TeeJaw Blog

I Might Still Be Able To Outrun a Neanderthal

Posted in evolutionary biology by TeeJaw on Saturday, February 5, 2011, 10: 07 AM

Having been a lifelong runner, for pleasure as well as exercise, I was interested in this article in the New Scientist holding forth on the running abilities of Neanderthals. Apparently, there has been a running controversy for some time over Neanderthals’ inferior running ability. The article claims it is now settled that a Neanderthal would lose a race with a modern human. It’s something to do with their achilles tendon. The achilles tendon in modern humans stores energy and puts a spring in our step. (I thought it was the sight of a pretty girl that did that).

Sluggish Neanderthals lacked a springy achilles. It’s anybody’s guess as to why. It could be that unlike the mods on the African plain who lived off large animals that had to be chased down, the Neanderthal lived in a cool mountain climate and captured their prey by lying in wait to ambush them. Natural selection did not exert any pressure to develop an unnecessary skill.

Or it could have a lack of feminine pulchritude. Neanderthals were short, squat, and heavy-boned people.

I’ve found out the hard way that it isn’t just the achilles tendon that is needed to be a runner. The ham string muscle is pretty important also. Mine was torn a few years back, putting an end to my running career. Tears, unlike strains, don’t heal. The orthopedist explains it this way: You can’t suture muscle any easier than you could suture two pieces of custard pie together.

It’s no coincidence that “tear” and “tear” are spelled identically.


Answering Rush Limbaugh’s Rants Against Darwin

Posted in Culture, evolutionary biology, History by TeeJaw on Saturday, November 6, 2010, 12: 07 PM

Nothing here is meant to denigrate Rush Limbaugh for his rants against Darwin and Evolution by Natural Selection. He’s entitled to his opinion. In most things his opinions are right. You know, 99.6% of the time. But on Darwin and evolution he could not be more wrong. I guess that’s the other 0.4% of the time.

I wanted to write a post answering Rush because my hair hurts when he goes off on “Darwinism.” I thought a good start would be to cite the last sentence Darwin wrote in The Origin of Species:

“There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, are being, evolved.”

Also, the first two sentences at the beginning of the paragraph immediately preceding Darwin’s last paragraph:

“Authors of the highest eminence seem to be fully satisfied with the view that each species has been independently created. To my mind it accords better with what we know of the laws impressed on matter by the Creator that the production and extinction of the past and present inhabitants of the world should have been due to secondary causes, like those determining the birth and death of the individual.”

These are not the words of a man deserving of the terrible motives Rush attributes to him. In a way, Rush is treating Darwin in a manner similar to the way liberals treat Rush. That is, they level vicious criticism based upon what they have heard from others and not on any assessment they themselves have made by listening to Rush’s own words on his radio show.

Rush never cites anything Darwin ever actually wrote. Most of what Rush uses to attack Darwin are things other people wrote about Darwin, many of them proponents of a later political movement that went by the name of “Social Darwinism,” a perverse distortion of Darwin’s theory of natural selection and a movement Darwin never had anything to do with. Rush likes to use the term “Darwinism” which makes people think of Social Darwinism more than of Darwin’s actual writings on natural selection as the basis for evolutionary development of life on earth [not the beginning of life itself, nothing in Darwinian theory attempts to explain that]. The term “survival of the fittest” appears nowhere in Darwin’s writings and was coined by Herbert Spencer, but Rush attributes it to Darwin. The term always refers to Social Darwinism which was a movement to justify social policies which show no sympathy for those unable to support themselves.

Darwin’s own cousin Francis Galton relied on social interpretations of Darwin’s biological theories to foster ideas that coalesced into the notion that inferior and impaired people ought not be allowed to reproduce and that later went under the name of eugenics, a doctrine taken over and advanced by Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood.

Darwin had nothing to do with any of these things but those who rush to criticize Darwin and evolution who, like Rush, haven’t read Darwin himself or any credible scholarship on Darwin and basically don’t know what they are talking about, are wont to attribute every conceivable social problem to Darwin and his theory of evolution by natural selection.

Rush is driven not by any accumulated knowledge about Darwin but solely by the fact that many on the political left readily accept Darwin’s theory. A better reaction would be to imagine that even those as misguided and confused as liberals are entitled to be right about something, although I think Rush is probably correct that many on the left misinterpret Darwinian ideas as justifying the agenda of Planned Parenthood.

Rush Limbaugh, of all people, should not be so unfairly criticizing as humble and sincere a man as Charles Darwin, given that Rush himself is a constant victim of similar attacks.

Larry Arnhart, a professor at The University of Illinois, writes the blog Darwinian Conservatism. He has thoroughly debunked the sort of criticism of Darwin that Rush practices even though he did not direct his blog post to Rush or even mention Rush at all. He is instead writing in answer to the views expressed by one John West in The Intercollegiate Review.

Nevertheless, Mr. Arnhart’s refutations of West are equally applicable to Rush, since West’s views on Darwin are nearly identical to those that have been announced by Rush many times over on his radio show. Professor Arnhart even begins with the same quotes from The Origin of Species that I had in mind. Not that I’m so smart, these are the obvious quotes one would choose to use because the anti-Darwinists always ignore them.

Please read John West’s God by Larry Arnhart, for a thorough review of the unfortunate confusion that arises in people who have their religious views threatened by the possibility that the cycle of life might actually be driven by natural forces.

If you read Professor Arnhart carefully I think you will find that he does a bang up job of refuting that flapdoodle nonsense called “intelligent design” as well, at least as it’s presented and described by creationists at the so-called “Discovery Institute.”

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