Comments on Sewell...

This article was on the main YAHOO page today

Is this what passes for intelligent debate? We'll blame Darwin for Columbine, and school shootings in Finland? And setting up scientists as the evil and unreliable determiners of human fate? OK, yes, I know that Darwin had some wacky ideas about race. But I accept evolution as fact. Darwin's limitations do not take away from this.

To the first point. Yes, we should always reassess any scientific hypothesis. This is the purpose of science. But confusing the opinions of Darwin with the evidence for evolution is misleading at best.

Second point. I don't think I should really dignify this with a response. But here it goes. Any idea can be twisted to serve as an excuse for someone's behavior. The devil made me do it, God told me to shoot those people, Darwin wanted me to be the sword of natural selection...and so on. Lame.

Third comment...human beings are the most important life forms on Earth. This is an idea that I believe allows people to disrespect life. Human beings are part of life on this planet, we are connected to it and what we do to the rest of the living beings on this planet, human or not, affects us.

Fourth. Science as an interest group. Good. We all get together and make dastardly plans in smoky back rooms...someday maybe I'll be invited.

Fifth. Eugenics was used to further ideas that are still in our society. Genetics wasn't the cause of it. Using genetics to look at traits in human populations is not Eugenics. Evolutionary psychology is trying to understand something about the effect of genetics on behavior. Some of it is pseudoscience. Genes make proteins and those proteins can affect how your neurons are formed and work. Not a big leap to think that those things might affect behavior. It is a big leap to say that "scientists" will then develop breeding programs for humans.

Sixth. No one is proposing that we start a eugenics program! This isn't even a criticism of Darwin. It is criticism of knowledge. He is basically saying that we shouldn't look at human behavioral genetics because someone might get the idea to start up a Eugenics program. NS.

Seventh. I have to quote it. "What has the theory of evolution done for the practical benefit of humanity? It's helped our understanding of ourselves, yet compared to, say, the discovery of penicillin or the invention of the World Wide Web, I wonder why Darwin occupies this position at the pinnacle of esteem. I can only imagine he has been put there by a vast public relations exercise."

This sort of criticism shows a lack of understanding of biology. The example of penicillin is amusing. Has he heard of the evolution of resistance to penicillin in bacteria? Without an understanding that the strong selection of an antibiotic on a population of bacteria can increase the frequency of a mutation that allows the bacteria to be resistant to penicillin (natural selection!!), we wouldn't have understood why our antibiotics don't work so well anymore. Infectious disease modeling relies on evolution to understand how infectious disease change over time and evolve new strains that are more pathogenic and drug resistant, and determine the source of infection. SARS, HIV, influenza anyone??

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