Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Coulter, the gift that keeps on giving

I was hoping Coulter could write a whole book without attacking evolution, but evidently she gave it 80 pages. Pharyngula
does the super-competent job of fisking it we would all expect. If PZ comes over here I hope he can address Coulter's remark that liberalism "teaches children that they have a common ancestor with the earthworm". A Google search for "earthworm and (evolution or fossil)" came up with a lot of junk, but one site said that the line leading to the annelids started in the Pre-Cambrian period through the evolutionary development of the coelom, a basic innovation which implies a body cavity. Another site said that earthworm fossils are few. This confirms my suspicion that the common ancestor of humans and earthworms was such a simple creature that referring to it gives us no interesting speculation about the commonalities between humans and earthworms at all. Saying that humans today have "common life processes with the earthworm" gives as much information as that we have a common ancestor with the earthworm. If you are going as far back as the earthworm you might as well go back to DNA and one-celled organisms, which do provide as much of a sense of wonder and mystery as anyone could want.
I would like to make a comment which on PZ's site would just confuse the reader on Coulter's statement that "liberals subscribe to Darwinism...out of some wishful thinking. Darwinism lets them off the hook morally." Evidently Gertrude Himmelfarb has advanced the view that evolution made our philosophy more materialistic and provided the conditions for Nietzsche to arise. Gertrude Himmelfarb is far more worth taking seriously than Coulter. (Himmelfarb's The Darwinian Revolution goes on reading list. Should have read years ago) But the Higher Criticism was developing separately from evolution and would have discredited unthinking belief in Judaism, Christianity, and their associated moral codes for those who wanted not to believe had Darwin or Wallace never published. In terms of formal ethical theories liberals are split between existentialists, utilitarians, and Rawlsians, and maybe some out-and-out cynics. We also have the ideas of Isaiah Berlin, advanced by DB, that moral values have trade-offs. But this does not mean that we shouldn't subscribe to any moral values. It means that moral values are flexibly wired and can progress or regress with material changes in society, so liberals are responsible for progress in moral values. (See: the "Markos is too pragmatic" controversy) I wrote a paper on Rawls back in my primordial earlier life which showed that Rawls is a constructivist. If we think of ourselves as people fit to have a democratic society we must subscribe to a set of moral values which maximize the democratic potential of everybody. The "contract" is renewed for each person as they become aware of their democratic obligations without necessarily using the "veil of ignorance" which was simply a hypothetical. Pullman's "Republic of Heaven", hardly meant to be an amoral place, might look like this. This old post from Y. Aharon subbing for GH also advances the idea that material evolution went to a certain point and then G-d took over with us and gave us a neshama. In other words, the spiritual world can't be explained in terms of the material world. The spiritual world influences the material world, but even to this day we have limited understanding of it, kol hachomer when Bereishis was written. It is not scientists' job to explain this influence.

This post is also extremely cool and shows a new application of bioinformatics in working on gene relationships.


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