Pharyngula

This should win a prize for the dumbest excuse from a creationist that I’ve heard in, oh, about 24 hours.

…don’t you find it interesting that there is NO recorded history prior to less than 10,000 years ago? If man has been around millions of years why the heck did it take so long to learn to write? Most kids are doing it by 2nd grade! Man evolved enough to suddenly figure out how to record his thoughts just a few thousand years ago? Hmmm.

This same creationist also makes a “marketing” argument, that creationism is better because it is easier to understand than evolution. He claims to have read both Darwin’s Black Box by Behe and Finding Darwin’s God by Miller, and that Behe’s book was easier and used a mousetrap to “get his point across”, while Miller’s book was too complex. That’s an interesting example of selective memory: both books deal with similar subjects on a roughly similar level. Behe’s book has details (some of which are wrong) of cilia and blood-clotting cascades and such, all of which seemed to have slipped out of this creationist’s memory. Miller’s book deals with similar subjects, but doesn’t make the stupid errors Behe’s does.

Yet all Mr Marketer remembers is that mousetraps don’t evolve.

I’m more concerned that if man has been around for 6000 years, why the heck didn’t anyone patent the snap-trap until 1897? Hmmm.

Comments

  1. #1 Dominic
    June 25, 2007

    Maybe that person wrote this to make you react? And it worked!

  2. #2 El Cid
    June 25, 2007

    I thought the United States of America was created 26 years ago when Ronald Reagan swept his majestic hands across the plains and filled them with patriotic Americans and single-handedly slew the Soviet dragon.

    I don’t understand why we don’t date things BRR and ARR, nor do I understand why some people older than 26 years old think they grew up in America, when we know that all that existed was scattered, starving tribesmen roaming aimlessly.

  3. #3 Evolving Squid
    June 25, 2007

    If man has been around millions of years why the heck did it take so long to learn to write?

    The obvious answer is “he didn’t have to.”

    The concept of universal literacy is very modern and as an entire human population, we’re far from achieving it even today.

    When your whole existence amounts to mastery of a few square miles of landscape, the ability to throw a spear or catch a fish, to make a fire, and maybe grow some plants, you don’t have a lot of reason to deal with airy-fairy skills like writing… you can learn all you need to know from mom and dad, and you can do that without even language.

    Of course, maybe now that cephalopods are learning to open bottles, they’ll be writing their own theistic manifesto to show how much better than are than we.

  4. #4 George
    June 25, 2007

    Of course, it is also not true that there is no recorded history prior to 10,000 years ago. Cave painting pre-dates this by 30,000 years. I would suspect that there are artifacts beyond that we have not found or were not so durable.

  5. #5 forsen
    June 25, 2007

    Only in America!

  6. #6 Sonja
    June 25, 2007

    …don’t you find it interesting that there is NO recorded history prior to less than 10,000 years ago?

    It’s actually not a bad question, he just comes up with a really stupid answer.

  7. #7 AlanW
    June 25, 2007

    Someone please send this idiot a copy of Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs & Steel.

  8. #8 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    June 25, 2007

    all Mr Marketer remembers is that mousetraps don’t evolve.

    In other news, hardcore creationists admits to having mousetrap minds – they have all snapped.

  9. #9 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    June 25, 2007

    all Mr Marketer remembers is that mousetraps don’t evolve.

    In other news, hardcore creationists admits to having mousetrap minds – they have all snapped.

  10. #10 pough
    June 25, 2007

    Did “man” evolve “enough to suddenly figure out how to record his thoughts just a few thousand years ago?” How many cultures didn’t have any writing system until lately? How many still don’t? Perhaps if someone had thought of it sooner, it would have had a longer history, like pretty much every other good idea.

  11. #11 Cain
    June 25, 2007

    What’s great is that this guy is also an anti-vax nutjob. I guess if you’re gonna go crankery, you gotta go all the way.

  12. #12 DouglasG
    June 25, 2007

    He doesn’t realize that they didn’t have that fancy acid-free paper that we have now. They wrote all kinds of things down, but unfortunately, their paper did not last… (Lets not even get into the ink problems!)

    Actually, the question can easily be answered why writing only appeared 10,000 years ago — the invention of agriculture. Before then, people lived in nomadic hunter-gatherer clans. With agriculture, there became room to do something else besides look for food. With agriculture you get the invention of “free time”. Unfortunately, the amount of free time was not excessive until this guy was born.

  13. #13 PalMD
    June 25, 2007

    It’s unclear to me why so many fundies are also anti-vax nuts. I suppose one type of stupidity runs with another…Some, like the conservapedia nutjobs, i find more sinister…i think they are anti-vax to help separate and control their followers.

  14. #14 dogmeatib
    June 25, 2007

    The guy obviously never took a class in cultural anthropology or ever heard of cave paintings or petroglyphs. We have cultures today that don’t possess written languages, so what … they don’t exist? Are they in the Aboriginal “dream time?”

  15. #15 Rey Fox
    June 25, 2007

    Somebody get this guy on the B-Ark now.

  16. #16 Luis
    June 25, 2007

    …creationism is better because it is easier to understand than evolution.

    Funny thing: My mom always said that people* choose to believe in the Biblical account because the scientific account is too complicated for them to understand.

    Ever since I lost, badly, an evo/creo debate in high school (guess which side I was on), I’ve believed Mom was right about that, as about so many things.


    *this would be people in my incredibly redneck California hometown.

  17. #17 Mooser
    June 25, 2007

    This is getting really stupid. Of course the entire universe was born on March 9, 1953- the day I was born. People don’t know that yet?

  18. #18 Kevin
    June 25, 2007

    I think the Earth is only just over a hundred years old. Think about it, have you ever seen a photograph of anyone before the 1800s? Are you telling me that people 200 years ago were too stupid to know how to use a camera? I’ve been using a camera since I was five!

  19. #19 doug
    June 25, 2007

    Hold on now scientists. You have to admit that something interesting happened to the human species 10-30,000 years ago. From what I understand this is well within the period of “modern man” and if you adhere to gradual evolution, you would not expect anything particularly that interesting to have happened that recently or “suddenly.”
    Whatever the answer is, it is not a bad question. If the answer is the conditions were ripe, but it just didn’t happen yet, you have to admit it is not a very persuasive answer and one the proceeds more from the desired conclusion than from simple logic.

  20. #20 donna
    June 25, 2007

    Kevin, in the early photographs, they are all in black and white, so obviously the world was black and white then.

    Yeah, my kids almost used to believe that one…

  21. #21 fardels bear
    June 25, 2007

    This is kind of like when Lucy asked Schroeder, “If Beethoven was so great, how come his picture isn’t on bubble-gum cards?”

  22. #22 Tony P.
    June 25, 2007

    Even if you consider that something special happened 10,000 year ago that openned the door to a written language, I don’t think we should be so surprised that it took so long for humans to develop a system.

    I think we take your literacy for granted. During the dark ages, the literacy rate in Europe dropped from a level that might have been comparable to ours to almost zero.

  23. #23 Aureola Nominee, FCD
    June 25, 2007

    Doug:

    What would you think would be a persuasive answer? Because to me “It could have happened sooner, but it didn’t, or if it did the records were lost” sounds very persuasive. What would the alternative be? “God *poofed* writing into existence”? What is it that you find so unpersuasive in the concept of “invention” (i.e. conceiving something that did not exist previously)?

    Let’s move to a closer example. Why did people wait until the 15th century to invent movable type? The preconditions were in place long before then. The press was used in winemaking. Standardized lettering was known ever since the Sumerians at least. Metal casting likewise was in widespread use. Nothing was missing; the Chinese had even applied the press to printing, using carved wooden plates, centuries before. Yet it happened when it happened, and nobody imagines some mysterious reason behind this “strange” failure of imagination…

  24. #24 DragonScholar
    June 25, 2007

    The smart guy forgets that, yes humans can learn to read and write at a young age.

    INVENTING reading and writing of course takes a lot of effort. I learned to ride a bike pretty quickly, but it took a long time for humanity to learn how to make ’em.

  25. #25 Kathryn
    June 25, 2007

    I just got a complimentary copy of the Atlas of Creation by Harun Yahya. It’s huge, nice glossy pics of fossils. Based on my observations in the mailroom here at Duke Biology about 20 others in the department did too. What a weighty tome of crap.

    He cites the (New Scientist, 15 January 1981, p. 129) as his evidence for a lack of transitional fossils. sorry if this has already been discussed. I just had to comment since this giant thing just arrived.

  26. #26 Stephen Wells
    June 25, 2007

    The interesting thing that happened about 10000 years ago was the end of the last major Ice Age. I think earlier attempts to found literate agricultural societies were hampered by the MILES OF ICE covering most of the major land masses.

    IIRC, the origins of writing seem to lie in accountancy. Pictures on the cave walls do fine for recording your hunting legends. Once you have to prove that you’ve paid the king all the beer you owe him, you get a process: little clay models wrapped up in a clay envelope; little marks scratched on the outside of the envelope so you don’t have to break it to know what’s inside; then somebody twigs that the marks are all you need.

  27. #27 lara
    June 25, 2007

    If the Bible is as old as the creationists 6,000 year-old Earth, then how come we only have copies of it that date back to 200 B.C? And since we have to use radiocarbon dating to verify the age of documents as well as fossils, if the fossils are only 6,000 years old instead the of 65 million cabon dating tells us, wouldn’t this mean the Bible was actually written about two months ago?

  28. #28 John Danley
    June 25, 2007

    Check out “The Call” at:
    http://thestubborncurmudgeon.blogspot.com

  29. #29 June
    June 25, 2007

    For your further amusement, here is another such “evolution-killer” question, from the Faith & Values Letters page of the North County Times of Oceanside, California:

    “Why has lava that was seen erupting from that volcano
    been dated at millions of years when we saw it erupt?”

  30. #30 gsb
    June 25, 2007

    Actually, the question can easily be answered why writing only appeared 10,000 years ago — the invention of agriculture. Before then, people lived in nomadic hunter-gatherer clans. With agriculture, there became room to do something else besides look for food. With agriculture you get the invention of “free time”.

    With agriculture you also got permanent settlements, and with permanent settlements you got larger populations. With bigger populations and permanent settlements producing a surplus of goods, trade and commerce emerge on a larger scale and would have been a strong impetus toward developing some form of record keeping, as would the establishment of bureaucracies for keeping these ever growing communities functioning smoothly.

  31. #31 David Marjanovi?
    June 25, 2007

    With agriculture you get the invention of “free time”.

    Precisely the opposite.

    However, agriculture made societies with more than 150 members possible, and so bureaucracy came into being. Sumerian writing was invented for bureaucracy — we have all the “transitional fossils” to show that.

    Chinese writing may have developed in connection to oracles. That’s what the earliest preserved Chinese characters were used for: writing questions like “will it rain” and “will it not rain” on two sides of a bone, putting the bone into a fire, and looking which side gets a crack from the heat. But of course this may be preservation bias.

  32. #32 David Marjanovi?
    June 25, 2007

    With agriculture you get the invention of “free time”.

    Precisely the opposite.

    However, agriculture made societies with more than 150 members possible, and so bureaucracy came into being. Sumerian writing was invented for bureaucracy — we have all the “transitional fossils” to show that.

    Chinese writing may have developed in connection to oracles. That’s what the earliest preserved Chinese characters were used for: writing questions like “will it rain” and “will it not rain” on two sides of a bone, putting the bone into a fire, and looking which side gets a crack from the heat. But of course this may be preservation bias.

  33. #33 Numad
    June 25, 2007

    He implies that he knows how to write, but does he know how to read?

  34. #34 David Marjanovi?
    June 25, 2007

    the of 65 million cabon dating tells us

    That’s not carbon, which only reaches back some 50,000 years. It’s chiefly potassium (one method) and uranium (another).

  35. #35 David Marjanovi?
    June 25, 2007

    the of 65 million cabon dating tells us

    That’s not carbon, which only reaches back some 50,000 years. It’s chiefly potassium (one method) and uranium (another).

  36. #36 Brownian
    June 25, 2007

    Doug, it is generally accepted that the Pliestocene epoch gave way to the Holocene epoch during that time period (the P-H boundary is usually given to be ~11,500 years BP.)

    Variously around the human-occupied world at that time we first start seeing humans settling down and practicing part-time plant husbandry to augment hunter-gatherer activities. Jared Diamond suggests that this was due to a need to ‘weather’ the glacial fluctuations characterising the climate at that time. For sources of evidence, I suggest the bibliographies of “Guns, Germs, and Steel” and “Collapse.” The global extinction of megafauna at that time would have also necessitated a greater reliance on plants as high-calorie food sources.

    Further, human cultures may have been ‘primed’ for such innovations back around 30,000 years BP. According to the ‘Grandmother Hypothesis’, an increase in life expectancy increased the proportion of post-menopausal women, who were then able to assist with child-rearing, material production, and most importantly, transmission of cultural knowledge and wisdom to younger members. This coincided with (and is thought to have led to) to a relative population explosion among modern humans world-wide: http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn6113

    To sum, it appears that cross-generational cultural transmission of knowledge increased about 30,000 years ago, leading to a population explosion of modern humans whose knowledge base began to accumulate exponentially. When these new cultural skills were tested by an increasingly fluctuating climate and a loss of large animal food sources, humans began to settle and practice more intensive forms of agriculture. Although agriculturists tend to work as hard if not harder than hunter-gatherers at procurring food, the ability to store food for lean times may provide a comparative advantage, but then requires a hierarchical social structure for allocation, and also creates some impetus for writing as a system of recording and tracking resources (in other words, what Stephen wrote.)

    The above is a rather simplified picture, and depends on some anthropological knowledge that is most certainly outdated by now, but this is a relatively conventional explanation for the question of “What interesting happened to the human species 10-30,000 years ago?”

    PS. Sorry for the lack of citations, but my manager keeps interrupting me with things I’m technically supposed to do as part of my job description which, for reasons I’m unable to fathom, doesn’t include posting on Pharyngula.

  37. #37 RAM
    June 25, 2007

    This is getting really stupid. Of course the entire universe was born on March 9, 1953- the day I was born. People don’t know that yet?
    Clearly, any date before Oct. 6, 1955 is an “antediluvian” date! I’ll bet as a kid you were playing with your pet coconut eating tyrannosaurus, and had neighbors named Fred and Wilma. Ken Hamm sez so!
    And do I need to even mention Pygmy’s vs.. Dwarfs!

  38. #38 dcbob
    June 25, 2007

    I love this argument! How come nobody thought of
    Post-its until 1968? How about sudoku? Culottes? Slurpies? Pet rocks? Yep, those Old Earth guys just don’t make no sense at all …

  39. #39 Corey Schlueter
    June 25, 2007

    If man has been around millions of years
    I never heard science claim that we have been around for “millions” of years.

  40. #40 Russell
    June 25, 2007

    Actually, history is far more recent than Pat Sullivan, Jr, suggests. Writing may go back several thousand years. But history is quite a bit more than writing. It involves the idea of investigating what has happened in social affairs, evaluating evidence, and recording a narrative on that basis, for the purpose of preserving that knowledge. It is quite a bit different from the writing of myth. Herodotus, who wrote a mere 2,500 years ago, often is credited as the first historian.

    We may have art from 40,000 years past, and various kinds of records from a few thousand years past. But history? That’s more recent.

  41. #41 woozy
    June 25, 2007

    This is getting really stupid. Of course the entire universe was born on March 9, 1953- the day I was born. People don’t know that yet?

    Wow! You’re really lucky that the universe was created when you were born.

    See for me the universe was first created on August 23, 1964 when I was playing under the porch. Then it disappeared until Nov. 14, 1964, my third birthday, for just one photoscopic instant. A few months later it started to exist continually which it has been doing since. (Although I’m beginning to be concerned as lately for certain periods in the past the universe has chosen to not exist whereas previously it had for those periods.) I imagine the universe will end sometime in the next forty or fifty years. In fact I think it will have never existed when it ends.

  42. #42 Gork
    June 25, 2007

    There are no compact disks older than about 25 years.

    Most kids are singing before they start kindergarten.

    Man evolved enough to suddenly figure out how to record his voice just a couple dozen years years ago? Hmmm.

  43. #43 Billy
    June 25, 2007

    Don’t you find it interesting that there were NO blogs prior to the mid-1990s? If man has been around millions of years why the heck did it take so long to learn to blog? Most kids can do it by 2nd grade! Humans evolved enough to suddenly figure out how to blog just a few years ago? Hmmm.

  44. #44 Greta Christina
    June 25, 2007

    What I really like is “Man evolved enough to suddenly figure out how to record his thoughts…” Does this lackwit really think that every human invention, from the wheel to agriculture to writing to Diet Vanilla Coke, has to be the result of evolution, or else evolution is bunk? Does he think the theory of evolution means we “evolved” enough to invent the printing press or gunpowder or the Hitachi Magic Wand?

    As to the “marketing” concept: Newtonian physics is easier to understand than relativity, too. That doesn’t make relativity wrong. And Newtonian physics is only easier to understand when you ignore the facts that don’t fit. Ditto creationism, but times 100. To make all the facts fit into creationism requires mental contortions that would make a French philosopher gasp in awe.

  45. #45 Brownian
    June 25, 2007

    Since Pat’s a ‘marketing guy’, I wrote the following on his blog:

    I suppose I might point out as a further example of ‘things that make you go hmmm’ that people have been selling and trading stuff for at least 10,000 years, but it took until the last forty years before we invented the infomercial, focus groups, Super Bowl commercials, and the ‘Where’s The Beef’ Lady.

    It’s nice to see that so far, there haven’t been any ID-sympathetic comments on his blog.

  46. #46 mikmik
    June 25, 2007

    Anyhooo, it’s still a straw man argument to say millions of years. Last I understand it, humans are aprox. 190,000 years old. Also, most kids are doing it by second grade, what, inventing recorded thought?

    Give him credit though, Pat Sullivan passed second grade and in fact he was so excited about being promoted to third grade that he almost cut himself shaving.

    Oh, apparently that joke was invented right about the time writing was. Sorry.

  47. #47 Stephen
    June 25, 2007

    It’s conceivable that pre-agricultural nomads may have invented some form of writing, but it should be obvious even to a creationist that nomads aren’t going to lug libraries of clay tablets around (must be scope for a Far Side cartoon there). While anything they may have scratched on birch-bark or bamboo will have long since gone the way of all things that microbes like to sink their teeth into.

  48. #48 woozy
    June 25, 2007

    The origin of written language isn’t the issue. (Wasn’t the common theory that written writing came about in Sumeria through keeping accounting records in clay balls.) The issue is being so ignorant of god knows what factors go into human culture and history that anyone can make such a comment without fear of appearing a complete idiot.

    The same goes for seriously arguing that something is more likely to be true because its easier to understand.

    Man being around for “millions of years”. I think this is refering to hominids. Isn’t there debate as to just how we destinguish which hominids are “human” and at what put we declare humans “modern humans”.

  49. #49 Glen Davidson
    June 25, 2007

    OK, it’s stupid, but it’s also important to note that this is actually how many creos “think”. Evidence is words, and other kinds of evidence are in many ways really and truly beyond them. Furthermore, how could humans exist without books and Bibles to tell them what to do and to dictate truth?

    Actually, the IDists haven’t really gotten past the “logocentric” fallacy either, and often argue that anything “coded” in the genome is ipso facto evidence of some author/designer. Dembski falls particularly hard for that nonsense, using his SETI “analogy”, while ignoring everything in the genome that looks to be the result of random and partly random processes, constraints from the past, and natural selection working by these processes and according to these constraints (which pretty much is everything in the genome).

    In a sense, Sullivan is simply asking how anything can originate without magic. For if chimps invented writing, there’d still be those millions of years before they did, and likewise with writing fishes, so why didn’t they begin writing before they began writing? Can’t answer that, can you?

    Well, in a sense we can (yes, agriculture needed records and allowed the sedentism in which the craft could be developed and records safely kept), but in a sense we can’t (why didn’t humans invent agriculture before ~10,000 BP?).

    ID sort of inverts it, asking how writing (humans) could exist without their genomes having been written? It’s the old genetic fallacy, of course, that writing in the genome gave rise to writing by humans (we might actually ask why it took the designer 4 billion years to get its results), for writing humans could never exist without God encoding the capacity in our genes. Yeah I know, it’s tiresome even to write out their nonsense.

    But of course they aren’t looking for actual origins of anything, rather assuming that intelligence is caused by intelligence, complexity is caused by complex intelligence (or simple intelligence–which is it for their God now?), and life is caused by life. It’s all “like causes like,” then, and one can simply assume that any likeness of organisms to our creations is evidence that the Greater intelligent cause is responsible for the lesser intelligent causes.

    Of course on our part it would be stupid to suppose that we wouldn’t invent (evolve) systems which mimic in some aspects (but only in some–it seems quite unlikely that anyone would want to make anything that acts just like DNA and its associated molecules and processes) the informational processes that evolved to produce us. But creos and IDists can’t imagine that anything doesn’t have an explanation that differs from our own actions, thus not only life but the universe itself must be “designed”.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/35s39o

  50. #50 kevinj
    June 25, 2007

    nicely reinforces my prejudice against sales staff. Never too good at thinking and sell what they think sounds pretty rather than what the system does

  51. #51 Kseniya
    June 25, 2007

    In other news, hardcore creationists admits to having mousetrap minds – they have all snapped.

    *laugh* Thorbear! XD

  52. #52 ken slamin
    June 25, 2007

    I thought the Earth was shown to be much younger..
    http://cryptobionic.blogspot.com/2007/06/once-upon-time.html

  53. #53 Kristine
    June 25, 2007

    Never trust any planet over thirty years old.

  54. #54 Caledonian
    June 25, 2007

    Frankly, I’m surprised more religious people don’t complain about organ donation and transplants – shouldn’t that carry a risk of somehow transferring part of a person’s soul into another body? There’s no particular reason people ought to believe the soul is attached to the brain, after all.

  55. #55 Owlmirror
    June 25, 2007

    Frankly, I’m surprised more religious people don’t complain about organ donation and transplants – shouldn’t that carry a risk of somehow transferring part of a person’s soul into another body? There’s no particular reason people ought to believe the soul is attached to the brain, after all.

    Well, presumably those sects that oppose blood transfusions also object to other transplants.

    Mary Roach’s Stiff has a chapter on how some people who received donated organs believe that they somehow “know” something about the donor, or that the personality of the donor is somehow affecting (infecting?) their own.

    Unsurprisingly, they are rarely correct.

  56. #56 Heather
    June 25, 2007

    What a great argument against evolution! And so lame…

    My own kids are 8 years old. There is so much they can already do – my son plays Wii and uses the flight simulator, and all three kids (even the 2 1/2 year old!) can use the phone – both landline and cellular. They can program the Tivo and start playing DVDs. They can take pictures with my fancy-ass $2800 digital camera. They can easily use the microwave to cook popcorn and hot pockets.

    It’s obvious evolution is a farce, based upon that. If they learned to do it in 8 years, why did it take so long to invent those things in the first place? All of those piece of evidence can be taken as proof positive, but the Hot Pockets is the most damning. After all, the juxtaposition of bread with meat and cheesy filling, all ready to eat within 90 seconds is obviously a divinely inspired product!

    But the microwave popcorn thing can be used as proof of Satan’s existence. For only a being of pure evil could make such a foul stench emanate from a small box as it does when my half-witted son cooks a mini-bag of popcorn using the full-size bag popcorn button on the microwave.

  57. #57 thwaite
    June 25, 2007

    Russell,
    In addition to Herodotus, there’s China’s Grand Historian, Sima Qian. Qian lived a bout a century later than Herodotus, but wrote about a longer history: back to the mythical Yellow Emperor, ca. 2,700-2,600BC.

    Doug and all,
    The incredibly long periods of stasis among various taxa of Homo including us are indeed noteworthy. Some neurobiology has been proposed:
    * In Julian Jaynes’ old romp The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind he proposed that viable integration of the two brain hemispheres didn’t occur until about 3kya ago via an expanded corpus collosum, and that prior to that the two were nearly autonomous with the ‘voice of the gods’ emerging from the language-dominant one. This proposed neurobiology hasn’t been supported, but his vivid rendering of the historical period is still worth reading.
    * Merlin Donald has proposed shifts in neurobiology also, though not with such specificity, more at the functional level of integrating via language the previously autonomous perceptual modules.
    …and there are others – it’s a flourishing field.

  58. #58 Krystalline Apostate
    June 25, 2007

    I think this cabbage patch kid must’ve read something by Anatoly Timofeevich Fomenko.

  59. #59 Sheldon
    June 26, 2007

    I have posted the following comment on the recent invention of writing at this Sullivan character’s blog. Thought I would share here.

    Pat,
    I have arrived to your blog, through links from others mainly to comment on something you wrote about the relatively recent history of writing.

    I found this quite comical. A little brief research into the context of how writing systems were invented would provide some answers to your confusion.

    First, it had little to do with evolved intelligence. Humans had the capacity in terms of intelligence for thousands of years before they invented writing.

    Writing came about with the sociopolitical evolution (not biological) of the state. Ancient states required record keeping to keep track of tribute like in Mesopotamia. Ancient elites also used writing to record their lineage and conquests to legitimize their social position such as the case of the Maya.

    More egalitarian social formations had no need for writing, and thus did not invent it. Thats the simple and short version of the story. Looking into the specific case studies would of course reveal more complexity in the story.

  60. #60 Ken G
    June 26, 2007

    it’s also fascinating to think what would happen if a major catasrophe killed almost everybody. What would the survivors be able to recreate of the old way? How many of us could build a functional computer, let alone the electricity generation system needed to drive it, from raw materials. Yes, cultural evolution is dynamic and started simple, developed and expanded. Rather like biological history!!

  61. #61 BlueIndependent
    June 26, 2007

    This person must’ve been sick the day they covered cave drawings in elementary school…

  62. #62 Dahan
    June 26, 2007

    Ken G, you remind me of a short story by Asimov called “Nightfall”. A truly amzing gift from a great writer. Haven’t read it in probably 20 years. Now I got to look it up again.

  63. #63 Chinchillazilla
    June 26, 2007

    INVENTING reading and writing of course takes a lot of effort. I learned to ride a bike pretty quickly, but it took a long time for humanity to learn how to make ’em.

    My friend and I tried to write our own language in eighth grade. Turns out? That’s actually pretty damn hard.

  64. #64 woozy (crossing threads)
    June 26, 2007

    The Pleistocene was intelligent and learned
    Until one day their social hierarchy turned
    By fools easily intimidated
    by the knowledge they subliminated
    And soon all written records were burned

    The real reason we don’t find written records more than ten thousand years old

  65. #65 Meret
    June 26, 2007

    As for the first writing, there’s a hot debate right now between Mesopotamian scholars and Egyptologists over who invented writing. I’m an Egyptologist myself, but I tend to fall in the camp that the concept was first invented in Mesopotamia, simply because we can see the development of clay bullae and marked slabs and then to tags, whereas in Egypt we are lacking the bullae and see ivory tags rather suddenly with what could be called proto-hieroglyphic, as well as the typical hash marks and figures.

    Fortunately for us, however, Egyptologists can claim the earliest datable writing in the world. Tomb U-j in Abydos, discovered in the late 80’s and published in the 90s, contains jars and ivory labels dated securely to around 3200 BC. Previously Mesopotamian scholars had placed writing as invented around 3000 or 3100, but of course with the find of this tomb they pushed back the invention by a few hundred years. =) Still, though the concept of writing was most likely brought into Egypt from outside (as was certain artistic styles and lapis lazuli), the earliest datable material does come from Egypt.

    As to why it took so long? Just look at the content of the earliest texts. It’s all administrative, basic record keeping. You don’t have an administration before you have a settled, established, and decent-sized society. There’s simply no need, when in smaller societies record keeping is done by one individual and it is all done by rote memory and oral contracts. Humans are lazy, lazy beings; we don’t invent squat until we find that there’s a need for it. What we would call “literary writing” is quite a late occurrence if you look at the vast amount of early archives. And even in societies that DO have writing early on, it’s not like more than 5-10% of the population would have made use of it. It was a tool of the administration and generally kept as perhaps not so much secret knowledge, but certainly handed down to a select and well-trained few. The arguments of the author are just painfully ignorant of any concept at all of how writing is developed and used, even in modern societies.

    And of course this is completely beside the fact that you would expect the earliest examples of writing to be very low in the stratigraphical levels of any area, and either not reached by archaeologists due to being covered over by 6,000+ years of settlement or simply not known about because nothing is there anymore to suggest a society was there 6000 or more years ago. Or does the author expect material buried for 10,000 years to just pop to the surface and wave its arms above its head until it’s discovered? Yeesh.

    By the way, has anyone asked him what the deal is with all of those African tribes who aren’t using writing yet?

  66. #66 David Marjanovi?
    June 26, 2007

    If man has been around millions of years
    I never heard science claim that we have been around for “millions” of years.

    woozy above is right: that’s a matter of definition. If “man” means “everything closer to us than to the chimps”, 7 million years sound good. If it’s “Homo sapiens sapiens“, try 200,000 years. If it’s anything in between…

  67. #67 David Marjanovi?
    June 26, 2007

    If man has been around millions of years
    I never heard science claim that we have been around for “millions” of years.

    woozy above is right: that’s a matter of definition. If “man” means “everything closer to us than to the chimps”, 7 million years sound good. If it’s “Homo sapiens sapiens“, try 200,000 years. If it’s anything in between…

  68. #68 Pat Sullivan
    June 26, 2007

    Apparently my question is/was interesting enough to generate so much comment. My comment was just a question looking for an answer and I appreciate the many answers here regarding why language and writing developed a relatively short time ago.

    Also, my point about the marketing power of a simple message was strictly from a marketing perspective. As a marketer, if 64% of my potential audience does not believe my message (meaning they are aware of the message) I would be concerned. Again, as a marketer. As a scientist I probably would not give a rat’s ass. In your case, perhaps that 64% can be ignored because it is not in your target audience or can simply be written off as too stupid and uneducated and religious. From my marketing viewpoint it seems that it is in the target audience and I was simply pointing that out.

    Finally, how easy it is to attack and easy target! On my blog I don’t pretend to be a scientist, only a person interested in science. Apparently, most of you are scientists judging by some of your comments. Scientists seem to have a lot of time on their hands. Unfortunately I don’t have that much time.

    I am however working on what I hope to be the last post on this subject in awhile that will state the observations of this layperson regarding the raging debate between evolution and ID. (You all of course say there is no debate even as you constantly debate.) I hope to have it done by tomorrow if I get time. So you might want to watch http://www.patsullivan.com so that you can have more fodder for your mostly ugly comments.

    Enjoy!

    Pat

  69. #69 tony
    June 26, 2007

    Pat

    You confuse ‘Debate among’ with ‘debate with’…

    Scientists debate among themselves about different interpretations and models for any area of study…. The scientific debate on evolution is just a little more visible at the moment!

    Scientists do NOT debate evolution with creationists…. A scientific debate requires (at least) two parties to actually make arguments that define their stance and seek to influence through ‘evidence’… something thoroughly lacking with creationists. The debate will occasionally polarize… but generally a consensus will arise supportinfg one view over others…. but this does not close or eliminate dissenting views… The debate is NEVER closed, although sometimes becomes sufficiently ‘uninteresting’ to remain very active!

    You’ll note that the majority of ‘debate’ you allude to is simply a request for evidence, and a refutation of evidence presented. Not what I’d call a debate!

  70. #70 Kseniya
    June 26, 2007

    Scientists seem to have a lot of time on their hands.

    Oh, if I had a dime for every time I’ve seen that under-handed insult…

    The ‘debate’ […] is […] [n]ot what I’d call a debate!

    Right! 😉

    Here’s the debate, Pat:

    1. Creationist enters, for the 1,000th time, armed with pre-formed conclusion.
    1. Creationist dumps, for the 1,000th time, the usual assortment of out-of-date and hopelessly uninformed canards into the discussion.
    1. Creationist is supplied, for the 1,000th time, with vast resources of evidence and explanations of the evidence which refute the canards and support the theory evolution.
    1. Creationist dismisses, for the 1,000th time, all evidence out of hand because it does not fit with the pre-formed conclusion (see Step 1, above.)
    1. Creationist labels, for the 1,000th time, scientists as “closed-minded” and “dogmatic” for being annoyed at the endless repetition of Step 1 (above) and for refusing to concede defeat in the face of all the non-evidence.

    “Do I paint an accurate picture, or do I exaggerate?”

  71. #71 tony
    June 26, 2007

    Kseniya

    I assume all the steps are (1) since they never seem to get beyond that point?

    😉

  72. #72 tony
    June 26, 2007

    I wonder what kind of marketing Pat is involved in…

    If he [always] gets >64% belief in his messages, he must be selling something pretty basic, or to some pretty gullible people (or both)

  73. #73 Kseniya
    June 26, 2007

    Tony… Nah. Nothing quite so literal. It was the sense of numbing, pointless, frustrating, Sisyphean dead-end repetition that I was going for.

    I think big, but all I have to work with is this miniature-golf pencil of a mind…

  74. #74 thwaite
    June 26, 2007

    FWIW I posted this over on Sullivan’s blog:

    Pat Sullivan,

    Are you are interested in explaining evolutionary ideas in ways which persuade more than a third of the general audience? There’s significant recent literature on why the concepts aren’t intuitive, in somewhat the same way as the earth circling the sun is unintuitive, to which your contributions could be welcome. Examples:

    The Intelligent Design controversy: lessons from
    psychology and education (.pdf file)
    Tania Lombrozo1, Andrew Shtulman1 and Michael Weisberg2
    TRENDS in Cognitive Sciences Vol.10 No.2 February 2006

    “Perspective: Teaching Evolution in Higher Education”
    Brian Alters, Craig Nelson, Evolution, v56n10, Oct 2002, pp. 1891-1901
    (this require subscriptions, sigh)

    Evolution and Devolution of Knowledge: A Tale of Two Biologies”
    Scott Atran, D. Medin, N. Ross, J. Royal Anthropological Institute, v10, 2004, pp. 395-420.

  75. #75 Pat Sullivan
    June 26, 2007

    Kseniya,

    Yes, you exaggerate.

    Pat

  76. #76 thwaite
    June 27, 2007

    (If I were more cynical I’d expect my contribution will end up as another iteration of step 1 in Kseniya’s list… )

  77. #77 woozy
    June 27, 2007

    My comment was just a question looking for an answer and I appreciate the many answers here regarding why language and writing developed a relatively short time ago.

    Pat,
    You make three mistakes. Your first forming the wrong null hypothesis in a assuming the developing writing is a “simple” thing and that its development only in the last 5% of our existance is a “relatively short time”. Developing writing is an incrediably complicated and complex thing and many, if not most, never developed it. A more relevant question would be “What occured 10,000 years ago (if anything) that allowed us to create written language at all” (hint: ice age. Hint: fertile crescent).

    Taking lack of written language appearing “late” as evidence of they youth of man, is akin to assuming gorilla’s have big nostrils because they have big fingers.

    Sorry, we scoffed but our initial reaction was one of incredulous surprise at something that was surprisingly naive. A bit like most people our age skoff when they hear a teenager say “I never knew Paul McCarthy was in a band before Wings”. (Actually the jokes on us that we should be surprised. I’d be surprised that a teenager would have ever heard of Paul McCarthy.)

    Second, you assume evolutionists apply evolution to any form of progress; that we developed language when we “evolved” to be advanced to use it, or that evolutionists believe “evolve” for a purpose. This is simply a misunderstanding as to what evolution is. Despite all our advances in nuclear physics and post-modern religion Homo Sapian Sapian hasn’t evolved in any significant way (other than some slight domestication) since we first appeared on the scene some 100 to 200 thousand years ago. There was no grand plan that we’d invent language, and go to the moon, or run the six minute mile to which we galantly stepped to the plate and evolve. We simply needed to be able to walk upright since leaving the trees, be able to juggle carrying food and two or three brats on our hips, and to adapt to new environments. We had 90,000 years to get used to that much before we got around to written language.
    We can not “evolve” into written language because there is no natural selection to kill the illiterate. We were every bit as capible to learn written language (or nuclear physics) 200,000 years ago were there some one to teach us but it takes tens of thousands of years for us to figure it out.

    Third, although we have no record of written language prior to 10,000 years ago, we have records of painted and drawn depictions going back 60,000 years. I had an art history professor who once said that if her class were to study art in proportion to the time period of their influence, then we should spend the first nine weeks of the ten week course studying the paleolithic and the last week studying everything else.

  78. #78 Pat Sullivan
    June 27, 2007

    Woozy,

    Thanks much for your patient and gracious explanation. So unusual!

    I was thinking this evening while at a business gathering how so much ranting (not you but virtually all the others here and on Orac) could come from a simple post that I did in about 10 minutes or so. Had I known it would create such an uproar I definitely would have spent more time on it.

    Many of my posts are simply informal observations. In fact, I added the language question at the last minute mainly because it simply struck me as interesting. To see how folks are so ready to trash me or anyone like me is actually rather amusing. I feel like saying “get a life!”

    In addition, my post really was about marketing. Not ID or evolution primarily. I simply found it interesting that Gallup reported that 64% of people surveyed believed we were created. Stats like that are interesting to my marketing mind (though most here would say I don’t have a mind being so stupid)

    Is it possible that the reaction here and on Orac reveals a level of uptightness that should not exist among secure, thoughtful, reasonable scientists? Seems way overboard to me. But what do I know?

    Again thanks for your civil comments.

    Pat

  79. #79 woozy
    June 27, 2007

    Pat,

    I don’t think I was any more civil than most of the other posters. After all, I *did* call your idea “increduously naive” and claimed you didn’t understand evolution properly. And I did respond to your comment about written language, with a crude joke about a gorilla picking his nose, didn’t I?
    That isn’t to say I *want* to be concidered uncivil. I’m always interested in debate but only if I think someone might be open to listening, or might have something interesting to say to me. However, the vast majority of creationists *are* precisely as ksinya describes and giving them the time of day just isn’t worth the effort.
    The thing is, there *is* no issue. Evolution and epoch-spanning geography are known facts beyond any questionable doubt and creationism simply is no more an option than Nordic mythology.
    It isn’t that scientists aren’t interested in thoughtful discourse; they just know there can’t be any “thoughtful discourse” with anyone who has not taken time to view the evidence or who has deliberately ignored the evidence to hold onto an unsupportable premise.
    This is reasonable. A sailor wouldn’t tolerate a layman insisting “but can’t I build a sailboat for the land”. An electrician wouldn’t tolerate a person saying “can’t I get my electricity by sending positive affirmations.”
    Perhaps in sales you view those ignorant of your profession differently as people to persuade or sell to.

    Also this isn’t really a board for debate. PZ Myers is very upfront about his opinion. He, personally, is not just pro-evolution and anti-creationism. He is actively anti-religion and which he views as incrediably stupid and backwardly superstitious. This is his right. I would call him “adamant” but I would never call him closed-minded as he reached these opinions from a lifetime of objective studies and research and life experience.

    This board really serves as a venting space. When PZ finds something that he finds particularly stupid he vents a “Can you believe this?” vent. Then others who feel much the same will commisserate.

    You say you find it interesting when a Gallup poll reports the 64% of people believe we were created. Try to think how someone who has dedicated his life to science, rational thought, and the desemination of knowledge would feel about this news. It’s akin to hearing 64% of people didn’t read a book last year. Or that 84% of high school students can’t find the United States on a map.

    It’s natural to respond to a poll that states 64% of the country disagree with you that you most be wrong. But remember, the scientists have spent their *lives* dedicated to understanding the world, to knowledge and to truth. They have explored all evidence of the world and suppressed their egos and calmly and rationally weighed every proposition and questioned and weighed *every* one of their preconcieved beliefs. And they have found the evidence for evolution is irrefutible and creationism is utterly without any grounding. And yet after 150 years of patient science education, the public at large simply feel more comfortable accepting baseless belief and prefer to believe scientists are closed-minded meanies who just hate God.

    So “Is it possible that the reaction here ..reveals a level of uptightness that should not exist among secure, thoughtful, reasonable scientists”? In short, No.

  80. #80 tony
    June 27, 2007

    Pat

    You said

    To see how folks are so ready to trash me or anyone like me is actually rather amusing. I feel like saying “get a life!”

    It may surprise you to know — we (most of us) have a life!

    It tends to be rich in discourse and study, it tends to be filled with true wonder and discovery, and continual realization of how little we know…. and how much more we want to know.

    Contrast with the Xian/fundie/IDiot ‘life’…

    I know what I know ‘cos the good book told me!
    I don’t need no ‘scientist’ telling me I came from no ape!
    Trust in the lord!
    I’m born again in Jesus – I don’t need nuthin’ else!
    Science is just an evil plot to steal souls for the devil!

    and so on…

    When Xians ‘debate’ they are generally comparing interpretations of a single book. About as useful as arguing the best way to masturbate (what rocks your boat may not rock mine)

    Scientists and athiests (in general) don’t work that way.

    We’re open to new thoughts, and generally don’t ‘believe’ in anything — except how great it is to simply exist and learn and share!

    It’d be nice if we found a similar openness in the religious hegemony… but we generally don’t

  81. #81 tony
    June 27, 2007

    To Pat.

    One last comment…

    It appears that in your case, language and writing indeed developed a relatively short time ago.

    You seem unable to comprehend the difference between meaning and awareness, between fact and fiction, between claim and evidence.

    If you are a marketer, then your product must be as easy to market as beer to college kids. (Yes – I’m saying you are not persuasive, and therefore must be a very poor marketer)

  82. #82 Rey Fox
    June 27, 2007

    I’d like to make another law related to Godwin. That is, when one participant in an online argument invokes “get a life”, then (s)he has lost the argument. Perhaps I’ll call it “Adams’ Law”, after the great Scott “I’m Just Funnin’ Over Here!” Adams.

  83. #83 tony
    June 27, 2007

    we should call it Fox’s Law after the guy who brought it to our attention….

  84. #84 Kseniya
    June 27, 2007

    Pat: I wasn’t asking you. :-p

    Rey: I think it’s already been identified as Shatner’s Law.

  85. #85 Rey Fox
    June 27, 2007

    Nah, I’m too modest. And this isn’t my real name anyway. Shatner’s Law sounds good, but when he said “Get a life”, he wasn’t trying to use it as a “Get Out Of Criticism Free” card.

  86. #86 SEF
    July 8, 2007

    NB “Paul McCarthy” in context of band called Wings = “Paul McCartney”.

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