Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Just another PZMyers/PowerLine beatdown.

It has to be frustrating for poor PZ, wondering whether he should be wasting his time rebutting such indescribable ignorance.

From Powerline I learned how stupid some people can be.

This AP headline caught my eye: Expert: Apes May Be Key to Human Nature. This strikes me as odd. I would think that humans provide better clues to human nature than apes, and we have thousands of years of human history, not to mention six billion or so living humans, to draw on for information about human nature. But the idea of drawing conclusions about humans from observations of apes has a long history, and shows no signs of going away. Why is that? I suspect it's because some people don't like what human history and human behavior tell us about human nature.

Strangely, while I would normally feel anger at such self-absorbed ignorance from a pundit, these comments stepped so far outside the bounds of what we know that I could only feel pity. Poor John Hinderaker; so unaware, so close-minded, so wrong. He sits there smug and insulated, not knowing that right there in his city there are people who are working to derive the history and function of his every molecule, tracing them right back to those apes he finds irrelevant, and further to fish and bugs and worms and the little invisible germs proliferating on his body. How can we understand human nature if we ignore its antecedents?

The conventional view is that religion in general, and Catholicism in particular, represents a backward, primitive way of looking at the world, and especially at human nature, compared to modern, progressive science. But who do you think has a more sophisticated understanding of human nature: Cardinal Ratzinger, the new pope, or the researcher who believes that studying bonobos can enable humans to construct an "ideal world"?

Cardinal Ratzinger is an ape. He is driven by oh-so-typical ape motivations, the desire for dominance, the need to control the reproductive behavior of other members of his clan, the back-and-forth of social feedback. His brain contains circuits of reward and punishment we can find in rats. His neurotransmitters and the signalling cascades that modulate his neuronal activity are present in worms. The ion channels that mediate transmembrane potentials are inherited from single-celled eukaryotes. The machinery of his cells can be mapped back billions of years. I suspect that troop of primates dwelling in the Vatican could learn a great deal from the objective eye of a primatologist.

Who has the more sophisticated understanding of human nature: the man who thinks he can squeeze our history into a span of a few thousand years and the isolated vision of a single species and worse, the limited traditions of a single culture, or the one who aspires to comprehend the full breadth and depth of our place in the universe?

Jesus Christ, Time, what have you been mainlining lately? First these PowerLine dipshits as Blog of the Year, and then that Ann Coulter lovefest. I mean, what the fuck?

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