Sunday, November 06, 2005

Oy, student opinion pages

From the campus paper, Design debate: Darwin dar-loses:
Two theories of evolution exist, and they are quite different. The first is a well-documented fact: microevolution – genetic variation within a species; for example, Charles Darwin’s finches and the size variation of their beaks.

The second type, macroevolution, or creation evolution, attempts to answer the question “How did we get here?”
Dustin Elliott then proceeds to write about how "creation evolution" is all about the "primordial soup." This gives us a beautiful example of shitty creationist writing.

Macroevolution has nothing to do with how life came to be. Nothing. At. All.

Macroevolution is the study of evolutionary patterns above the scale of the species. This recent article about the evolution of sleep across the class Mammalia is a macroevolutionary study. So are studies on the patterns of speciation and extinction in fossil diatoms. Also the diversification of a single species into numerous other species, such as the adaptive radiation of Darwin's finches. What's interesting about them is that the research so ably described in
The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time by Jonathan Weiner (or the scientific monograph Ecology and Evolution of Darwin's Finches by Peter R. Grant) shows how microevolutionary change, year to year variation within a species, leads to speciation and then macroevolution.

Origins of life research has nothing to do with that. And I bet those researchers stopped talking about the "primordial soup" about 50 years ago.

The piece goes downhill from there, a pile of steaming drivel which confuses its own terms and makes factual and logical errors aplenty.

Luckily, there's a marvelous new exhibit at the Natural History Museum which is officially open to the public, and well worth the visit.

I'll probably write some sort of response to the letter, and you KU readers should, too.

Also in today's UDK, Andrew Soukoup advocates for a ban on abortion because rights come from God (not man), and "when faith is pushed out of the picture, the debate becomes a moot point since man’s rights are meaningless, because, apart from his relation to God, man has no rights."

I'm not one to fight religious battles. You never convince other people, you make enemies, and you wind up embarrassing yourself in the process.

But this is a fight that matters, because where we get our rights from has more than just philosophical meaning. If rights derive from God, then legal analyses of what rights we have (9th amendment unenumerated rights) have to build on theology. If those rights derive from a social contract and some sort of common consent (we'll call this a Kantian/Hobbesian/Rousseauian/Lockean/Benthamite stew, with a little Aquinas tossed in), then we need to understand history, sociology and people.

The only way to have a full theistic ethical model that applies to all of society is if everyone agrees on the deity underlying the model. My ethical model precludes a deity which grants fewer, or different, rights to women than to men. The Taliban would derive a moral system which, at in the most generous light, confers different rights on women, and in my view, offers fewer rights. The only way to derive a common legal model from all that is to wage a holy war. And that goes against the principle of not fighting religious battles.

So the only way a pluralistic society can derive consistent ethical, moral or legal rules is through some version of the stew I described above. Each of the philosophers I named wind up in different places, but each holds that natural rights are, to some extent, products of society. Utilitarians and Kantians don't see eye to eye, and Locke, Hobbes and Rousseau would probably get into some wild arguments, but those arguments are, in some sense, resolvable.

"It's Only Divine Right" by The New Pornographers from the album Electric Version (2003, 4:11).