Pharyngula

The Pianka situation is getting very, very ugly. I’ve been chatting with a member of the Texas Academy of Science, and people there are getting death threats over it. Here’s one example of the kind of email they’re getting:

While Heinrich Himmler’s “final solution” was limited to exterminating the Jews,
Dr. Eric R. Pianka promotes a FINAL SOLUTION for 90% of earth’s population. In
accepting the 2006 Distinguished Texas Scientist award, Heir Pianka was
interrupted with applause and received a standing ovation.

“Soylent Green is people.” And the way cinema’s futurist society dealt
with over population was through the “Renewal Ceremony”, where the inductees
were secretly turned into FOOD for the remaining citizens.

AT LEAST THEY WERE TURNED INTO FOOD! Unleashing the Ebola virus on
humanity, as publicly advocated by reptilian advocate Dr. Pianka, would result
in billions of excruciating deaths and rotting corpses in the streets. Does
such a position increase the esteem of the Texas Academy of Science? Is the
Academy deem such a colleague as a visionary, exemplar, & eloquent

THIS IS AN OUTRAGE! For a scientific community, however provincial, to
recognize Dr. Pianka sublimates wholesale genocide. His advocacy of the
extermination of most human life on the earth flies in the face of natural
selection, and is so patently absurd as to defy logical challenge. The Texas
Academy of Science, her directors, fellows, and members, is DIMINISHED through
close association with, and its elevation of, Dr. Eric R. Pianka.

If the Academy is to maintain public and professional credibility, it
must censure Dr. Pianka and rescind his “Distinguished” status. Please use
your personal and professional influence toward that immediate end.

Sincerely,

Keith M. Arnett

Keller, TX

The accounts from people who were there agree that Pianka was not encouraging the “unleashing” of viruses on people, but was warning of a likely natural result (and apparently, mentioning that this would be a great thing for the biosphere as a whole, despite its dire consequences for us). This is becoming a right-wing cause célèbre, however, and the leadership of the Texas Academy are facing a lot of hate and heat from the ignorant. If you’ve got a moment, you might want to contact a member or two of the Academy and mention your support.

Comments

  1. #1 Randy!
    April 3, 2006

    Heh, the “rotary motor” t-shirt they’re hawking on the web site is pretty cool.

  2. #2 Thomas Ware
    April 3, 2006

    We are but fleas agitating the hide of a far greater organism.

  3. #3 QrazyQat
    April 3, 2006

    Further proof that the anti-science mob can’t comprehend simple sentences, whether written or spoken. And the Texas anti-science mobs are trying to prove their old claim that everything is bigger in Texas — idiocy certainly is. Sensible Texans should be rounding these goofballs up and force them to go back to junior high for some remedial reading/listening.

  4. #4 BronzeDog
    April 3, 2006

    Sensible Texans should be rounding these goofballs up and force them to go back to junior high for some remedial reading/listening.

    I try, but I must confess I haven’t been practicing with my lasso, and my horse has seen better days, so I’m not all that effective.

  5. #5 Biggs
    April 3, 2006

    Hot diggity! I knew I made the right choice by choosing this college; all the fun is down here at UT these days. First Paul Nelson stops by to get schooled, then Dr. Pianka gets accused of terrorism. Any chance this is the DI’s way of insinuating that that our biology department is evil, just because Dr. Sarkar owned Nelson?

  6. #6 SkookumPlanet
    April 3, 2006

    This is the fourth time in a month I’ve posted slightly different versions of this –

    Scientists, academics, and other vocal ID critics should expect to eventually be demonized as dishonest, anti-Christian, and anti-American. This could get quite personal and spread to ID footsoldiers around the country. Imagine screaming picketers equating you to Satan outside your home. It’s not unimaginable this brush may tar scientists, academics, teachers, etc., in general, if doing so is useful for those with a broader sociopolitical agenda. Those people are good at it — look what they did to the word “liberal”. It’s a logical endpoint to their strategy and tactics. After R.I.N.O. comes A.I.N.O. [Americans in Name Only].

    Watch’em.

  7. #7 dread pirate roberts
    April 3, 2006

    he modern right wing id method….shoot the messenger. kinda like their attack on that pesky press that keeps on reporting bad news from iraq.

    clap louder.

  8. #8 gophuckyourself
    April 3, 2006

    Aren’t the same people decrying Pianka’s “promotion of genocide” themselves promoters of genocide, in regards to the Rapture?

  9. #9 caerbannog
    April 3, 2006

    In years past, the University of Texas and other fine institutions in “flyover country” had some pretty good success poaching top-notch talent from California universities.

    However, if things continue to get crazier out there in “wingnut land”, maybe we’ll be able to convince some of those talented folks who abandoned us to overlook our crazy housing prices, traffic, smog, earthquakes, mudslides, wildfires, etc… and come back to California!

    (On second thought, scratch the wildfires — California’s got nothing on Texas and Oklahoma in the wildfire dept. as the past few months have shown.)

  10. #10 socinius
    April 3, 2006

    Perhaps the Texas Academy of Science could post Dr. Pianka’s lecture/talk online. That way his remarks could be read in context and not so easily distorted.

  11. #11 CousinoMacul
    April 3, 2006

    “In accepting the 2006 Distinguished Texas Scientist award, Heir Pianka …”

    Doesn’t this guy realize how these things work? Upon accepting the DTS award, Pianka ceases to be the heir and becomes the actual title holder. Geez!

  12. #12 John C. Randolph
    April 3, 2006

    The question is, did he in fact advocate billions of deaths by ebola, or was he just playing the “irrascible curmudgeon”, as many academics like to do?

    -jcr

  13. #13 Norman Doering
    April 3, 2006

    How would people here feel about a humane form of genocide?

    For example, instead of using a bioweapon to kill people we create a bioweapon that attacks women’s egg cells (and maybe male sperm too) or the lining of the womb the egg cells must attach to so that most (but not all) women (and maybe men too) exposed to it become sterile?

    Then you could unleash it in the mideast and vacinate selected parts of your own population against it.

    America would probably get blamed for it — but I suspect China might do it if it could.

  14. #14 John C. Randolph
    April 3, 2006

    “How would people here feel about a humane form of genocide?”

    It would be a crime against humanity, just like Josef Mengele’s forced sterlizations.

    Next question?

    -jcr

  15. #15 Kathryn Perez
    April 3, 2006

    the talk wasn’t recorded and I’m not sure if it was transcribed so it might not be possible for TAS to post the full speech although that would be nice just so people could realize how out of context things have been taken.

    Dr. Pianka in no way advocated billions of deaths from Ebola or said anything that would lead a reasonable person to think he was doing so. – playing the “irrascible curmudgeon” – is about the strongest honest statement you could make about what was said. He showed a slide of an Ebola virus and mentioned Ebola Reston and said that it wouldn’t take much for Ebola to be an airborne disease and at our current levels of overpopulation it would be deadly. Populations of any organism that exceed their carrying capacity are susceptible to population reduction from disease through several routes including stress due to overcrowding and the overcrowding itself leading to disease transmission and that is the only point he was making, is that we are doing this to ourselves.

  16. #16 Rey
    April 3, 2006

    Reminds me of that little brouhaha over some comics a couple months ago…

  17. #17 Tom Scudder
    April 3, 2006

    Note that Ron Bailey, Reason.com’s “science correspondent”/village idiot, uncritically picked up Mim’s version of events.

  18. #18 Matt Read
    April 3, 2006

    I just emailed the presidents and secretaries of the TAS a letter supporting their choice of Pianka as a distinguished member and got an immediate reply thanking me. It sounds like they need to hear some kind words.

  19. #19 Elizabeth
    April 3, 2006

    How is that email a death threat, exactly?

  20. #20 QrazyQat
    April 3, 2006

    I try, but I must confess I haven’t been practicing with my lasso, and my horse has seen better days, so I’m not all that effective.

    Use an ATV like a real cowboy!

  21. #21 plunge
    April 3, 2006

    Good grief. They should just retitle “drudge report” as “who to send death threats to today.”

  22. #22 Kathryn Perez
    April 3, 2006

    The death threats were not contained in that posted email. Those have been emailed individually to members of the TAS board including the current President of TAS.

  23. #23 Elizabeth
    April 3, 2006

    Perhaps then P shouldn’t make the following statement:

    “…people there are getting death threats over it. Here’s one example of the kind of email they’re getting”

    I can’t take criticism seriously from another who can’t get a story straight.

  24. #24 Liz Tracey
    April 3, 2006

    I just sent a brief message of support to the officers. It’s not much, but hopefully it will cancel out one nutbag’s rantings.

  25. #25 IAMB
    April 3, 2006

    … Heir Pianka was interrupted with applause and received a standing ovation.

    Nitpick: If you’re going to make Nazi analogies, at least get the spelling right. It’s “Herr”.

    The funny thing is: this fundie writes better than most.

  26. #26 John M. Price
    April 3, 2006

    The funny thing is: this fundie writes better than most.

    Maybe college is taking its toll on ignorance.

    Well, one can hope.

  27. #27 Elizabeth
    April 3, 2006

    While I don’t support Mims’ leap from “Pianka’s wishes” to “Pianka’s plots,” I do find it unscientific and inappropriate for an honoree of a scientific body to take glee in the thought of wiping out 90% of humanity through whatever means. And there hasn’t been much commentary on Pianka’s alleged support of China’s one-child policy (which is a clear violation of human rights), which should also garner him censure.

    Pianka is an ass. So may Mims be, but this time he got some of it right. Pianka is in no way deserving of honor or admiration.

  28. #28 JBL
    April 3, 2006

    I’ve tried to write this comment in a polite, explanatory way about 6 different times, but I can’t really do it. Elizabeth, your comment is just really, really dumb. What exactly amounts to not getting the story straight?

  29. #29 Adam Ierymenko
    April 3, 2006

    “Aren’t the same people decrying Pianka’s “promotion of genocide” themselves promoters of genocide, in regards to the Rapture?”

    Yup.

    All sorts of kooks have genocidal fantasies. Pianka merely shows us the secular version. Forgive us nature, for we have sinned! But soon armageddon and judgement will come!

  30. #30 Jeff Boatright
    April 3, 2006

    Elizabeth,

    Did you attend Pianka’s talk? If so, please tell us in what way he took glee in the thought of wiping out 90% of humanity. Please be detailed as so far you have not been.

    If you didn’t attend the talk, for which there apparently is no video or even transcript, from what are you drawing your statements? See, “I can’t take criticism seriously from another who can’t get a story straight” and I’m not convinced you have any actual data from which to get the story straight.

  31. #31 JBL
    April 3, 2006

    To clarify: my previous post referred to Elizabeth’s post which preceded mine by 24 minutes, not the one directly preceding it.

  32. #32 Caledonian
    April 3, 2006

    ‘Wiping out’ is a phrase in the active voice. ‘Being wiped out’ is passive.

    While I suspect very few people would actually take pleasure in the thought of 90% of humanity dying (and the ones who would mostly aren’t thinking about or don’t care about the consequences to themselves, which are likely to be highly unpleasant either way), there IS a difference between taking pleasure at the thought of wiping out humanity as opposed to humanity being wiped out. The first requires that the person spoken of actively take part, and the second does not.

    For the record, I’m firmly on the side of Sturgeon’s Law on this matter, but I don’t think airborne Ebola would be good for anyone or anything. Except possibly the environment, and taking the *very* long view. Human beings are not innately precious snowflakes that are more valuable than any non-human things, but suffering is suffering.

  33. #33 Paris Hilton
    April 3, 2006

    I’m not surprised to learn who are Pianka’s shrillest critics.

    If you’re the kind of person whose worldview includes such moral imperatives as abortion is murder, climate change is bunk, economic growth at any cost, etc., you, too, would be outraged by Pianka. He is, after all, accusing you of destroying the natural conditions for life on this planet. Guilty as charged.

  34. #34 Dan S.
    April 3, 2006

    “Scientists, academics, and other vocal ID critics should expect to eventually be demonized as dishonest, anti-Christian, and anti-American.”

    I’m half-expecting a Cultural Revolution, U.S.-style, in another decade or two . . .

    Unless Ebola gets us first, that is . . .

    -Dan S.

  35. #35 John C. Randolph
    April 3, 2006

    “Human beings are not… more valuable than any non-human things”

    Yes, we are.

    -jcr

  36. #36 P J Evans
    April 3, 2006

    How would people here feel about a humane form of genocide?

    Go read ‘The Screwfly Solution’ by James Tiptree. That’s exactly what it’s about.

  37. #37 Adam Ierymenko
    April 3, 2006

    “Human beings are not innately precious snowflakes that are more valuable than any non-human things, but suffering is suffering.”

    I’ve always been fascinated by this perspective…

    *You* are human, right? You are the valuer, right? So why not choose to value yourself? You exist in symbiosis with lots of other human beings, so why not choose to value them too?

    Nihilism is a stage in recovery from Platonism and religion. You’ve abandoned the concept of a supernatural super-valuer but have not learned how to substitute your own values in it’s place. Some people never pass through this phase, and they get caught up in secular versions of apocalyptic religious ideology or even dumber traps.

    I wasn’t present for Pianka’s talk, so I can’t really say anything with authority. However, I have heard people say things like what Mims *claims* that he said before, so I don’t find it that hard to believe.

    Even if Mims is a creationist, I do have some respect for him due to his other accomplishments. I recall enjoying his writings on electronics when I was younger. He doesn’t seem like that much of a raging lunatic.

    BTW, how do you know Mims is a creationist? He doesn’t feature any creationist/ID rhetoric prominently on his site, and he’d be the first creationist or IDer I have *ever* seen who doesn’t do so. Usually those guys are a walking anti-evolution klaxon. Maybe he’s just in the “shrug… seems plausible to me…” ID camp. Lots of engineers are, for reasons that have been written about at length around here.

  38. #38 JBL
    April 3, 2006

    “Yes, we are.”

    No, we aren’t.

    (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)
    Seriously, though, what makes you say that? I’d be happy to hear an argument for the inherent specialness of humankind, but “Yes, we are” certainly isn’t it.

  39. #39 Lurker
    April 3, 2006

    No, we aren’t.

    (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)
    Seriously, though, what makes you say that? I’d be happy to hear an argument for the inherent specialness of humankind, but “Yes, we are” certainly isn’t it.

    Science can’t prove it one way or the other because science can’t determine value – but philosophy can.

    The great historical philosophers thought humans are more valuable and so does 99.9% of the worldwide population (today and historically). If you think you’re right then it’s up to you to convice the rest of the world you are right.

    Even with your best philosophical armor on I think you’ll have a long, hard battle ahead of you – a losing one at that.

  40. #40 Dianne
    April 3, 2006

    “*You* are human, right?”

    Maybe. If I’m not, why should I value humans more than snowflakes, ebola viruses, or rock wallabies?

  41. #41 just john
    April 3, 2006

    Gee, why haven’t these people been reporting George Carlin to the Feds?

    … We’re going away. Pack your shit, folks. We’re going away. And we won’t leave much of a trace, either. Thank God for that. Maybe a little styrofoam. Maybe. A little styrofoam. The planet’ll be here and we’ll be long gone. Just another failed mutation. Just another closed-end biological mistake. An evolutionary cul-de-sac. The planet’ll shake us off like a bad case of fleas. A surface nuisance.

    You wanna know how the planet’s doing? Ask those people at Pompeii, who are frozen into position from volcanic ash, how the planet’s doing. …

    (Quote stolen from here, which stole it from George.)

  42. #42 Norman Doering
    April 3, 2006

    Lurker wrote:
    The great historical philosophers thought humans are more valuable and so does 99.9% of the worldwide population (today and historically).

    If they really believed that, then why would anyone start a war? Why would we fight a war pre-emptively with someone who didn’t attack us.

    What people say they value and what their actions show they value are two different things.

    Do I sound like a monster when I say I don’t value any one elses life as much as my own? And not just my life — the quality of that life. Threaten my life and your life will have negative value to me.

  43. #43 Rey
    April 3, 2006

    I think humans are the most important, but I freely admit that it’s entirely due to self-interest. Ain’t nothing wrong with that.

  44. #44 Lurker
    April 3, 2006

    Norman,
    Are we more valueable than OTHER species? That’s the question at hand. Of course there’s infighting among humans. So what?

  45. #45 If You Hate Humans So Much, Please Just Kill Yourself
    April 3, 2006

    Sorry, but where is the death threat in that letter? And what is the source of that letter? And why was the video camera turned off? And where are these other accounts? All I can find is an account by one of the Academy’s own members! That’s pretty dang reliable in my book. (Perhaps you should start smearing Forrest Mims.)

  46. #46 If You Hate Humans So Much, Please Just Kill Yourself
    April 3, 2006

    Ah, that’s what I get for reading Bloglines in reverse chronological order. You already HAVE smeared Mims. My bad.

  47. #47 Norman Doering
    April 3, 2006

    P J Evans wrote:
    Go read ‘The Screwfly Solution’ by James Tiptree. That’s exactly what it’s about.

    It is? I’ve read her stories before — I remember one where a scientist is travelling around the world with his diseased birds… that wasn’t what I later suggested (making at least women sterile with a bioweapon) it was a killer.

    If Alice Sheldon wrote about a sterilization bioweapon — I’d like to read it.

  48. #48 Norman Doering
    April 3, 2006

    Lurker wrote:
    Are we more valueable than OTHER species? That’s the question at hand. Of course there’s infighting among humans. So what?

    Which would you rather live without:

    1) Cows
    2) Arabs

  49. #49 evano
    April 3, 2006

    @Katherine Perez: From your comments, it seems like you were in attendance at the speech and you are in contact with members of the Texas Academy. I also see from your CV that you’ve presented papers at prior meetings and received a number of Student Awards. A full account from you and from any other attendees you know of would go a long way to quelling this controversy and discrediting Mr. Mimms’ account. A press release from the Academy would also be helpful. Any chance of action?

  50. #50 Elizabeth
    April 3, 2006

    If you didn’t attend the talk, for which there apparently is no video or even transcript, from what are you drawing your statements?

    From comments in this blog and other places by former students of Pianka’s who recall him often stating that he was looking forward to most of humanity being wiped out by disease.

    Since the speech wasn’t taped – whether by accident or intent – it’s likely that we’ll never know the tone in which the speech was delivered, even if we do see an actual or cleaned-up transcript. But prior statements seems to indicate that he in fact anticipates with pleasure the day that 90% of the population is wiped out by disease. (I don’t know why he keeps using Ebola as an example, though – it’s not a likely candidate.)

  51. #51 Elizabeth
    April 3, 2006

    I’ve tried to write this comment in a polite, explanatory way about 6 different times, but I can’t really do it. Elizabeth, your comment is just really, really dumb. What exactly amounts to not getting the story straight?

    Apologies; my comment was unclear. P has accused Mims of making unsupported allegations. P did the same – he claimed that death threats had been sent, and supported that statement with an email that contained no death threats. Seems both sensational and hypocritical.

  52. #52 Elizabeth
    April 3, 2006

    “How would people here feel about a humane form of genocide?”

    It would be a crime against humanity, just like Josef Mengele’s forced sterlizations.

    Next question?

    -jcr

    JCR – What about Pianka’s alleged support for China’s one-child policy? Does that qualify as a crime against humanity?

  53. #53 Lurker
    April 3, 2006

    Which would you rather live without:

    1) Cows
    2) Arabs

    I’d rather keep both, but if one must go then fire up the BBQ! Let me guess, you can’t see any difference??

  54. #54 haliaeetus
    April 3, 2006

    Elizabeth wrote:

    Apologies; my comment was unclear. P has accused Mims of making unsupported allegations. P did the same – he claimed that death threats had been sent, and supported that statement with an email that contained no death threats. Seems both sensational and hypocritical.

    PZ wrote:

    Here’s one example of the kind of email they’re getting:

    Which to me doesn’t imply it contained support for the claim of the death threats.

  55. #55 Norman Doering
    April 3, 2006

    Lurker, instead of being flip, I’ll address your point honestly — I think your formulation of the values problem is over-simplistic. Both other species and other humans contribute greatly to the quality of my life. Cows make great steaks and hamburgers, other humans remove my trash and build my cars. The question is when do more humans start having negative value — I suspect we are at that point where it will have a negative impact on the quality of our lives.

    We should be more intelligent about how we breed… but people won’t listen to that.

  56. #56 Former Jose
    April 3, 2006

    Re: Is humanity special?

    Of course most of humanity thinks it’s more special than other animals. I would imagine that dogs, were they capable of such philosophical ruminating, would think they’re more special too.

    But just because most parents think their offspring are the world’s smartest babies ever, does not make it so. And I would say that science – and as this is a a science blog, it seems to me that science trumps philosophy – does not indicate that humans are particularly special.

    Maybe when we’ve outlasted cockroaches and sharks, we can make such a claim. Maybe.

  57. #57 Matt Read
    April 3, 2006

    China’s one-child policy is an extreme solution for an extreme problem. But the crime is less about parents being allowed only one child and more about boys being favored over girls and the resulting atrocities that promotes.

  58. #58 plunge
    April 3, 2006

    I should probably add that while I find Mims and Dembski and drudge destestable for hyping this into something it isn’t, I also think Pianka’s ideas about human carrying capacity and the value of ecology over human life are darn right crackpot. There’s no good evidence that humans are headed for a crash or are overpopulated (and no clear sense as to what they word would even mean in terms of human beings). Pianka is just spreading more silly eco-hysteria. There are many problems we face that we caused for ourselves and the ecology, but hopefully also that we can solve. But there is no intrinsic “comeuppance” in nature, and we don’t deserve any particular kind of natural response.

  59. #59 Joseph Hertzlinger
    April 3, 2006

    I have a question: Does Brenna McConnell’s blog exist? It isn’t mentioned on technorati or Google blog search and the general Google web search didn’t have anything bloggish on Brenna McConnell.

    I expressed some skepticism about the accuracy of unverifiable anecdotes on the alleged self-censorship of Arkansas biology teachers a few days ago and I think similar skepticism is warranted here.

  60. #60 P J Evans
    April 3, 2006

    Norman: If Alice Sheldon wrote about a sterilization bioweapon — I’d like to read it.

    It’s on line — just googled it — at SciFi.com. The author is listed as Racoona Sheldon. It’s a bioweapon all right. Just not from one of the usual suspects. (I read it in Analog, years ago. It isn’t one you really forget.)

  61. #61 PZ Myers
    April 3, 2006

    I have copies of other email which I did not have permission to post. DarkSyde, I think, was tracking down some of the sources and may be posting more info on Daily Kos.

  62. #62 Adam Ierymenko
    April 3, 2006

    “We should be more intelligent about how we breed… but people won’t listen to that.”

    If you tell people not to breed, they are not going to listen. Any that do will leave no offspring. They have 4.5 billion years of history telling them otherwise.

    Now, if you mean that people should have fewer children but invest more in them, you might get some traction with that. This is the general tendency in most modern countries. Some even have reproduction rates that are below replacement level and may actually suffer from underpopulation in a generation or two.

    BTW, I wonder if the comment about Pianka supporting the Chinese one child program is true? This program is, as others have pointed out, a gross violation of human rights and contributes to child abuse, abuse of women, and the slave trade. I’d have to doubt the ethics of anyone who advocated such a program.

  63. #63 Joseph Hertzlinger
    April 3, 2006

    While I’m on the topic of skepticism, I might mention that predictions of an imminent overpopulation disaster have been just as much of a failure as predictions of an imminent Rapture.

  64. #64 PaulC
    April 3, 2006

    The author of the letter seems to be confusing Soylent Green and Logan’s Run. It was very difficult to keep reading after such an egregious error.

  65. #65 Charles Winder
    April 3, 2006

    The great historical [human] philosophers thought humans are more valuable and so does 99.9% of the worldwide [human] population (today and historically).

    Sure. Humans Are The Best! All Humans Agree!

    Actually, I don’t agree that humans value all humans above all non-humans. Human individuals seem to value self and ‘family’ above all others, including ‘others’ of the human variety. For many, a little bit of human life is worth sacrificing for other, more valuable objects. Not that this really addresses the issue of “are humans better than everything else”.

    Even if you really believed that the human species were ‘more valuable’ than other species, it doesn’t follow that you want human populations to multiply infinitely, filling every possible nook and cranny of the universe with human flesh. It’s just an admission of reality to say that humans cannot reproduce exponentially for long, and that in order to survive we must be able to maintain an environment that is capable of supporting human life (which includes many other ‘valuable’ organisms).

  66. #66 Matt Read
    April 3, 2006

    With exponential population growth though eventually a prediction will be correct. You can’t say the same for The Rapture.

  67. #67 Dianne
    April 3, 2006

    From the virus’ point of view, going airborn wouldn’t be the best thing for ebola. It’d kill too many hosts too quickly and the remainder might be so resistent to infection that it could die out. What ebola needs is to become less virulent so that its hosts survive long enough to reproduce so it can sustain itself over the long run. The ideal virus is entirely integrated with the host and causes no problems for it. Whatever that means to this argument.

  68. #68 Norman Doering
    April 3, 2006

    Adam Ierymenko wrote:
    … if you mean that people should have fewer children but invest more in them, you might get some traction with that. This is the general tendency in most modern countries. Some even have reproduction rates that are below replacement level and may actually suffer from underpopulation in a generation or two.

    Yes, less children, more invested and the solution to underpopulation is immigration. Immigration with some rules about who you let in since Europe is having problems with its muslim immigrants.

    And as far as the Chinese one child program it brought to my mind an episode of Star Trek (original series) where a leader had to make a choice something like “Kill off half the population, or everyone dies.” Which choice do you make? The leader chose to kill half the population and was considered a monster by most. Only his few immediate friends and his daughter considered him the savior of the other half. And even after making the most rational choice he could he spent the rest of his life haunted by guilt as an actor playing MacBeth.

    Yes, you do have to doubt the ethics of anyone who advocated such a program, but doubt isn’t certainty. If ethics are linked to values, then all our ethics are selfish — based on what we value.

  69. #69 Robert S.
    April 3, 2006

    This is just another example of Swift-boating from the right if you think about it.

    Nice to see the moral majority taking the moral highground as usual.

  70. #70 Brainster
    April 3, 2006

    Well, hey, if somebody kills him it would be a great thing for the biosphere as a whole, despite its dire consequences for him personally, right? ;)

  71. #71 Thomas R. Holtz, Jr.
    April 3, 2006

    For those who want to read Alice Sheldon’s “The Screwfly Solution”, it is available online at http://www.scifi.com/scifiction/classics/classics_archive/sheldon/sheldon1.html.

    A great read, using some nasty biology.

  72. #72 HP
    April 3, 2006

    Isn’t this whole brouhaha just another example of magical thinking?

    How on earth does Pianka’s misanthropic attitude constitute a threat to the world’s population? Does he have the Evil Eye? Is he a houngan calling down Papa Legba? If that’s the case, why the death threats? Can’t we just defeat him by clapping real loud and saying, “I believe in fairies!” Then Tinkerbell will come back to life on the third day to help Peter defeat the evil Captain Pianka and his giant crocodile.

    Or perhaps he possesses super-secret Hollywood-style Mad Scientist technology? You see, once he perfects his race of Atomic Super-Men, immune to Ebola and dengue fever (everybody always forgets dengue fever — that’s what makes it dangerous), no one can stop his plan to unleash the Ebola-Ray on the world. All he needs is the spinal fluid of a beautiful woman to inject into his Radium-Gorilla.

    Either that, or he’s a cranky, misanthropic old Malthusian, a species which is more commonly found at the end of the bar at 10:00 AM nursing a small beer.

  73. #73 HP
    April 3, 2006

    Thomas: Sci-Fi apparently doesn’t like direct links; it comes up 404. Try this: http://www.scifi.com/scifiction/classics/classics_archive/sheldon/

    And then click the link for the story.

  74. #74 Lurker
    April 3, 2006

    And I would say that science – and as this is a a science blog, it seems to me that science trumps philosophy – does not indicate that humans are particularly special.

    A philosophical statement claiming that science trumps philosophy? That’s a good one. How exactly can science tell me what is special and what is not?

  75. #75 John C. Randolph
    April 3, 2006

    Elizabeth,

    The one-child policy is one of many crimes perpetrated against the Chinese people by the Red Dynasty. I’m not familiar with Pianka’s stand on the matter, but if he endorses it, then he’s wrong, of course.

    China has two alternatives to choose from to avert mass starvation. One is to enforce draconian population-control laws, and the other is to free the peasants to farm as they see fit, and let them buy and sell land, and benefit individually from their labor. Capitalism and (relatively) free markets are why the USA no longer needs 80% of our population to work on farms just to feed us (and much of the rest of the world.) As China’s standard of living increases, their birthrates will decline, just as they have in the west.

    -jcr

  76. #76 PaulC
    April 3, 2006

    Matt Read:

    With exponential population growth though eventually a prediction will be correct.

    There’s a potential for a soft landing, though it would require people to act a lot more rationally than we might expect them to. Anyway, exponential growth rates are only good approximations in some circumstances. Populations can be at an equilibrium, just by reproducing at replacement rate. Already, birthrates seem to be on the decline in more affluent societies.

    I would say that it is not the sheer number of people but our resource consumption that is most likely to be our undoing. Even in that case, it’s just possible that we could gradually scale back on wasteful behavior without experiencing sudden, catastrophic hardship. Many of the things we associate with quality of life are based on cultural norms that could easily change. Standard of living metrics based on pushing around large quantities of matter are bound to decrease. We can’t all have 3/4 acres and a Hummer. On the other hand, we could in principle be richer in culture and information. We could even live longer, healthier lives–with appropriate birthrate adjustments.

    There are also plenty of off-world resources, but the emigration of already-existing humans into space looks like a total fantasy based on energy requirements. You could, however, have autonomous self-replicating machines to extract materials from elsewhere in the solar system and send these or even finished products back to earth. You could also conceivably have an expanding human population, off-world though that would not do much good for those who happened to remain on earth, which I suspect would remain densely populated (since I doubt they’ll take my advice to turn it into park after we colonize Mars).

    Do I think that’s a realistic scenario? Actually, I think it’s probably less likely than a “singularity” scenario in which the dominant earth-centric intelligent life form consists of nanotech entities that far surpass us in powers of cognition and also don’t need to push as much matter around to accomplish simple things. I’m not sure what will happen to biological humans. Maybe we’ll still be here while our mind-children ask silly questions like “If we evolved from humans, then why are there still humans?”

  77. #77 PaulC
    April 3, 2006

    jcr:

    Capitalism and (relatively) free markets are why the USA no longer needs 80% of our population to work on farms just to feed us (and much of the rest of the world.)

    It doesn’t hurt that we in the US have an awful lot of arable land per capita. Have you ever seen China from an airplane? No doubt the Chinese could produce food more efficiently, and I’m agnostic as to whether agricultural market reform is the ticket. I think GM crops might have a bigger impact. Either way, there’s still a limit of how much food China can produce and no magic formula that will allow its population to grow indefinitely.

  78. #78 Evan Murdock
    April 3, 2006

    The whole moral argument for anthropocentrism has always interested me… I would argue (though I don’t fully believe it in my heart, I haven’t found a logical reason to reject it) that we do not have an inherent moral obligation towards nature – nature is much, much stronger than us. We will render the planet uninhabitable for ourselves long before we destroy life; on a geologic timescale our effect, even at it’s worst, will be relatively minor. Are we causing a mass extinction? Unquestionably. Should we try to stop? Absolutely – but not because the Spotted Owl (or the Barton Creek Salamander, or the what have you) must be preserved – remember that extinction is the rule. The only way for me to justify saving the environment is from an anthropocentric perspective; that we must save these things because it’s the only chance we have for saving ourselves. Others are comfortable arguing moral conservationism from a religeous perspective (Cal DeWitt, for instance; with great success, I might add)- I’m an athiest. I’m not.

    That said, nature, and the world, won’t miss us if we fail. Nature will find a new balance, relatively quickly. If we’re ok with not being there than we may as well carry on as we are – if not, we should think seriously about how to stop it.

    So I would argue that humans are special – not to the world, not to nature, not to the universe, but to ourselves. To the rest of it, we’re a blip; no more interesting than an ant, or a tree, or a dinosaur.

    In a different direction, I have to say the fact that anyone seriously believes a group of scientists would give someone arguing for genocide a standing ovation demonstrates still further how far the general public is from understanding and trusting science. Which is sad.

  79. #79 Is this car unmanned?
    April 3, 2006

    And what would happen if some pre-millenialists began to wax lyrical over the billions who would die during the version of the Apocalypse they’re so fond of? Nothing of course. It’s already happened, and it’s a best-selling series.

  80. #80 Carlie
    April 3, 2006

    “Capitalism and (relatively) free markets are why the USA no longer needs 80% of our population to work on farms just to feed us (and much of the rest of the world.)”

    That’s amazingly simplistic. Don’t forget about our fabulously fertile soils and great climate. Farming isn’t quite as easy everywhere as it is here, free markets or not.

  81. #81 Matt T.
    April 3, 2006

    The only reason humans are “more special” than the rest of the grand tapestry of life on Earth is because none of the rest of Gawd’s Critters have developed the ability to tell us an opinion otherwise. Except maybe cats. Human beings are only special to human beings (and even then, it’s a case-by-case situation); the rest of the universe could give a damn.

  82. #82 Evan Murdock
    April 3, 2006

    “stronger than we” I should say.

    I have a moral obligation to use good grammar.

  83. #83 Carlie
    April 3, 2006

    Ah, Paul beat me to it.

  84. #84 Fred Gray
    April 3, 2006

    Joseph Hertzinger

    Brenna’ blog? http://brenmccnnll.blogspot.com/2006/03/dr.html

  85. #85 Kagehi
    April 3, 2006

    For the high value types… Which would you prefer, the death of all plankton or the death of a few million humans? Note: this is a trick question, since 90% of the oxygen we breath comes from plankton…

    While I place human life highest on the list of valuable creatures, I do it with a “presumption” that what other life form might die instead “isn’t” going to turn out to be critical to the survival of what I hold in high value. The problem some people seem to be missing is that you can’t just magically assume that humans are going to be hear forever or that we can do anything we want without consequences. I don’t entirely agree with the assessment that humans can’t benefit the ecology and that Ebola might help it because of that. That view is held by a lot of nuts, but they are no more or less nuts than the morons that insist that the damage we can and do cause is irrelevant, since it only hurts some random less important animals. As usual, both sides of the fence are completely off their rockers. Even if they do sometimes have valid points, such as in this case.

  86. #86 PaulC
    April 3, 2006

    Speaking of the singularity–well I was, anyway–you have to wonder why the shoot-the-messenger fundies aren’t more concerned with Ray Kurzweil and the like.

    The singularity http://www.kurzweilai.net/index.html?flash=1 has been called the rapture for geeks, and there is some validity to this phrase. Kurzweil is predicting the obsolescence of the biological human, which in the view of most current religions is tantamount to the demise of the human, since the proposed replacement is not to be found in the ancient books. It may happen or not. It strikes me as a good bit more plausible than the endtimes envisioned by John. Is Kurzweil just too much of a geek phenomenon to draw fire from the fundies or is he a target as well?

  87. #87 Tom Ames
    April 3, 2006

    Everyone raise your hand if you believe that the vast majority of people who are living now, or who have ever lived, deserve to suffer the torment of hellfire for eternity.

    Now, all you Christians with your hands raised, please explain:

    1. Why you feel comfortable calling anyone else a misanthopist,

    2. How it is that Christianity can be called a religion of lov.

    You Christians without your hands raised: why doo you worship a god who is so unjust?

  88. #88 Tom Ames
    April 3, 2006

    Raise your hand if you believe that the vast majority of people who are living now, or who have ever lived, deserve to suffer the torment of hellfire for eternity.

    Now, all you Christians with your hands raised, please explain:

    1. Why you feel comfortable calling anyone else a misanthopist,

    2. How it is that Christianity can be called a religion of love.

    You Christians without your hands raised: why do you worship a god who is so unjust?

  89. #89 Elizabeth
    April 3, 2006

    I don’t understand the conflation of people who findi Pianka’s statements offensive and unscientific, and people who are Christian and/or Creationist. I’m an agnostic who strongly endorses evolution. I don’t however, endorse or find appropriate the honoring of a man who thinks it would be great if people were mostly wiped off the mat, and finds horrible diseases and forced abortions and sterllizations acceptable methods to that end.

  90. #90 Mumon
    April 3, 2006

    I only hope that Pianka sues the pants off all concerned.

    I wish Michael Schiavo had done the same thing; with Limbaugh getting on the bandwagon here, you know there’s mighty deep pockets.

  91. #91 Leon
    April 3, 2006

    China’s one-child policy is an extreme solution for an extreme problem. But the crime is less about parents being allowed only one child and more about boys being favored over girls and the resulting atrocities that promotes.

    Yes! Thank you Matt. The One-Child Policy is a draconian measure, but the country is faced with an immense population problem. It seems to me their biggest crime in the whole issue is that it took them so long to start doing something about changing people’s attitudes about girls vs. boys.

  92. #92 Elizabeth
    April 3, 2006

    “China’s one-child policy is an extreme solution for an extreme problem. But the crime is less about parents being allowed only one child and more about boys being favored over girls and the resulting atrocities that promotes.”

    Yes! Thank you Matt. The One-Child Policy is a draconian measure, but the country is faced with an immense population problem. It seems to me their biggest crime in the whole issue is that it took them so long to start doing something about changing people’s attitudes about girls vs. boys.

    So forced abortions and forced sterilizations aren’t a problem, as long as the outcome is gender-neutral?

  93. #93 Elizabeth
    April 3, 2006

    Oops, let’s try that again:

    “China’s one-child policy is an extreme solution for an extreme problem. But the crime is less about parents being allowed only one child and more about boys being favored over girls and the resulting atrocities that promotes.”

    Yes! Thank you Matt. The One-Child Policy is a draconian measure, but the country is faced with an immense population problem. It seems to me their biggest crime in the whole issue is that it took them so long to start doing something about changing people’s attitudes about girls vs. boys.

    So forced abortions and forced sterilizations aren’t a problem, as long as the outcome is gender-neutral?

  94. #94 Death Threats Smeash Threats
    April 3, 2006

    Take your time in fabricating… er… “producing” these alleged death threats, PZ. Meanwhile, I wonder if Mr. Arnett would appreciate knowing you are using his innocuous email as an example of these alleged death threats.

  95. #95 Former Jose
    April 3, 2006

    Lurker,
    I should begin by saying that, although I have post-secondary education, I’m not a scientist. So, grains of salt, etc. If anything I say is incorrect, I invite someone to please correct me; I don’t wish to inadvertantly say things that are untrue.

    But I think the question of “specialness” can be addressed by both philosophy and science, though of course the determination of what exactly would make humanity “special” is a subjective one. That said, I think in biological terms, humanity is not particularly special – we share many similarities to animals, because we are an animal. We share many similarities to mammals, more specifically, and to primates, more specifically still.

    To be even more precise, throughout history, humanity has pointed to its own dominance of the globe as a signifier of its “specialness”. But other species have dominated the globe before us and probably will after us too. And arguably, there’s species who are currently dominating the globe – the various species of insects, for instance, seem especially prolific and very good at surviving through the ages.

  96. #96 Norman Doering
    April 3, 2006

    PaulC asked:
    … Is Kurzweil just too much of a geek phenomenon to draw fire from the fundies or is he a target as well?

    He drew enough attention from Dembski to inspire this:
    Chapter 4: Kurzweil’s Impoverished Spirituality
    by William A. Dembski
    http://www.kurzweilai.net/meme/frame.html?main=/meme/memelist.html?m%3D19

  97. #97 petewsh61
    April 3, 2006

    Death Threats Smeash Threats you’re a perfect illustration of how the wingers twist reality to suit their preconceived notions.

    PZ never said that email was an example of the death threats, only that it was an example of the types of emails they are getting.

    Further more Arnett’s email is hardly innocuous, it’s a smear, an exaggeration, a falsehood, and it’s just plain BS.

    Pianka did not advocate unleashing Ebola on humankind, he simply said the virus could very likely mutate into a form that could be more transmissible, unleashing ITSELF on mankind and he said stated that although humanity would suffer from that, that the rest of the world creatures would benefit. That is a statement of fact, since humans are the greatest transformers of the planet. It’s simply a cause and effect relationship. He never said we should precipitate Ebola’s evolution; he said its evolution is likely and stated the obvious impact of a reduction in human population to the rest of the biosphere.

    That’s hardly advocacy. Why should someone get reported to DHS for such innocuous theorizing? Pathetic.

    Do you think we ought to report anyone who prays for the rapture to DHS? If you believe in the power of prayer and pray for the rapture, then aren’t you guilty of trying to bring on the death of billions? No I didn’t think so.

  98. #98 NelC
    April 3, 2006

    Meh. How can anyone doubt that there have been death threats? If you’re in the public eye for the most innocent of reasons, someone will write a threatening letter. When scientists are openly propagandised against by deliberate confusion with Nazism, for sure some mancurian candidates will take that as a cue to pen revenge porn. Stoke up enough rage and who knows how many will be convinced that words are not enough?

  99. #99 Graculus
    April 3, 2006

    Norman Doering: If Alice Sheldon wrote about a sterilization bioweapon — I’d like to read it.

    “The Screwfly Solution”.

  100. #100 steve s
    April 3, 2006

    I agree with Tom Ames and others above. Christians have no business calling anyone else immoral. If you believe in Hell, you are a terrible person.

    (hits post button, rolls eyes, hits tools->options->cookies->view cookies->selects scienceblogs->delete cookies->okay, hits post again)

  101. #101 Breakerslion
    April 3, 2006

    “sigh” Where’s Emily Lotella when you need her?

    Emily: “What’s all this I hear about Genocide? Just because someone makes a second-rate beer in upstate New York is that any reason to get upset? There’s college kids passing out and barfing Budweiser in flower boxes all over this country and I don’t hear anyone complaining about that! You think those ‘girls gone wild’ are sober?
    They’re not all drinking Genocide I can tell you that!”

    Jane: Genessee!

    Emily: What?

    Jane: Genessee. The beer is Genessee. Genocide is mass murder.

    Emily: Oh. That’s very different. Never mind.

    So tell me again. How do we get from the concept of nature correcting an imbalance to advocating mass murder? Our technology allows us to sustain this overpopulation, and the long-term effects of overpopulation can be seen in the once-fertile crescent. Should our societies collapse, the population would follow, even if the struggling countries had to start a world war. Sound familiar?

  102. #102 Jim Harrison
    April 3, 2006

    Whether you think it’s a good or bad is one kind of question, whether the human population is going to crash is another. I’m not a votary of Gaia and I don’t normally capitalize Nature as if she really were a godess. On the other hand, I don’t see a way for the planet to sustain 10 billion plus people. If that’s so, people’s attitudes are not the critical issue.

  103. #103 Sexy Sadie
    April 3, 2006

    Regarding the question of death threats, I have not seen any myself, but I am willing to wager that they have been sent in Pianka’s direction. We are, after all, talking about fundies, and sending people death threats whenever they hear something they don’t like seems to be a favorite hobby of theirs.
    Regarding the issue of human beings versus non-human animals, I don’t see any reason whatsoever to believe that human animals are any more special than non-human animals. I do not believe that human life is any more valuable than any other form of life. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that humans are the biggest detriment to the Earth’s survival than any other living species.

  104. #104 Scott
    April 3, 2006

    It’s telling to observe the grand assumptions replete in this discussion. It is equally telling, the facts which are absent from this discussion. There is this reductionist approach in comparing humans to other animal species and yet we hear nothing of the abilities of humans which demonstrate the vast chasm between us and all other creatures. i.e. all that which flows from the human mind – reason, speech, altruism, 1st person perspective, this curious “wiring” to ponder (and argue on internet forums) about our purpose and meaning. And all this assumption without evidence regarding these abilities being born out of necessity, that we might survive. Nevermind the likelihood of us arriving at our level of technology and understanding in such a relatively short amount of time, eh? It seems that the whole story is not being conveyed here and that there is a tremendous amount of assumption going on, based on philosophy pretending to be science.

    When I look at the whole picture, specified information encoded along the DNA molecule, an inherent sense of an objective moral standard with which to juxtapose decisions, a wiring to seek out my purpose, a record of natural events which does anything but support a blind, unguided, gradualistic origin of the human species, etc… etc…

    I have to conclude that just maybe we are “special” and that we are where we are as the result of a plan of some kind.

  105. #105 Graculus
    April 3, 2006

    yet we hear nothing of the abilities of humans which demonstrate the vast chasm between us and all other creatures. i.e. all that which flows from the human mind – reason, speech, altruism, 1st person perspective,

    Ay-yup. We;’re special. Uh-huh.

    Plenty of animals are capable of reason. Communication. Altruism is incredibly common in the animal kingdom, and my cat has a “1st person perspctive”. We differ in degree, but none of these traits are unique to us.

    Like “specified information”, it’s yet another unevidenced assertion by the under-informed.

  106. #106 Norman Doering
    April 3, 2006

    Scott wrote:
    “It’s telling to observe the grand assumptions replete in this discussion. It is equally telling, the facts which are absent from this discussion. There is this reductionist approach in comparing humans to other animal species and yet we hear nothing of the abilities of humans which demonstrate the vast chasm between us and all other creatures. i.e. all that which flows from the human mind – reason, speech, altruism, …”

    Altruism is not unique to humans, dogs will risk and even sacrifice their lives for their owners. Mother lion will sacrifice herself for her cubs.

    Monkeys do have a certain amount of reasoning ability and can learn at least a limited form of language.

    “And all this assumption without evidence regarding these abilities being born out of necessity, that we might survive.”

    I disagree. There is evidence our great brains were an enormous survival advantage.

    I guess you don’t like evolutionary psychology, do you.

    …”When I look at the whole picture, specified information …”

    Specified information? Isn’t that an ID term?

    “I have to conclude that just maybe we are “special” and that we are where we are as the result of a plan of some kind.”

    And I have to conclude that you’re a god-believer with faith blinders on and the ID/apologist rhetoric memorized rather than really thought about.

  107. #107 Scott
    April 3, 2006

    Demonstrate for me how your cat has a first person perspective and a unique sense of self. Does your cat also ponder it’s existance? That’s a special kitty you have there.

    And I didn’t say that other animals do not communicate. My point was that there is something that sets us apart, dramatically. Things like reason and true altruism (the kind which presents no advantage whatsoever to the one being selfless).

    Specified Information an unevidenced assertion? Are you suggesting that the nucleotide alphabet encoded along the spine of the DNA molecule is without evidence? Interesting. Why don’t you explain to me how this instructional information with backup and protection programming, is somehow the result of unintelligent causes.

  108. #108 Caledonian
    April 3, 2006

    *You* are human, right? You are the valuer, right? So why not choose to value yourself?

    You know, so many of the problems of the Internet would be solved if people would just learn how to read properly. It’s all about the comprehension, not just knowing how sounds map to squiggly lines.

    Humans are not *inherently* more valuable than *any* other things. Not that humans are not valuable, or that I don’t value them at all, or that I don’t value myself, or whatever else you’ve managed to misconstrue.

  109. #109 Graculus
    April 3, 2006

    My point was that there is something that sets us apart, dramatically.

    So far this is nothing more than an assertion on your part.

    Are you suggesting that the nucleotide alphabet encoded along the spine of the DNA molecule is without evidence?

    Can you explain what this is even supposed to mean? I mean, each individual word means something, but strung together like that it’s gobbledygook.

    Why don’t you explain to me how this instructional information with backup and protection programming, is somehow the result of unintelligent causes.

    In light of the evidence from both biology and from genetic algorithms, could you explain how it is NOT the result of uninteligent causes?

    Bring something to the table other than bland assertions.

    A testable hypothesis would be nice.

  110. #110 Caledonian
    April 3, 2006

    Science can’t prove it one way or the other because science can’t determine value – but philosophy can.

    Oh brother.

    Look, anything good that originates in philosophy is immediately sucked into the field it belongs in. What’s left is the remnants and the stuff no one wants to claim, usually because it’s grotesquely poorly reasoned. Philosophy couldn’t prove its way out of a paper bag if you gave it a map and a sonic screwdriver.

    I won’t even address the argument from authority/popularity duo fallacy you use next.

    Man measures all things. It is not the measure of all things. You’d do well to remember that.

  111. #111 Scott
    April 3, 2006

    “Altruism is not unique to humans, dogs will risk and even sacrifice their lives for their owners. Mother lion will sacrifice herself for her cubs.”

    “Monkeys do have a certain amount of reasoning ability and can learn at least a limited form of language.”

    Sudden spurts of protective instinct are not the same as a Mother Theresa who calculates an existance of self denial to serve those who are not related to her, for example.

    Sure, monkeys can communicate, so can dolphins, the list goes on and on. What they cannot do is develop a sense of unique-selfhood and reason.

    “I disagree. There is evidence our great brains were an enormous survival advantage.”

    The question is, is “survival advantage” a sufficient explanation for who we are and where we are now? Especially in light of what we are now observing in science, namely on the molecular level.

    “I guess you don’t like evolutionary psychology, do you.”

    I find it’s premise to be shaky at best and it’s therefore riddled with more holes than a wheel of swiss cheese.

    “Specified information? Isn’t that an ID term?”

    Errr, that would a logical inference based on what DNA is. Nucleotides arranged as specific coding. Coding is information. Every example of specified information we know of has an intelligent agent as it’s source. Programs require programmers.

    “And I have to conclude that you’re a god-believer with faith blinders on and the ID/apologist rhetoric memorized rather than really thought about.”

    And that allows me to conclude that you are a philosophically biased assumption-maker who is likely not intellectually honest in any way, shape, or form.

  112. #112 pasquelle
    April 3, 2006

    Scott – The only trait that you have listed that can be clearly demonstrated as unique to humans is speech. It is entirely possible that other animals have the ability to reason (perhaps not to the extent that humans can, but the possibility is certainly there). Altruism has been demonstrated in ground squirrels and other animals. I don’t see why it is entirely impossible for other animals to contemplate things and have some concept of self. I certainly cannot show that animals do in fact possess these abilities, but I think that you are equally incapable of showing that they do not. However, even if they do not share these capabilities with Homo sapiens, each species possesses it’s own unique characteristics. Tardigrades can do some really amazing things that no other animal can do. If you want to argue that “uniqueness” = “specialness”, then all species are special as all species are unique.

  113. #113 roger
    April 3, 2006

    Scott, do you work for the Discovery Institute?

  114. #114 Scott
    April 3, 2006

    Graculus:

    “In light of the evidence from both biology and from genetic algorithms, could you explain how it is NOT the result of uninteligent causes?”

    Umm, it is precisely algorithms which demonstrate that Complex Specified Information, as in the 4 Nucleotide instructional alphabet encoded on the spine of the DNA molecule, could not have come about by unintelligent natural processes.

    There are several good books I could recommend, if you are interested?

  115. #115 Scott
    April 3, 2006

    Fellas, I’m sleepy and my blood-sugar is demanding I have a snack and get to bed. Fun chatting though.

    Might stop by in the AM if I’m not banned for suggesting that intelligence played a role in us being what we are and where we are.

  116. #116 Caledonian
    April 3, 2006

    The ideal virus is entirely integrated with the host and causes no problems for it.

    That’s a fairly stable strategy, but in the right conditions a mutated virus that causes harm but spreads rapidly can once again become dominant.

    There is no simple “best” strategy in actual biology. There are overarching tendencies, yes, and when you simply the game sufficiently you tend to produce Tit for Tat, but the vast complexity of reality ensures that no population ever reaches a true steady-state.

  117. #117 Norman Costa
    April 3, 2006

    I sent the following email message to Dr. Eric Pianka, today.

    Eric,

    The purpose of this email is to give you my support, as a fellow scientist, for your research and your right to discuss the implications of known principles of evolutionary biology.

    ++++++++++

    Below is a copy of an email I sent to officers of The Texas Academy of Science Online.

    To my fellow scientists at The Texas Academy of Science Online:

    Regarding the Pianka situation, I and my company give you all of the moral and professional support we can muster. We stand behind you as scientists, and we thoroughly denounce and abhor the hate mail and threats.

    This is a time that calls for professional, personal, and moral courage. I know it is easy for me to say this, but I hope you will not be intimidated by these anonymous goons. Hopefully, this will pass and we will all go back to our committment to our science, and the joy and satisfaction of our work.

    ++++++++++

    Below is a message I sent to Jamie Mobley of the Sequin Gazette, the reporter who broke the story, and who asked information about my support for you.

    Jamie,

    The purpose of this email is to give you my professional and personal views on the Pianka matter.

    The function of science is to describe the properties of things: Things like liquid water, the particle nature of subatomic phenomenon, the epidemiological course of deadly pathogens, and religious behavior as a natural phenomenon (not as a matter of faith.) This work leads to the ability to predict other properties and behaviors of things. Some scientists are able to develop theories that help to understand these properties in a more parsimonious way, and make even better predictions. Over time, with more research, theories and predictions improve or even change.

    Sometimes scientific theories and predictions bear directly upon important social policy issues like public health, environmental protection, military defense, and early childhood education. Scientists must be free to pursue their work of describing nature without the threat of retaliation, silencing by political authority, and harassment by megalomanical ideologues.

    We have already seen explicit rewriting and purging of important scientific information from sound scientific research by the Bush administration and federal agencies. We now know about the intimidation of scientists who are only reporting their data and discussing scientific implications and predictions.

    The anti-modernity character of fundamentalism is a response to the challenge of orthodoxy that modern science can provoke. Science and scientists are demonized and punished by political and ideological leaders, so they do not have to give up claims of exclusive access to revelation and the authority to be the sole arbiters of truth.

    The defamation of Pianka goes beyond slander, it’s outright kookie in its misrepresentation of Pianka. As a psychologist, I might be tempted to call it irrational, paranoid, or the excessive perseverence of honestly held beliefs. The real issue, however, is the deliberate self-assumption of unearned power and authority. They exploit a following that provides unlimited adulation, and create the belief in others that they really can exercise discretion over the life and death of offending scientists. This is powerful stuff. What better way to flex this unearned authoritative muscle than to turn in these ‘evil’ scientists to the Department of Homeland Security and expose them for the terrorists they are. This is an outrage!

    If you are not familiar with the term Lysenkoism, it would be very instructive for you to research it. It now means the conforming of science to the prevailing political view. Historically, Lysenko was a favorite of Stalin because Lysenko’s view of biological evolution, Lamarkian evolution, was consistent with Communist political ideology. So Darwinian biological evolution was outlawed and Darwinian biologists were purged. The effect upon the USSR was profound and long lasting. Lamarkian evolutionary practices led to declining agricultural harvests year after year after year. The disastrous effect upon Russian harvests were exactly as would have been predicted by Darminian evolutionary biology.

    Best regards,

    Norm Costa

  118. #118 Caledonian
    April 3, 2006

    Things like reason and true altruism (the kind which presents no advantage whatsoever to the one being selfless).

    Precious few humans possess the gift of reason, and even fewer also have the capacity to use it properly and not just in situations where their emotional preferences aren’t distorting their ability to think.

    To the best of my knowledge, no one has ever demonstrated the existence of the thing you call “true altruism”, unless you count the ants that raise themselves onto blades of grass so that sheep can eat them and spread the ant-behavior-altering parasite they contain. Presumably you don’t consider entities that have been modified into vectors to count.

    A trait that truly sacrificed itself without getting any ‘benefit’ in return would erase itself from existence, and so violates the ethical calculus.

  119. #119 lemur boy
    April 3, 2006

    As to overpopulation; most affluent societies in recent decades seem to, generally, be restricting their population growth by voluntarily limiting their children to two or less. Whether this is a long-term trend or not remains to be seen. Rather than attribute this to the benefit of affluence a better explanation might be that affluance at least opens the opportunity for the education of women that leads, potentially, to the empowerment of choice. So, in keeping with the spirit of this site; our best chance of avoiding death by overpopulation is the encouragement of education, particularly of women.

    In regards to the argument coached through philosophy vs. science on the intrinsic value of human life, picture for a moment the unfortunate possibility that at some point in your past you had an accident and died. Your friends, family and loved ones would morn for a while and eventually life fills in the gap left by your absence. Net effect: nada. Sorry just the way it is, myself included. If I die, frankly, a few years from now, everything goes along fine. Extrapolate to the human species. If we die out the worst effect will probably be to the millions of microorganisms that consider us a dandy home. That and cats. Cats would probably wonder where the big dumb guys with the opposable thumbs went off to and what happened to dinner. There’s an apocryphal story of an astronomer asked what would be the effect if the sun exploded and the earth was incinerated. The response: “Nothing, it’s only a small planet”…

    But the response to this is not despair. Hey, it’s pretty amazing we’re here at all with no divine intervention in a world that’s evolved octopus, creatures that play jazz, and beer.

    …Of course I’m speaking as a fairly well off, white inhabitant of a reasonably affluent country. That might color my perceptions a little…

  120. #120 Norman Doering
    April 3, 2006

    Scott wrote:
    “There are several good books I could recommend, if you are interested?”

    Any of those books not written by Discovery Intstitue fellows like Behe, Dembski or Johnson?

  121. #121 Adam Ierymenko
    April 3, 2006

    Sorry, but I just can’t resist tossing an egg at this one. This “conservation of information” stuff is just so astoundingly ridiculous.

    “Specified Information an unevidenced assertion? Are you suggesting that the nucleotide alphabet encoded along the spine of the DNA molecule is without evidence? Interesting. Why don’t you explain to me how this instructional information with backup and protection programming, is somehow the result of unintelligent causes.”

    The computer in front of me is presently generating image recognition and classification agents using an evolutionary process. At start of this process there were 216 bytes of seed information, and there is now approximately 200 megabytes. It is also possible to start with “random simulated abiogenesis” and thus to start with zero bytes of initial seed information and obtain the same result– it just takes a few days longer to randomly generate the first primal replicator.

    I have to admit it though: if you don’t really understand information theory very much and you don’t get evolution, the “conservation of information” stuff sounds plausible. Sorry to say though that I violate this supposed principle every day, and am presently working toward a commercial technology that does so. There are other commercial technologies already on the market that are presently used in industry that violate Dembski’s supposed conservation laws.

    I write a blog about these kinds of subjects. Here’s a post on this topic that explains some of the background. It’s geared toward people who understand computer science a little, so if you don’t you might have to catch up on some background concepts.

    http://www.greythumb.org/blog/index.php?/archives/66-Abiogenesis-and-information-growth-in-simulations-what-does-it-mean.html

    That being said, I am, however, sort-of on your side in regard to anti-humanist apocalypse nuts who drool about viruses wiping out humanity. They creep me out as much as the people on the other side of the fence who drool over how their loving God is going to rapture them to heaven and then torture and kill everyone else and send them to roast in hell. When you think about it, it’s really the same genocidal fantasy dressed up differently. It’s creepy and it’s kooky.

  122. #122 Caledonian
    April 3, 2006

    There probably *are* actual “conservation of information” laws — and they likely pose as much obstacle to the evolution of life (and even its spontaneous generation) as the conservation of mass-energy does.

    That’s the really awful bit — by reappropriating a bit of terminology, the IDists are screwing up the reputation of future concepts.

  123. #123 Michael Hopkins
    April 3, 2006

    The Screwtape Solution

    Dr. Holtz posted the correct URL but the blog’s software included the period at the sentence in the link causing the 404 error.

  124. #124 Graculus
    April 3, 2006

    Umm, it is precisely algorithms which demonstrate that Complex Specified Information, as in the 4 Nucleotide instructional alphabet encoded on the spine of the DNA molecule, could not have come about by unintelligent natural processes.

    Define “Complex Specified Information” objectively, in a way which is neither circular nor assumes the premise. Heck, how about you define “Information” objectively. Define “Complex” objectively. Define “Specified” objectively.

    You talk about the “4 neucleotide instructional alphabet”. How is it an alphabet? It is not abstract, like an alphabet. It is not, strictly speaking, arbitrary, like an alphabet. Nor is it “instructional”.

  125. #125 Evan Murdock
    April 3, 2006

    The problem with identifing reason, or altruism, or any of the other examples you cited as reasons for humanity’s “specialness” (ignoring the fact that they have been throughly debunked as being unique to humans) is that they come from the necessarily biased position of a human being. We have altruism et al, but we’re slow, we’re weak, we have poor eyesite, a terrible sense of smell, we have massive wars.

    Surely dogs would not be so impressed with us, nor horses, nor dare I say, octopi, as we are with ourselves.

  126. #126 bmurray
    April 3, 2006

    Octopuses.

  127. #127 bmurray
    April 3, 2006

    Scott, perhaps http://goodmath.blogspot.com/2006/04/one-last-stab-at-dembski-vacuousness.html would be illuminating. “Complex specified information” does not carry much weight.

  128. #128 Seth Manapio
    April 4, 2006

    I’m a scientist and an atheist. I read the accounts that PZ suggested about the Pianka talk. I was appalled. I continue to be appalled, even by PZ.

    PZ, has it occurred to you that it actually doesn’t matter whether humans die off now, or taking 90% of the biosphere with us, or not at all? From the perspective of life in the universe, that is, or even from the perspective of life on earth.

    If all life dies out, and I mean ALL life, than statistically speaking, it is reasonable to believe that in a few billion years there would be a thriving ecosphere on the earth, which would remain covered in water, bathed in sunlight, and so forth. But of course, it would be impossible to destroy all life on earth, so we can drop that time scale down to a paltry few hundred million years of recovery time for the worst calamity humanity could possibly muster.

    So all this talk about what would be “good for the biosphere” shows a real lack of perspective on the part of the speaker about what a biosphere is and the timescales on which it operates: mammals are no better for the biosphere than amoeba, really.

    Which is disturbing coming from you, because you should no better.

  129. #129 Seth Manapio
    April 4, 2006

    I swear on my aunt Genevieve’s good name, that post ended “know better” when I wrote it.

  130. #130 plucky punk
    April 4, 2006

    Somebody told me once the plural of octopus was octopuddies. If that’s not true, it oughta be.

    Anyway, it seems pretty easy to debunk the idea of true, selfless altruism in humans.

    For instance, did Mother Theresa help all those people because it made her feel good to do so? Because she would get into heaven by doing so? Etc., etc.

  131. #131 thwaite
    April 4, 2006

    Caledonian:
    Your ‘altruistic’ ants are, as you noted, serving as a vector for another species’ genes. Most ‘altruism’ is based on such a genetic calculus – see the wikipedia under “kin selection”. But there is another form of altruism: “reciprocal altruism”, an insight due to Robert Trivers in the early 1970′s. One individual does a costly behavior for an unrelated other, trusting that the favor will be returned. This is possible in social systems where cheaters can be identified and excluded… but in the 30 years since Trivers, it’s been observed mostly in humans, and also in vampire bats (who share food with thirsty cave-mates, non-kin who could die within days without successful foraging).

    Humans are significantly singular, certainly so since we’ve become the only hominid on the planet. We talk and we make promises to each other (and we cook our meat). The first two seem interlinked, and it’s unclear which came first. But making explicit promises, such as the marriage contract (ubiqutious among humans (and yes, many individuals make several!)) is not seen among other animals. The nature of monogamy in geese and marmosets is different (hormonal).

    This reminds me of old discussions about how to differentiate humans from GOFAI: “Good Old-fashioned Artificial Intelligences” (before everyone switched to artificial neural nets). GOFAI talked a good line, and it seemed likely they’d be queueing up for the Turing Test pretty soon – but Joe Weizenbaum pointed out that the kind of talk between a young couple over the crib of their newborn isn’t just about communicating data as GOFAI could, it’s about intentions – and commitments to span decades. We make promises to each other. Ain’t nobody else alive on the planet intentionally promising much of anything – not even pre-verbal humans.

  132. #132 Wesley R. Elsberry
    April 4, 2006

    What they cannot do is develop a sense of unique-selfhood and reason.

    I think that the commenter is assuming what he has to prove. Dolphins pass the mirror-self-recognition test, the major experimental test with a good degree of acceptance for demonstrating self-consciousness in non-human animals. There are a number of cognitive studies on dolphins that do establish a facility for problem-solving and ability to parse an artificial language correctly. Usually, people with the sort of anthropocentric attitude of the commenter will at this point start arguing quantity, as if we should expect non-human animals to be exactly like humans in cognitive capability before they can be granted any part of these properties. Eventually, they stop trying to argue the evidence at all and fall back on dismissal, usually throwing in a number of insults as squink.

  133. #133 G. Tingey
    April 4, 2006

    “”Scientists, academics, and other vocal ID critics should expect to eventually be demonized as dishonest, anti-Christian, and anti-American.”

    I’m half-expecting a Cultural Revolution, U.S.-style, in another decade or two . . .”

    Actually, all you have to wait for is the result of the 2016 “election” when a true believer get just elected, declares a state of emergency and …..

    Gilead.

  134. #134 John C. Randolph
    April 4, 2006

    Carlie and Paul,

    Let me point out that while India was under a government that attempted to emulate the Soviet model, they were a major food importer. Today, they’re a major food exporter. Their soil didn’t change.

    China can feed itself. The peasants just need to be allowed to do so.

    -jcr

  135. #135 Homer Simpson
    April 4, 2006

    I don’t get how this morphed into Christian-bashing on one side, and clumsy assertion of creationist theories on the other.

    Pianka, from this report and others, seems pretty copacetic with the idea that 90 percent of humanity is going to die sometime very soon. If he didn’t say they should die, or that someone should hurry up and make sure they die, he also didn’t suggest that someone get busy to come up with ways to delay or avoid the tragedy.

    More remarkably, he apparently gets applause for these remarks.

    The relevant literary analogy for me is Dr. Strangelove. You can be a scientist, and an atheist, and committed to science as the best means we have for advancing knowledge, and still recognize that applied science is not always benign. It was science, after all, that gave us the H bomb, Agent Orange, chemical emissions that have chronically polluted the environment, non-disposable vats of radioactive waste, frontal lobotomies, the perverse experiments of Dr. Mengele, and so on. Absent a moral compass and appropriate controls, it may be science that gives us mis-applied genetic constructs that cause health and environmental problems, nanobots operating beyond our control in ways that might be more pernicious than helpful, and so on.

    That does not make science bad – but it does make it appropriate for people, especially including other scientists (which, after all, is what Mims is) to comment on the implications of what scientists say and do. Science, like any pursuit of knowledge, is amoral within its own boundaries, and just as capable of being used in ways that hurt people (and animals, and plants, for that matter) as in ways that help them.

    Defensively bashing Christians (what does the rapture have to do with this and how do we move any ball forward by using perjorative and bigoted terms like ‘fundie’?) fails to address the issue. This is really an issue that scientists ought to be discussing among scientists, as scientists, with full sensitivity to morality and social responsibilities.

    Mims, near as I can tell, was shocked as a scientist by the lack of perspective Pianka and the audience had on what Pianka was saying. He raised for the world’s consideration the callousness of what was said, and the callousness of the audience reaction. That many scientists are unwilling to address that concern head on, and descend instead into religious bigotry, is more troubling than the speech and the reaction. The blogworld response to Mims concerns illustrates that the failure to reflect and consider the moral obligations of scientists is more generalized than just one meeting in one provincial capital.

  136. #136 Peter Barber
    April 4, 2006

    Nucleotides arranged as specific coding. Coding is information. Every example of specified information we know of has an intelligent agent as it’s source. Programs require programmers.

    Scott, could we have a definition of what non-specific coding is? Otherwise you appear to have concluded that DNA is ‘specified information’ based on a tautology. I could probably also nitpick in that coding is surely the method of representing the information, not the information itself.

    Might stop by in the AM if I’m not banned for suggesting that intelligence played a role in us being what we are and where we are.

    It’s a clever technique, I’ll grant you that: attempting to plant that seed of suspicion in readers’ minds that scientists close ranks when dissenters appear. ID supporters often use this line – but the only instances of banning I have heard of are on the pro-ID blogs!

  137. #137 RickD
    April 4, 2006

    Which would you rather live without:

    1) Cows
    2) Arabs

    Posted by: Norman Doering | April 3, 2006 04:04 PM

    Well, my sister isn’t married to a cow, so I’ll pick door #3:

    3) Racists

  138. #138 Louis
    April 4, 2006

    The plural of “octopus” is “octopodes” coming of course from the Ancient Greek for foot, i.e. “pus” in the singlular and “podes” in the plural. The plural is absolutely not “octopi” because the -us (s)/ -i(pl) suffix is from Latin.

    So “octopuddies” was almost (phonetically!) correct.

    This makes the plural of “platypus” “platypodes” which is a very satisfying word.

    Ah my Classics master would be proud. I still shudder when I see/hear “anorexic” instead of “anorectic”.

  139. #139 slpage
    April 4, 2006

    Ummm Elizabeth:

    Perhaps then P shouldn’t make the following statement:

    “…people there are getting death threats over it. Here’s one example of the kind of email they’re getting”

    I can’t take criticism seriously from another who can’t get a story straight.

    P’s statement does NOT indicate that the provided email contained a death threat. He clearly wrote that the email was ONE EXAMPLE of the KIND of email they have been getting. He did not say ‘Here is an example of the death threats they have been getting.’

    And ‘programs require programmers’ – classic stuff, Scott…. Classic, simplistic stuff…..

  140. #140 Seth Manapio
    April 4, 2006

    Mims, near as I can tell, was shocked as a scientist by the lack of perspective Pianka and the audience had on what Pianka was saying. He raised for the world’s consideration the callousness of what was said, and the callousness of the audience reaction. That many scientists are unwilling to address that concern head on, and descend instead into religious bigotry, is more troubling than the speech and the reaction.

    Exactly. There is no rational human perspective from which a 90% “culling” of the human race is a good thing. People who think it is are advocating the deaths of everyone reading this blog, questioning our very right to exist. And then people have the termidity to act surprised and superior when other people find this horrifying.

    You should read what the eco-nuts are writing on other blogs, about how I am a scourge on the earth, a cancer, and so forth. This is the rhetoric of Pianka’s supporters and to some degree Pianka himself. It is foul, anti-human, irrational, and ignorant of basic ethics and to some degree even of basic science.

    And they should be called on it, especially by rational people. They should in fact be ridiculed just as strongly as any other irrational death cult.

    By the way, programs do not require programmers at all. They require several million years of natural evolutionary algorithms capable of producing programmers. Its all a matter of perspective.

  141. #141 NelC
    April 4, 2006

    On the oncoming human apocalypse thing, I’ve had a second-hand copy of Olaf Stapleton’s Last and First Men sitting unread on my shelves for ages, which I just started reading the other night. It has a very long point of view, flitting over millenia and billenia as though they were mere moments in evolutionary time. At one point the First Men (that’s us) are reduced to a mere three members after a worldwide nuclear disaster. Their successors, the Second Men, last longer, hundreds of thousands of years, but successive invasions of Martian hivemind bacteria take their toll. The Third Men last millions of years, with multiple waves of civilization, but eventually create the hyper-intelligent but unsympathetic Fourth Men, who reduce the Third Men to slave status, then create an improved Fifth race as their successors. Interesting stuff, for SF published in 1930. I might have to chase up some of Stapleton’s other books.

  142. #142 Seth M
    April 4, 2006

    The top paragraph in my last comment is a quote from a previous poster. Yes, I do know about the blockquote tag.

  143. #143 KC JONES
    April 4, 2006

    I would like to know what the heck Pianka said in his speech.

    I can’t seem to find the actual speech posted anywhere.

    I must have missed it.

    Anybody seen the ACTUAL speech…all the commentary is pointless if we can’t read what he DID or DID NOT say.

  144. #144 KC JONES
    April 4, 2006

    I would like to know what the heck Pianka said in his speech.

    I can’t seem to find the actual speech posted anywhere.

    I must have missed it.

    Anybody seen the ACTUAL speech…all the commentary is pointless if we can’t read what he DID or DID NOT say.

  145. #145 KC JONES
    April 4, 2006

    I would like to know what the heck Pianka said in his speech.

    I can’t seem to find the actual speech posted anywhere.

    I must have missed it.

    Anybody seen the ACTUAL speech…all the commentary is pointless if we can’t read what he DID or DID NOT say.

  146. #146 KC JONES
    April 4, 2006

    I would like to know what the heck Pianka said in his speech.

    I can’t seem to find the actual speech posted anywhere.

    I must have missed it.

    Anybody seen the ACTUAL speech…all the commentary is pointless if we can’t read what he DID or DID NOT say.

  147. #147 Praedor Atrebates
    April 4, 2006

    maybe we’ll be able to convince some of those talented folks who abandoned us to overlook our crazy housing prices, traffic, smog, earthquakes, mudslides, wildfires, etc… and come back to California!

    Well, let’s see… It appears that the crazy housing prices are about to get a (rude) fix so you may have that covered. As for the rest, not so much.

  148. #148 Praedor Atrebates
    April 4, 2006

    I would like to know what the heck Pianka said in his speech.

    Not knowing first-hand, I can offer up a third- (or fourth) hand synopsis. It is my understanding that Pianka merely stated that human encrouchment into more and more habitat, combined with greater and greater density, is likely to lead to many more outbreaks of nasties such as ebola, etc. His aside was that the results of repeated, devastating pandemics reducing human population levels would, in fact, be a boon for the biosphere. Objectively and factually accurate but hardly advocating the spreading of disease to wipe out the bulk of the human population to improve the environment.

    One is not allowed to state unpleasant facts. Increasing human population, both in density and extent, is a “good”. Period. “Be fruitful and multiply” without bound or without any other consideration is the only acceptable rule. ANY suggestion that many things would, objectively and in fact, improve should humans decline (almost for whatever reason) must not be stated.

    Pianka was not advocating genocide or engineering killer viruses or the unleashing of pandemic-causing pathogens. He merely stated, as an aside, that the biosphere would benefit greatly from a large human population decline. It just happened to be a statement that finished a portion of a talk dealing with disease and pandemics.

    Thus is my understanding of the situation.

  149. #149 Norman Doering
    April 4, 2006

    RickD wrote:
    Which would you rather live without:

    1) Cows
    2) Arabs

    Posted by: Norman Doering | April 3, 2006 04:04 PM

    Well, my sister isn’t married to a cow, so I’ll pick door #3:

    3) Racists

    The point isn’t to be racist — and if you are the question is too easy to answer and has no real effect.

    You don’t get to make up new answers. The whole point is to make a hard choice and think about what you value.

    If your sister is married to an Arab then you would probably choose cows.

    So try it it this way:

    1) Cows
    2) Chinese

    Either or, no replacements.

  150. #150 Caledonian
    April 4, 2006

    There is no rational human perspective from which a 90% “culling” of the human race is a good thing.

    Can you demonstrate that? Or that assertion a statement of your personal and subjective values?

    “Every life… is SACRED!
    Every life… is GREAT!
    If a life… is WASTED… God gets quite I-RATE!”

  151. #151 Praedor Atrebates
    April 4, 2006

    So try it it this way:
    1) Cows
    2) Chinese
    Either or, no replacements.

    I refuse to answer and choose neither. I find it unacceptable, period, to intentionally or knowingly wipe out entirely ANY living organism. It is a form of crime beyond any other. I see it as akin to going to Mars, finding life there in some isolated location, and then wiping it out. A crime of indescribable magnitude.

    Bogus question and I would have to refuse to make the choice.

  152. #152 Norman Doering
    April 4, 2006

    Which would you rather live without:

    1) Cows
    2) Chinese

    Either they both go or you choose one group. And know one ever knows it was you who made the choice.

    Obviously if people knew you’d better choose cows because you’ll be considered a mass murderer by everyone else alive.

  153. #153 Caledonian
    April 4, 2006

    One individual does a costly behavior for an unrelated other, trusting that the favor will be returned. This is possible in social systems where cheaters can be identified and excluded… but in the 30 years since Trivers, it’s been observed mostly in humans, and also in vampire bats (who share food with thirsty cave-mates, non-kin who could die within days without successful foraging).

    And if I remember correctly, vampire bat colonies in which such sharing takes place have significantly lower mortality rates than (hypothetical and mathematically examined) ones that don’t. Helping the colony ultimately leads to the propagation of the trait. I’m detecting self-interest…

    I am *still* unaware of any example of “True Altruism”. Anyone willing to provide one?

  154. #154 Scott
    April 4, 2006

    When you encounter DNA, you encounter specificity of function. Purposive encoding of biochemical instructions. We know that intelligent agents produce information-rich purposive sequences like this. Humans sequence letters in specified patterns to produce instructions, etc… In the cell, the sequencing of amino acids is directed by information. The 4 nucleotides along the spine of the DNA molecule are represented with the letters A,T,G & C. And interestingly, the coding regions demonstrate specificity just like written programming codes, linguistic writings, etc… So, just as we arrange letters in the written alphabet to convey a message based on their arrangement, so do the sequences of nucleotide bases convey specific instructions for building cellular proteins. And DNA bases do not manifest self-organizational bonding behavior that can explain their specific sequencing. The old Darwinian tactic of throwing time at an issue does not solve the problem of specified information. Information always requires an intelligent agency. The inference is logical. Imaginary and mindless algorithms which magically produce specified information (when given enough time) smack of desperation. Desperation to avoid the logical inference to a designing intelligence.

    The funny thing is too that Natural Selection presupposes a preexisting mechanism of self-replication. But self-replication depends upon specified sequences of amino acids and proteins. So, there’s that ugly cart-before-the-horse Darwinian scenario. Remember NS can only select what “chance” has first produced. So then how did said mechanism produce the initial information? You have to presuppose what is to be explained to begin with! Question begging at it’s worst.

    CSI – If I see “PZPZPZPZPZPZPZPZPZPZ” and then I see “Help! My philosophical bias and pride prevent me from considering a powerful designing intelligence!” I see first a repetitious and unordered sequence, but it is not complex or informative. The second instance, in contrast, shows me specified information with a purpose with high information content… like the arrangements of the 4 nucleotide sequences. Much like a meaningful linquistic sentence, or the functional lines of a programming code. Another important thing I might note too is that DNA transcends the properties of matter. Chemical bonds do not determine the sequence of the bases. The nucleotides assume a dizzying array of possible sequences and express a plethora of instructional messages.

    There remains no adequate causal model for the origin of specified information, just hand-waving speculation. Many here would be “illuminated” if they grasped the probably factor of 1/2 x 1/10^150, but that’s a discussion in and of itself. I have read the attempts to explain it away… I conclude that they hold no water. And don’t even get me started about the dizzying probabilistic hurdles that must be crossed to construct even a single short protein molecule of 100 amino acids in length. Ooooohhhh, the glaring problems that get glossed over by those with a philosophical axe to grind. *sigh

    “DNA is like a computer program, but far, far more advanced than any software we’ve ever created.”

    -Bill Gates

  155. #155 Praedor Atrebates
    April 4, 2006

    I am *still* unaware of any example of “True Altruism”. Anyone willing to provide one?

    Somewhat simplistic but what about the soldier that throws himself/herself upon a grenade to save those around them, perhaps civilians of the country they’re fighting against? A fireman who knowingly enters a burning building to rescue someone, even a pet, knowing there’s a fair chance that they may not come out alive? Whistleblowers who violate laws preventing them from disclosing information, perhaps even officially “secret” information, to stop a criminal or unConstitutional act, KNOWING that they are likely to eat the sh*t as a result?

    I myself don’t tend to believe in “true” altruism but do have to think hard about certain situations.

  156. #156 Scott
    April 4, 2006

    There was nothing to gain from Mother Theresa’s altruism (and the countless others who have done just like her). She certainly was not passing along her genes and it would contradict her theology to suggest that she was “working her way into heaven”. The vast majority of missionary workers do what they do out of a gratitude for the gift they have already received, not to earn it.

    So, it is examples like this which reinforce my belief in the uniqueness of the human mind/spirit and cause me to doubt the Darwinian Narrative.

  157. #157 PaulC
    April 4, 2006

    jcr:

    China can feed itself. The peasants just need to be allowed to do so.

    I don’t really doubt that, though it may make more economic sense to focus on manufacturing while importing food. China is already a major food producer and exports high quality processed, packaged food. I’m not sure what China you’re talking about (Mao’s been dead for a long time in case nobody told you) but the one I’m thinking of is one of the world’s fastest growing economies with building booms going on in every city. The government is oppressive in a number of ways (the one child policy being an instance) and there is probably still too much graft and nepotism to have a really healthy economy. But imminent starvation is not one of the big problems.

    What I do doubt is that the earth can support a Chinese population all living the way Americans now live. Something has to give.

  158. #158 Praedor Atrebates
    April 4, 2006

    The funny thing is too that Natural Selection presupposes a preexisting mechanism of self-replication.

    Not correct. Natural selection is inevitable once ANYTHING starts self-replicating. It can be a single molecule (a catalytic RNA, for instance) or a complex of molecules. Not to feed the false idea that there must be a designer, but the instant someone creates a self-replicating robot, be it a nanobot or a macrobot, natural selection takes place no matter what you do. ALL replication inevitably produces errors at some baseline level. NOTHING can be replicated with absolute fidelity. That is all it takes. Error in replication. A single spontaneously forming molecule that self replicates will make errors and natural selection will acting at that instant and forever more in its existence.

    Natural selection is inevitable and has NO prerequisites except self-replication and the fact that no replication is error-free.

  159. #159 Alon Levy
    April 4, 2006

    Yes, less children, more invested and the solution to underpopulation is immigration. Immigration with some rules about who you let in since Europe is having problems with its muslim immigrants.

    It’s not the rules, but the integration – Europe’s problems are the problems of racism and governmental indifference to discrimination.

  160. My guess is all of these death threats being directed to Dr. Pianka are comming from those “loving xian people” who watch and send money to TV Preachers, go to church every Sunday, voted for Tom Delay (R-TX) and stoutly beat their children (according to scripture) with leather belts, wood sticks and closed fists. Good upstanding bible believer type people, who can wave a US flag and ask G-d’s blessing on the USA, while George W Bush gives Richard Cheney wet-dreams by dropping Depleted Uranium Munitions on Iraqi Children…. (What a wonderful Country we used to live in eh? Almost makes you see Darth Sidous standing in the USA Congress with his dis-figured face praising the 1st GOP Empire in Washington DC)

  161. #161 Norman Doering
    April 4, 2006

    On the subject of “True Altruism,” were the Muslims who flew planes into the twin Towers altruistic?

    They did give their lives to their cause.

  162. #162 Grand Moff Texan
    April 4, 2006

    You can reach Mr. Keith M Arnett, at
    (817) 379-0034,

    or send him a nice letter at
    311 Eastwood Dr.
    Keller, TX 76248

    Reach out and touch a brownshirt.
    .

  163. #163 Terrence Watlow
    April 4, 2006

    Bush preps historic Third Term (??) memo

    From the UK’s Register:

    The US Department of Justice (DoJ) and the office of the White House Counsel are preparing a draft document laying out the President’s Wartime Authority to remain in office past 2008, The Register has learned.

    The scheme is described as an “Emergency Continuity Presidency” made necessary by the extraordinary circumstances and unique challenges of protecting the United States from the threat of international terrorism.
    “The world changed on 9/11,” a confidential DoJ memo obtained by The Register explains, “..and no Administration is US history is better suited to adapt productively to those changes than this one. The Attorney General supports the basic framework in the White House Counsel’s draft proposal for a future Executive Order establishing a Continuity Presidency, with two provisos: 1. There must be at least the appearance of a time limit, which the AG believes might be satisfied by tying the duration of the Continuity Presidency to the duration of the GWOT [global war on terrorism]; and 2. The House and Senate Majority Leaders and the Chairpersons of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees must issue a written certification that they have approved the plan.

    (Yes, it’s an April Fools joke. At least..uh..I’m pretty sure it’s an April Fools joke)

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2006/04/01/gwot_cha/

  164. #164 Seth Manapio
    April 4, 2006

    There is no rational human perspective from which a 90% “culling” of the human race is a good thing.

    Can you demonstrate that? Or that assertion a statement of your personal and subjective values?

    “Every life… is SACRED!
    Every life… is GREAT!
    If a life… is WASTED… God gets quite I-RATE!”

    Yes, I can demonstrate that, and no, it isn’t a subjective point of view.

  165. #165 Keith Douglas
    April 4, 2006

    Wesley R. Elsberry: I’m curious – do you have a reference to the mirror test and dolphins stuff?

  166. #166 Randy!
    April 4, 2006

    OMG – Does anyone else reading all this realize that this is all just so much hand waving and agitation? This is the most ridiculous debate I believe I have ever witnessed. I started discussing this with a fellow over on DailyKos yesterday and he had the same “Humans are more important” argument that was posted here. The people who are upset seem to be reading from the same script.

    But in any event, trying to debate these morons is just foolishness! Pianka never said he advocated wiping out 90% of the population. Never. So the debate is freaking moot! He mentioned how it would be good for the biosphere to remove the bulk of the human population, but that was just an aside. I could come up with a million examples of this type of aside… let’s see…

    “I’d hate to stop maintaining the neighborhood swimming pool because a lot of families rely on it for hot weather entertainment; however, it sure would be great for the frog and mosquito populations if we were to just stop all maintenance on the pool.”

    “Removing these native people from their traditional jungle habitat would be a crime against their civiliation, but you have to admit, removing their slash-and-burn farming techniques from that environment would be great for the jungle ecosystem.”

    What the hell is wrong with all these people? I’m afraid that this is all about attacking science, for *any* perceived slight, or making up pereceived slights out of nothing for the sole purpose of attacking the educated. It’s callus, calculated and completely absurd. Please stop debating these people, they’re HOPELESSLY STUPID.

  167. #167 Praedor Atrebates
    April 4, 2006

    They did give their lives to their cause.

    Ah, but NOT without the express belief that they would end up immediately after in paradise with 100 virgins, etc. This disqualifies it as altruism. They had to be driven by the belief of substantial reward AFTER the act is accomplished.

    Altruism cannot have any expectation of personal reward underwriting it. Doing something to get into heaven, paradise, obtain fame (posthumously), familial advantage, etc, eliminates the act as “true” altruism.

  168. #168 Theo Bromine
    April 4, 2006

    If one cares to reduce it to the point of absurdity, even the most extreme forms of altruism still come down to self-interest, though possibly requiring many layers of indirection. Mother Theresa *chose* to do her work, presumably getting some personal satisfaction from her actions, not to mention the promise of eternal reward. People who sacrifice their lives for others (eg the soldier who threw himself on the grenade) could be making a (possibly subconscious) tradeoff – “would I be able to live with myself knowing that I survived and let the others die”. It seems to me that altruism is just the abiility to delay or divert gratification (which is not to diminish its value or admirability).

  169. #169 Norman Doering
    April 4, 2006

    Praedor Atrebates wrote:
    Altruism cannot have any expectation of personal reward underwriting it. Doing something to get into heaven, paradise, obtain fame (posthumously), familial advantage, etc, eliminates the act as “true” altruism.

    Then can religion never promote true altruism — will it always be using expectation of reward in the afterlife to promote pseudo-altruism?

    What would happen if such pseudo-altruism disappeared?

  170. #170 llewelly
    April 4, 2006

    1. Of all animals, only humans make beer.
    2. Would you want to live in a world without beer? No.
    3. Therefor, humans are more important than any other animal.

  171. #171 Kajiki
    April 4, 2006

    Say, if you earnestly and whole-heartedly share something people don’t appreciate (such as really shoddy advice), believing that it’s for the greater good, does that count as altruism as well? After all, you’re not being rewarded for doing so.

    Of course, you could be surrounded with hype and then anything you share will be in high demand, even if it’s total bunk. As in the case of Mother Teresa’s “works”.

    http://ffrf.org/fttoday/1996/august96/hakeem.html

  172. #172 jw
    April 4, 2006

    Many here would be “illuminated” if they grasped the probably factor of 1/2 x 1/10^150

    I can grasp it. It’s a probability billions of times higher than the probability of any particular shuffle of two decks of cards with different backs. In other words, such a probability is clearly not an impossibility.

  173. #173 PZ Myers
    April 4, 2006

    1. Of all animals, only humans make beer.

    No. Yeast make beer. Humans just consume it.

    Therefore, yeast are more important than humans.

  174. #174 jw
    April 4, 2006

    And don’t even get me started about the dizzying probabilistic hurdles that must be crossed to construct even a single short protein molecule of 100 amino acids in length.

    From this post, it’s clear that you’re the one who doesn’t understand probability. In particular, you or whatever source you got a number of the order of the one mentioned above for this problem is making the AND-multiplication error. See http://www.lecb.ncifcrf.gov/~toms/paper/ev/AND-multiplication-error.html for a detailed explanation of this issue.

  175. #175 aretino
    April 4, 2006

    What, exactly, the stew of quotas, irrigation subisidies, and price supports that is American agrriculture policy has to do with market economics escapes me.

    Is this the one week per year when libertarians pretend that agriculture in the United States operates like a free-market fantasy? I’m ready for the resumption of the regularly programmed American-agriculture-as-socialist-dystopia broadcasts, already.

  176. #176 Caledonian
    April 4, 2006

    It doesn’t seem particularly farfetched that a social creature that lived in close proximity with other creatures that shared its social inclinations would develop instincts for personal sacrifice to preserve the group.

    In my understanding, soldiers are conditioned to view members of their squad as extensions of their family. Sacrificing one’s own life to save members of your family can be an evolutionarily successful strategy.

    I can take a bee away from its hive and into a laboratory. If that bee stings me while in the laboratory, fatally wounding itself, it’s not actually giving any benefit to its hivemates. Yet we would still consider the instinct (as it would function under normal circumstances) to be evolutionarily beneficial and ultimately “rational”.

    Taking humans out of their normal niche (which most humans lineages haven’t been in for thousands of years by this point) means that they would be stuck with a bunch of instincts that developed under different conditions. I think we can safely say that a soldier who throws himself on a grenade to save his squadmates is acting on instincts that were once rational and beneficial. Whether they’re still useful, or whether the soldier is being victimized by his society and his genetic drives, is a much more complex question that has no direct bearing on the issue at hand.

    I’m still waiting for that example of “true altruism”. As the concept seems to be equivalent to self-victimization, I doubt you’ll find many examples in the natural or unnatural worlds.

  177. #177 Caledonian
    April 4, 2006

    From Seth Manapio: Yes, I can demonstrate that, and no, it isn’t a subjective point of view.

    Oh? Do so.

    Put up or shut up.

  178. #178 J.B.S.Haldane
    April 4, 2006

    I’m not all that altruistic, but I’d lay down my life for two brothers or eight cousins.

  179. #179 thwaite
    April 4, 2006

    To J.B.S. Haldane:
    You just summarized kin selection as pithily as your namesake did in the 1930′s.

    To Caledonian:
    Reciprocal altruism is, as you pointed out earlier, ultimately self-serving – as it must be to be an evolutionarily stable system. The proximal psychologies which sustain reciprocal relationships are various (trust, fear of cheaters) and for humans as complex as anything else we do.
    Any “true altruism” is not of this world (i.e. not evolved), any more than is homosexuality (which also tends to diminish descendents).

    A useful book here is Helena Cronin’s THE ANT AND THE PEACOCK, 1991, a sophisticated historical study of altruism and of sexual selection per the title’s totem animals. Her chapter 15 is “Human Altruism: a natural kind?” and this highlights the nuances of human continuity and distinctness here. It’s really a difficult topic.

  180. #180 Not Homer
    April 4, 2006

    “No. Yeast make beer. Humans just consume it.

    Therefore, yeast are more important than humans.”

    …every yeast is sacred…

    mmmMMMmmm…beer.

  181. #181 arensb
    April 4, 2006

    Norman Doering wrote:

    He drew enough attention from Dembski to inspire this:
    Chapter 4: Kurzweil’s Impoverished Spirituality
    by William A. Dembski

    I am amused to note that in that essay, Dembski writes:

    A strong case can be made that humans are not machines–period. I shall make that case later in this essay.

    So what does this do to IDists’ claims that flagella etc. are machines?

  182. #182 Peptron
    April 4, 2006

    So what does this do to IDists’ claims that flagella etc. are machines?

    You are using logic there. Logic and ID don’t go along. It’s common for them to claim a thing and its opposite without noticing any problems. Funny thing is that sometimes they can go as far as proving YOUR point!

    I once met an ID that claimed that the theory of evolution was wrong because speciation was much better explained by genetic mutations…

  183. #183 Graculus
    April 4, 2006

    When you encounter DNA, you encounter specificity of function. Purposive encoding of biochemical instructions.

    Notice the leap between these two statements. The two are in no way connected, and the second is an unevidenced assertion.

  184. #184 Phoenix Woman
    April 4, 2006

    Note to the anti-science troll who keeps changing names like sock puppets, but who can’t disguise its style: PZ can see your IP address.

    Meanwhile, for a highly inflammatory, true, and funny-as-hell posting from a Texan scientist who is sick of the crap that the Death Threaters are flinging, go here: http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2006/4/4/113757/5847

  185. #185 Caledonian
    April 4, 2006

    Any “true altruism” is not of this world (i.e. not evolved), any more than is homosexuality (which also tends to diminish descendents).

    If it exists in the world, it is of the world. I shouldn’t need to explain that.

    Does homosexuality actually diminish descendents? More to the point, did it when humans were still in their ecological and sociological niche as hunter-gatherers? Lastly, accepting for the sake of argument the unproven assertion that it does reduce direct offspring, are the factors responsible for human homosexuality responsible for other traits which might convey an even greater advantage than the presumptive disadvantage they cause part of the time?

    In populations where malaria is rampant, an allele that conveys resistance to malaria in the heterozygous state persists despite causing sickle-cell anemia in the homozygous state. Sickle-cell anemia is not selected for. The gene responsible IS.

  186. #186 thwaite
    April 5, 2006

    No, you didn’t need to explain that.

    The comparison with malaria resistance is good. Applying the logic of such multiple selection pressures to whatever behavior constitutes “true altruisim” (which almost certainly involves more complex genetics than for malaria/sickle-cell) can suggest how “true altruism” could exist in humans despite lack of direct adaptive value. Someday this might even be a testable hypothesis.

    We didn’t even need to define ‘true altruism’ more specifically than as any costly behavior which benefits others but doesn’t directly or indirectly provide benefit to self or kin. Human blood banks are a borderline example, though I really like knowing they might be there when I’m the recipient rather than donor. Of course there are people (Zahavi, Geoffrey Miller) who argue that what *really* motivates people to donate is that sexy displayable badge of costly altruism which only a healthy person could do, and which therefore gets the interest of potential mates…

  187. #187 Caledonian
    April 5, 2006

    First, demonstrate that “true altruism” exists, and then we will concern ourselves with trying to explain it.

  188. #188 IdahoMD
    April 5, 2006

    To UT and TAS: One very simple way to defuse this and call Mims on the carpet: publsih the complete text and audio recording of the speeches. Otherwise you have completely ceded the debate to the critics. Otherwise, what could be so terrible about a nice scientist making a speech and getting a prize?

    Transcript, please.

  189. #189 Peter Barber
    April 5, 2006

    Quoth Norman Doering:

    Then can religion never promote true altruism — will it always be using expectation of reward in the afterlife to promote pseudo-altruism?

    Correct (IMHO), though that’s not a problem if someone’s religious code inspires them to help others, and – despite being an atheist :) – religion can hardly be singled out. Clan traditions and parental love could just as easily be criticised on this point.

    What would happen if such pseudo-altruism disappeared?

    Maybe the people affected would realise that the more direct pseudo-altruism of acting to improve other people’s lives is just as rewarding (and that their behaviour was actually based on this (rather than hopes of eternal life) all along?

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