How evolved are we?

Is it actually possible for someone who has read a simple description of evolution supported by experimental evidence or modeled the idea on paper or a computer to seriously question the concept?

And why would someone who has not read a simple description of evolution and has not bothered to review the supporting evidence or modeled the idea think that they have enough information to make a valuable contribution to the discussion?

There in nothing in the concept of evolution that explicitly negates the idea of a supernatural influence on the universe, even though there is nothing in the concept that requires a supernatural influence.

But there is a lot that helps explain the natural world we see, and helps expand the knowledgebase and allow many fields of technology and areas of science to progress.

Why would anyone want a generation to grow up without the skills to work in these fields for the betterment of humanity?

Not teaching evolution is not just irrational, it is frankly abusing children, reducing their ability to understand the world and work in some of the most exciting fields that will appear in their lifetimes.

The Catholic Church (which has been one of the most conservative institutions over many centuries with respect to science) accepts the concept of evolution (even though they have no formal position on how species evolved). Have a look at http://www.catholic.com/tracts/adam-eve-and-evolution

Religion and Science while clearly very different should not fight over proven knowledge. Those who seek knowledge are partners.

Religion cannot decide to use ignorance as a virtue. It is not virtuous; it is plain stupidity leading to fear of the unknown.

People who play with words to try and disprove a concept are just wrong. The word “theory”, means “a coherent group of tested general propositions, commonly regarded as correct, that can be used as principles of explanation and prediction for a class of phenomena”.

If you don’t agree with a theory then show another set of test results that prove its inaccuracy. If you don’t agree with the theory of gravity then show some results of some test you have performed that explain why what we see is what we see.

If you don’t like the theory of evolution then show the results of some test that explain why what we see is the way it is. It is not enough to come up with a fable that makes you feel better if you don’t think about it too much. The evolutionary process has helped people make many advancements in medicine and biology and can be proven in the laboratory. When you think about it, it makes absolute sense.

A slow moving rabbit is much more likely to be eaten by a predator, so the chance of a fast moving rabbit escaping and mating is much higher. This is natural selection, it works and the results we see are exactly what we would expect to see.

We now know how genes and DNA work (at least at a simplistic level) and we can see the vast array of permutations that can be created. It makes sense that over generations desirable attributes are more likely to be successful and will lead to more offspring with those attributes and how over time the best match for a species and its environment will be most successful.

Denying what we can see and explain is a trick from the middle ages.

Great philosophers, great religious thinkers, great scientists, all are willing to have their ideas tested by others, and when they are shown to be wrong, are happy to learn and rethink their ideas.

There was a time when the Muslim world contained the greatest thinkers in the world. There are still pockets of great knowledge there, but it’s clear that when fundamentalists take control of a religion and choose to dominate their people through the propagation of ignorance, no good will ever come.

This should be a lesson to the western world. We cannot allow fundamentalist religious bigots (or any other bigots) to take control, as it will lead to terrible things.

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The beginning of civilization, society and religion.

A couple of decades ago I had the pleasure and honor of being involved with the building of a model that proved how Stonehenge worked. In case you don’t know, Stonehenge is a very ancient stone circle in the south west of England. For a pretty ancient stone circle it’s in quite good condition.

The basic idea of Stonehenge (based on my understanding) was to help compute the position of the earth against the stars, planets, our moon and the sun, and from this information help early farmers to work out exactly when the best times would be plant crops and harvest them.

That might sound rather boring, but at a time when people didn’t know about the movement of the moon around the earth and the earth around the sun, this was a fantastically important set of information to know.

You want your crops to be able to absorb the maximum amount of sunlight so that they grow as healthily as possible. If you plant too early or too late, the crops won’t do well, and if you harvest either too early or too late the crops won’t last as long. It’s really important and really hard to calculate the optimum timing.

The position of the stones in the circle actually allow for complex calculations to be made that deal with the fact that the earth wobbles on its axis over a multi-decade cycle. These stones were the culmination of hundreds of years of observation, many generations of early scientists, keeping careful records.

If you ever go to see Stonehenge or any of the myriad of other stone circles around Europe, you will notice that many of the stones have notches on the sides near the top. This talks to the extensive time they were used for. Because the star field we see from earth does change over the decades, and so the exact position of the stars as measured on the marks on the stones deals with this change. It’s small but really significant.

If you calculate the position of the star fields as they would have been thousands of years ago, you can calculate the exact time that the stone circle was originally erected and from the notches of the side exactly how long there were used for.

These calculations match up with the carbon dating results gathered from remains found under the circle. So are as close to perfect proof for the reasons for the stone circles as has ever been found.

If you accept this idea, then the following makes sense.

Imagine for a second how life was ten thousand or more years ago. The (relatively) few people who roamed the earth were nomadic hunters, who would forage the land for food. Life was hard and lifespans were short. Some families fed up with this life, tried to corral animals and farm crops. Some of these people were more successful than others. And through experience the most successful ones were able to tell their children how to farm and over the millennia these families started to live longer and grow more numerous. With each generation knowledge on how to farm was passed down. And it was noticed by some that the best times to plant crops were when the sun rose over a particular branch of a tree, and the best time to harvest was when the moon fell over another branch of another tree. It wasn’t a perfect system, but the small difference this knowledge made year after year, meant that these families become healthier, longer lived and grew larger.

Over time they noticed that the cycle of the earth was more complex and so they started to record (over years) more and more cyclic details, by measuring the positions of the stars, planets, the moon and the sun. And the more accurate they could calculate the seasons the better the crops would become.

Of course this meant that some people were spending all of their time doing these calculations, and not working the fields or looking after animals. This meant that they needed a series of rules about who would do what, so that as a team (or tribe) they could all achieve.

Other tribes would want this knowledge, so trade was needed to allow them to get what they needed without having to replicate the complex calculations. And fortifications and security was needed to ensure that the other tribes didn’t just come and take it by force.

So the basics of society as we know it today was formed with social roles, trade laws, police and armies, barter, education and knowledge sharing.

As the calculations being performed became more complex and the devices used grew from tree limbs, to wooden circles to eventually stone circles. The operators of these early computers took on priest-like importance to the people. And the payment to these priests became seen as gifts to the gods.

You can imagine how god-like the information being shared must have seen to the people of the time. Generation after generation these complex procedures were passed down on how to calculate the seasons. And even the operators of these stone computers would have seen this knowledge as divine.

Over thousands of years, complex mythologies were formed, where elements of the sky and earth were considered powerful as they imparted such complex and critical knowledge.

So while we look today at these ancient stone circles and think of the religious significance they had to the people who lived at that time what we are really seeing is science and society being formed.

People built an amazing amount of knowledge and applied it to better society.

Is any religion today really that different?

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Picking and Choosing Ethics

When I was a child at school, we were forced to take a class in religious education, where we studied the world’s major religions, and learnt how to use a condom. Yep it may seem like a strange combination, but as it was the local bucked toothed stuttering church of England middle aged priest who was asked to teach the kids sex education, so it was added to the RE class.

What I came away from my years of religious education classes was a firm understanding that all religions are mutually exclusive, and as such have a flaw so deep as to prove their worthlessness as truth.

But in the process I did learn quite a lot about four of five of the worlds most followed religions, and noticed that each one seemed to have something valuable to add.

One of the most fascinating concepts of the major religions to me has always been the Sikh idea of the saint-soldier, particularly the part about defending everyone’s rights irrespective of their religion, color, creed, sex or caste.

It’s incredible and wonderful (to me) that these hairy, turbaned people (who look just like Muslims to the average global citizen), have such a beautiful forward-looking ideal. If there was one idea in the world today that typifies the highest hope of the modern age, it is this.

And to think that it’s been central to the Sikh culture for five hundred years.

There is a tremendous amount to learn. (73)

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