Humans nearly wiped out? Damn. So close…

http://www.cnn.com/2008/TECH/04/24/close.call.ap/index.html?iref=mpstoryview

The human population at that time was reduced to small isolated groups in Africa, apparently because of drought, according to an analysis released Thursday.

The report notes that a separate study by researchers at Stanford University estimated the number of early humans may have shrunk as low as 2,000 before numbers began to expand again in the early Stone Age.

Ah, the little virus-with-shoes almost didn’t make it.

1. Every article that tells us that the world is older than 3,000 years delights me immensely. This move surely drives fundamentalist Christians nuts, and I love it when fundamentalist Christians are irritated. I won’t bullshit you here. I delight in it. Look, evolution occurred, and if you can’t handle that, you deserve irritation.

2. One thing that irritates ME, however (and perhaps you delight in my irritation–good for you), is the use of such phrases as “Mitochondrial Eve.” It gives way too much credence to the Talking-Snake theory of origin (Thank you, David Cross). On the other hand, it does hijack the term “Eve” and bastardize it to an extent that fundies can’t swallow.

I bet the ID people will try to turn it around and invoke “Mitochondrial Eve” as evidence for their belief in the Intelligent Designer… I think you can see how such an argument would go….

-MC Spanky McGee

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About MC_Spanky_ McGee

Spanky really likes Wendy's #6, and does not buy the so-called purist's prohibition against adding onions or pepperjack to Spicy Chicken. Spanks also rocks out El Burrito Loco in DeKalb, IL. Winners: Arby's, Taco Bell, and Burger King. Losers: Taco John's and people who don't cuss. Slappy is a firm believer in evolution, loves his iPod, and does not like the Republican Party. Slappy also likes double-bass-driven metal (Tool, Lamb of God, etc), funk, classic rock, but also likes classical and pop music.

22 thoughts on “Humans nearly wiped out? Damn. So close…

  1. More evidence with which to take on the ID crowd? I don’t think so. Surely the thing about a belief is that cannot be proved or disproved. Therefore debating with fundamentalists is a fool’s errrand…akin to arguing with a schizophrenic about the content of his delusions.

    I don’t have a problem with ‘Mitochondrial Eve’. These fairy tales are part of our common heritage, and do provide insights into humanity, much like tales by Homer, Aesop and the Brothers Grimm.

  2. I wonder how white supremacists handle evidence of the African origins of homo sapiens? Perhaps a good number of them are fundamentalist Christians? But don’t think I’m implying that a good number of fundamentalist Christians are white supremacists. “If A then B” doesn’t imply “If B then A.” Anyway…

  3. But I do feel compelled to call you out on your saying: “Ah, the little virus-with-shoes almost didn’t make it.” For all of your beefs about human stupidity, etc., your ginger balls can’t be so twisted that you would rather none of us, including yourself, existed. I often enough find myself wishing the human population of the earth was drastically smaller, but I sure as hell wouldn’t volunteer. So come on man!

  4. Surely the thing about a belief is that IT (i.e ‘the belief’) cannot be proved or disproved.

    Hopefully that is clearer.

  5. Unfortunately it’s not. I’m sympathetic to the idea that certain beliefs–perhaps beliefs affirming the existence or non-existence of god–cannot be proved. But even then, I’m not entirely sure on what is meant here by “proof” or “proved.” One might mean something like “conclusively verified,” but if that is what is meant, then surely not all beliefs are incapable of conclusive verification. And the latter may be the case simply because it is not clear what it would mean to conclusively verify a particular belief. For example, I presently believe that I am experiencing various colors (those wonderful colors of the S. Trumpet). But I’m not sure what it would mean to verify, conclusively or not, the belief that I am having certain color experiences (note that I am not talking about verifying whether I am experiencing soupy trumpet colors). I’m not entirely sure, but I am inclined to think that I cannot be mistaken about the way things seem to me (in the sense of present experience). I may be mistaken about there actually being an undulating Powell Peralta poster on the wall because I took some mescaline a little bit ago, but can I be mistaken in my beliefs about how it seems to me to be, i.e., undulating?
    All this is a long-winded way of trying to say that it is not at all clear what it means to say of all beliefs that none of them can be proved or disproved, which is what I take “Surely the thing about a belief is that IT (i.e ‘the belief’) cannot be proved or disproved” to mean.
    Other beliefs that I agree do fall into that category are those like “There are no aliens.” It would be difficult (impossible?) to prove that belief. But surely there are beliefs that can be proved others disproved and still others that it is not clear what the hell it would mean to prove or disprove them, as in the case of the way things appear to my conscious awareness.

  6. Talking about clarity, I think there was a little too much mescaline in that response.

    Proof is meant here in the scientific ie ‘Popperian’ sense. For example objective methods can be used to determine the status of your poster, and exclude the subjective assessment. However, if you BELIEVE that it is undulating then no amount of contrary proof will undo that since belief and proof lie in different realms.

    Another example. Regardless of the objective evidence for evolution believers will always come up with a response. My favorite is that the devil fabricated the evidence to lead us astray.

  7. I’d love to hear what exactly was unclear about my last post (I’m not doubting that there was unclarity there). But regarding what you most recently said:

    “Proof is meant here in the scientific ie ‘Popperian’ sense. For example objective methods can be used to determine the status of your poster, and exclude the subjective assessment.”

    Insofar as you or anyone determines the status of the poster, it seems to me that such a determination will consist in the confirmation, i.e., proof, of a belief. Or maybe you want to say that other beliefs are disconfirmed, e.g., “The poster is undulating,” but then that would still imply the confirmation of other beliefs, e.g., “The poster is not undulating.”

    Next:
    “However, if you BELIEVE that it is undulating then no amount of contrary proof will undo that since belief and proof lie in different realms.”

    I don’t think you have understood my point.

    Next:
    “Another example. Regardless of the objective evidence for evolution believers will always come up with a response. My favorite is that the devil fabricated the evidence to lead us astray.”

    This is a far cry from implying that NO beliefs can be proved or disproved. I agree that it cannot be proved or disproved that the devil has or has not lead us astray. But unless you are going to say that knowledge requires that you could not possibly be wrong, we certainly can prove any number of beliefs, e.g., ones concerning evolution. If certain fundamentalists refuse to believe the evidence supports the claims about evolution, that doesn’t mean anything about whether that evidence is good evidence or not. Beliefs and truth are fundamentally different; and I do not believe that knowledge requires infallibility.

    Insofar as any of the above is unclear, take a few philosophy courses (and do well in them).

  8. “since Eve”? Please, spare me, I outgrew fairy tales long ago. To think that CNN would even allow that in a news item is enough to send me to Fox News. Sheesh!

  9. It is unclear as to which part is unclear.

    With regard to the last ad hominum comment about philosophy courses, and presuming you attended or taught a few yourself, I would say that you are poor evidence of their benefits.

    ‘Beliefs and truth are fundamentally different’ (Your words)

    That is precisely what I am saying.

    And moreover, knowledge requires fallibility.

    Rejoice, indeed!

  10. No, you said “belief and proof lie in different realms” and that is not the same thing as saying that belief and truth are fundamentally different.

    And I do apologize for my “ad hominum” [sic]; it was the result of losing patience.

  11. Well, granted my formulation is a little more poetic. Conceptually I think we’re pretty close here.

    And yes, I will accept your apology, and also forgive the sarcastic little ‘sic’. [I was not aware of the high standards of proof reading required on these posts.]

    Good exchanging thoughts with you.

  12. I don’t think it is just a matter of different modes of expression.
    Truth and belief are separate, I would argue, since S’s believing X does not make X true (unless perhaps X is a belief about S’s believing X, or something like that). And X can be true regardless of whether anyone believes X.
    On the other hand belief and proof are different insofar as S can believe X even without having proof or evidence for X (in which case we might say S is irrational, though perhaps S has a pragmatic as opposed to epistemic reason for believing X). Also S can believe not X even if there is proof or evidence for X.
    [And there are other differences one might point out.]

    But none of the above supports the idea that beliefs do not admit of proof or disproof.

    However, we probably are more on the same page than not.

    It is good to write about these things.

  13. OK mein freund, I’ll try one more time.

    You may believe I’m an idiot. Once that is refuted (IQ tests etc) you may continue to hold that belief, disregarding the proof/truth. I could then provide you with overwhelming evidence of my sagacity.

    Possibility A: At some point you may relent. It is no longer a belief. You have moved away from that realm and into one in which logic and scientific principles reign.
    Possibility B: You never relent. No amount of facts will ever make you change your fixed idea. It continues to be a belief

    [On the oher hand, maybe I am an idiot. I should certainly get back to doing some real work!]

  14. There seems to be a disagreement here about what a belief is, probably parallel to the classic problem concerning the word “theory.”

    Sich and I would prolly agree that the following are beliefs:

    “Santa Claus exists.”

    “You are trying to kill me.”

    “I am hungry.”

    “2+2=4″

    “A & ~A”

    “Only squares are polygons.”

    “All humans will die.”

    Some of these are true and some of them are false. Some are necessarily true, some are necessarily false. Also, there are different kinds of justification involved with some of them. Some are unwarranted (“You’re trying to kill me.”)

    Beliefs need not be falsifiable to be beliefs. “There seems to be a patch of red before me” cannot be falsified. But it is a belief. Whether it is true that there *is* a patch of red before me is another issue.

    At any rate, it sounds to me like you two are not connecting on some of your fundamental terms of conversation.

    Peace out, Napoleon.

  15. So, Ehud Ur writes:
    “Possibility A: At some point you may relent. It is no longer a belief. You have moved away from that realm and into one in which logic and scientific principles reign.
    Possibility B: You never relent. No amount of facts will ever make you change your fixed idea. It continues to be a belief.”

    Which seems to be basically an example of what I said, namely:
    “On the other hand belief and proof are different insofar as S can believe X even without having proof or evidence for X (in which case we might say S is irrational, though perhaps S has a pragmatic as opposed to epistemic reason for believing X). Also S can believe not X even if there is proof or evidence for X.”

    So….I’m not even sure what we are arguing about any more.
    Thanks to Spankypants for speaking up.

    There probably is a certain amount of talking past one another going on here.

    Aber jetzt ist es mir egal…

  16. My problem with the whole ID debate is that you can hardly tell the two sides apart. If science is defined as what is reproducible and measurable in a laboratory, then must of what I hear from both sides is actually belief and not science. I think this is more a discussion of philosophy then science on either side. In this article, for example, they talk about only 2,000 people being left. I would like to read the rest of the research to see how they arrived at that conclusion. It is not presented here but readers take the statement as ‘science’. If you disagree with it you are labeled with the kinds of terms used in this blog. Science will advance a lot further a lot faster when theories of any kind are actually questioned. Today ‘science’ is more sacred than the philosophers stone and you better not question it.

  17. @ bcoop:

    Science is questioned–all the time. It is up to professionals to check each other’s work.
    Why do you think that Newton got overthrown when it came to subatomic physics? It couldn’t have happened without further investigation and questioning.

    I disagree completely with your claim that science can’t be questioned.

    Go to a dissertation defense at a university. You’ll see what goes on.

    When bullshit questions are asked of science, of course they’re brushed aside.

  18. My impression, for what it’s worth, from reading popular science books/articles, and from talking to a few people doing scientific research, and from reading peer-reviewed science journals in neurology (because of my wife’s neuro-muscular disorder), is that those doing the research and presenting it to other people doing research, e.g., in peer-reviewed journals, are much more cautious in their claims concerning the interpretation of data. However, when a (science) journalist reports on some finding (interpretation of data) the claims made are put in much less cautious terms. (I am often very frustrated by the misleading headlines of articles having to do with science and medicine.)
    In the article at the heart of this thread, the point was to summarize some finding (interpretation of data). It would certainly be interesting to see the data and reasons for the interpretation of it presented in the article. However, just because the popular science article leaves that out does not have a damn thing to do with whether the claims made by the researches is in the same category as claims made by ID supporters.

  19. @Ehud (coincidentally the name of may favorite Biblical judge): I do agree with Spanky and SF that there is some confusion in the claim that beliefs can be neither proven nor disproven. A couple of thoughts about belief:

    1) It might be possible to prove or disprove THAT someone HAS a certain belief. You might claim to believe in God, but when I really push you on it, you might not be able to tell me anything about that God. (I.e., you might realize that ‘God’ is an “empty” term for you, and that you don’t really believe anything at all about God or what God is like.) Or, given the evidence (his statements, behavior, etc.) I may truthfully utter that SF believes the poster is undulating (regardless of whether or not it is). This, too, is an empirical fact, capable of being true or false.

    2) The propositional content of a belief may be either true or false. For example, the content of the belief “There is an intelligent designer who created life on this planet” may be either T or F. Now, there may be no way we know of right now to figure out whether it is T or F, but that does not mean it is not an empirical question as to whether or not there is a designer. Future experience may demonstrate it to be true (or not).

    3) There are some beliefs that we might call “self-fulfilling beliefs,” where the content of the belief becomes true via the believer’s forming of that belief. For example, take a train passenger’s belief that if he stands up to hijackers, others will follow suit. His believing this proposition may help to make it true. (Or, say, my believing that you like me might contribute to making it true that you do like me.) Other examples may include beliefs about what you are going to do next, etc.

    4) You note that “debating with fundamentalists is a fool’s errrand…akin to arguing with a schizophrenic about the content of his delusions.” I’m not sure this analogy works. First, you CAN argue with a schizo about the content of his delusions. You won’t be able to convince him that he’s not having such-and-such a visual/auditory experience (because he IS). But you could have a frank discussion about whether or not what he’s experiencing is REAL. Same with fundamentalists. You can’t argue with them about their having certain beliefs (though some, including myself, have tried to show they are often devoid of content), but you CAN argue about the truth of those beliefs.

    5) Now you might respond that neither the fundamentalist nor the schizophrenic will LISTEN to you argument. And at least for the fundamentalist, there is often a certain amount of internal biasing, indoctrination, and likely self-deception that goes on when contrary hypotheses are raised. (The same may be true of some dogmatic Darwinists.) But then the key is to wake these folks from their “dogmatic slumber” (even if it’s self-induced), and attempt to start a dialogue.

  20. ‘Teach the bomb phenomenology’

    OK Pastafari. You’ve thrown a lot out here so I can’t respond to it all. However, regarding DELUSIONS in schizophrenia:

    1. They are not hallucinations.
    2. They ARE abnormal beliefs (contrary to the prevailing culture) held with absolute conviction.

    As one who has spoken to quite a few schizophrenics, I can assure you that the contents of their delusions are NOT up for debate. Not unless they’re well-medicated! These conversations have always struck me as being very similar to discussions with fundamentalists. The only difference is that the religiously insane have a mass delusion – there’s always strength in numbers. Oh yes…. and they don’t respond to medication. Hence the analogy.

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