theory of creationism is more than just a theory.
It's also a fairy story. And children love fairy stories, which is presumably
why so many creationists are keen to have their whimsical gibberish taught
- Charlie Brooker, "The Guardian"
You are inhuman brutes
determined to rob us of our spiritual consolations and sweep away the moral
foundations of our civilization, and on the other: You are obscurantist
ignoramuses who’d like to shut down progress and drag us all back to the
16th century, with kings and priests telling us what to think.
- John Derbyshire, on some of the angrier positions of the evolution-creationism debate
COGDELL, GA : The Cogdell
School Board banned the teaching of the controversial "Theory Of Math"
in its schools Monday. "We are simply not confident of this mysterious
process by which numbers turn, as if by magic, into other numbers," board
member Gus Reese said. "Those mathematicians are free to believe 3 times
4 equals 12, but that dun [sic] give them the right to force it on our
children." Under the new ruling, all math textbooks will carry a disclaimer
noting that math is only one of many valid theories of number-manipulation.
- Georgia School Board Bans 'Theory Of Math', from satirical website TheOnion.Com
As the debate over
the teaching of evolution in public schools continues, a new controversy
over the science curriculum arose Monday in this embattled Midwestern state.
Scientists from the Evangelical Center For Faith-Based Reasoning are now
asserting that the long-held "theory of gravity" is flawed, and they have
responded to it with a new theory of Intelligent Falling. "Things fall
not because they are acted upon by some gravitational force, but because
a higher intelligence, 'God' if you will, is pushing them down," said Reverent
Gabriel Burdett, who holds degrees in education, applied Scripture, and
physics from Oral Roberts University.
- Evangelical Scientists Refute Gravity with New 'Intelligent Falling' Theory, "The Onion"
As is so often the
case with pieces that appear in the Onion, I honestly could not decide
whether this was a clever hoax or not — the arguments were almost exactly
as stupid as the real thing.
- Christopher Hitchens, "MSN Slate"
Scientists like Richard Dawkins have been accused of arrogant intolerance towards creationists. Can a professional student of evolution have a serious debate with creationists? It is hard and when he refuses, he is accused of arrogance. But should a gardener who has spent a lifetime finding the best ways of growing vegetables take seriously someone who says praying to God would be more productive?
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