Monthly Archives: March 2018

Pinker on Rubin, and a meta-review of his critics

Why Evolution Is True

After years of Dave Rubin trying to get Steve Pinker on his show, he’s finally succeeded. Here’s the first part of their interview: a 34-minute discussion of Pinker’s background, his secular Judaism, blank-slateism, sex differences in preference and behavior (he mentions the Larry Summers and James Damore affairs), whether some scientific questions should be off limits, identity politics, free speech on campus, whether campus censorship helped elect Trump (Pinker says “yes), and the distortion of his views by the Regressive Left. (Part 2, which deals with his new book Enlightenment Now, is here, and the full hour-long interview, which I haven’t yet seen but will, is here). Although some will say that this is Rubin simply interviewing another “alt-righter”, Pinker’s words dispel that characterization. Here he calls himself a “centrist,” though I see him as a classical liberal. He certainly has no kind words for Trump and the…

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The University of Edinburgh and the John Templeton Foundation royally screw up evolution and science (and tell arrant lies) in an online course

This piece is about bad philosophy, as well as bad science.

Why Evolution Is True

Reader Simon sent me this video, which is a short (8-minute) lecture that’s apparently part of an online Coursera course on Science and Philosophy sponsored by the University of Edinburgh, the EIDYN Research Center run by Edinburgh’s Department of Philosophy, and the John Templeton Foundation. The presenter of this talk on creationism and evolutionary biology, S. Orestis Palermos, is a lecturer in philosophy at Cardiff University (also identified as a “research explorer” at Edinburgh).

If you had any pretense that Templeton is in favor of rigorous science, it will be dispelled by this video, which argues that science, like religion, is based on faith, and that evolution is merely an ad hoc rationalization of observations that is not science because it can’t make predictions. It’s also ineffably sad that the University of Edinburgh is sponsoring this nonsense.

I’ve put a transcript of the video below (also prepared by Simon)…

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Misfortune in the grocery store

Why Evolution Is True

This has happened to me twice in the last week. When it first occurred, I wrote about it on Facebook, with mixed comments, and then it happened again this morning. I had to pick up some produce, which included just a small amount: a wee bag of radishes (try them the French way: sliced on a baguette with sweet butter), two limes, and six pears. When I shop at the produce store early (it opens at 8 a.m.), I usually have the place largely to myself. As I approached the checkout line, a portly man with a cart full of groceries—and by that I mean at least 30 items—got there right before me. I looked at him wistfully, holding up my small amount of food and hoping he’d say “Oh, go ahead.”

No dice. He slowly and painfully put his items on the belt (he was older), and I shuffled…

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Why Avocados Shouldn’t Exist

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The bizarre anglerfish: first video of their equally bizarre mating

Why Evolution Is True

You’ve surely heard of the bizarre anglerfish. There are actually many such species in the order Lophiiformes, but the most famous are the deep-sea species with fearsome teeth who attract their prey with a luminescent lure. (All anglerfish are carnivorous.) Here’s a picture of ten such species from Wikipedia:

Their huge mouths and distendable stomachs enable them to eat prey twice their size: a useful adaptation in the deep sea, where prey are few and far between. And the reproduction of some species, as shown in the stunning video below, is totally bizarre (see this Mental Floss piece for more information). Males are tiny, and weren’t even known to exist until many females had been caught, many afflicted with “parasites”. Scientists eventually realized that the parasites were actually males whose bodies had become permanently fused to the female. That’s a good mating strategy because finding a female in such…

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Mehdi Hasan tries to destroy Pinker on Al-Jazeera

Why Evolution Is True

I’ve been reading Steve Pinker’s new book, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, at the same time reading the many reviews of this book. While a few reviews have been positive, most are negative, often very negative (e.g., this one). (These don’t seem to have hurt the book’s huge sales.)  And I often feel that these reviewers have read a different book from the one I’ve nearly finished. They often accuse Pinker of neglecting issues that he actually deals with in the book, take his quotes out of context, or use anecdotal examples to refute a general thesis documented with lots of data.

One of these nay-sayers is Mehdi Hasan, a British journalist of Indian ancestry, a Muslim, and, as far as I can see, a Muslim apologist along the lines of Karen Armstrong (who’s a Muslim apologist but not a Muslim). Hasan’s…

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Gal Gadot demonized for her memoriam for Stephen Hawking

Why Evolution Is True

The outrage mob, always sniffing for ideological impurities, has struck again. When Stephen Hawking died on March 14, actor Gal Gadot—you know, the Wonder Woman phenom who is also an Israeli—issued this tweet:

Now most of you are on the Left, but look at that tweet and see what you could find objectionable if you’re a Pecksniff. You’ll spot it instantly, I bet. Yep, it was the idea that after death Hawking will be “free of any physical constraints.” Now I don’t know if that means he’ll have an afterlife where he’s not in a wheelchair (implying Gadot is religious, though most liberal Jews don’t believe in an afterlife), or that he’s simply gone and therefore not thereby constrained.

But if…

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Will Stress Really Make You Go Gray?

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Piranha Scissors

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A muddled thinker claims that evolution can’t explain organisms or their “strivings”

Why Evolution Is True

Alternet notes that Jeremy Sherman “is a decision theorist studying how life deals with dilemmas from the origins of life to everyday and political life.” In the article below (click on the screenshot), he also shows himself to be deeply muddled about evolution. The headline is tantalizing, but the “biological mystery” that science can’t explain turns out to be trivial: something that’s eminently explainable from what we already know about life and evolution. 

So what is the Big Biological Mystery? It’s that organisms appear to be striving—trying to do things. This striving takes the form of things like organisms “trying” (I use the word as he does) to stay alive, trying to reproduce, trying to regenerate damaged bodies, trying to protect themselves from the multifarious harms that threaten every creature.

Sherman gives this appearance of striving and “purposefulness” a fancy name: “functional fitted effort“, which he further…

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