Right, Left and Science

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Daniel Sarewitz has a post at Nature in which he decries the trend among many scientists of acting as shrill Democrat partisans:

The US scientific community must decide if it wants to be a Democratic interest group or if it wants to reassert its value as an independent national asset. If scientists want to claim that their recommendations are independent of their political beliefs, they ought to be able to show that those recommendations have the support of scientists with conflicting beliefs. Expert panels advising the government on politically divisive issues could strengthen their authority by demonstrating political diversity. The National Academies, as well as many government agencies, already try to balance representation from the academic, non-governmental and private sectors on many science advisory panels; it would be only a small step to be equally explicit about ideological or political diversity. Such information could be given voluntarily.

To connect scientific advice to bipartisanship would benefit political debate. Volatile issues, such as the regulation of environmental and public-health risks, often lead to accusations of ‘junk science’ from opposing sides. Politicians would find it more difficult to attack science endorsed by avowedly bipartisan groups of scientists, and more difficult to justify their policy preferences by scientific claims that were contradicted by bipartisan panels.

Go here to read the rest.  The comments to the article are instructive and reveal the battle going on within the scientific community regarding partisanship:

 

Many scientists are isolated from contemporary politics because they work at monocultural universities. Thus they can make factual errors such as thinking that all Republicans are religious fanatics that deny evolution. The fact that a member of the Board of Directors of the American Geophysical Union wrote a book with the title The Republican War on Science gives an indication of how far science has sunk into mindless partisanship. For the record there is extensive science that is disliked and suppressed by the left. For example the fact that the ban on DDT was misinformed as the World Health Organization has indicated by its approval of the use of DDT. We have the example of distinguished Taiwanese scientists begging that attention be paid to the inadvertent experiment of exposure of thousands of persons to radiation by accidental contamination of reinforcing bars with cobalt 60. That inadvertent experiment seemed to show that the risks of radiation have been vastly overstated, and that, of course, threatens the radiation hysteria industry.

The worst example of partisan use of science is the global warming industry and the allied green energy industries. There seems to be no limit to how deep these people will sink in exaggerating the science and proposing fantastic and impractical solutions that won’t work even according to their own theories.

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So according to most posters here, Dan Sarewitz misses the point that Republicans are anti-science and Democratic policies are highly rational reflections of the best scientific thought. How interesting. Little wonder, then, that science is perceived as a Democratic interest group when such supporters of science have so little self awareness.

The real point is this–scientists have allowed their public discussions of science to be colored by their political views without even realizing it. What they choose to talk about, emphasize, and even study are increasingly dominated by their political views. And they mistakenly associate particular scientific results with specific policies, even when other policies are equally compatible with the science.

To see how misguided scientists have become on this issue, consider the 2012 Nobel laureate  letter endorsing Obama. Take a look at the statements on science and issues of science and technology put out by both campaigns.  The Romney platform is clear, well thought out, and shows a well-integrated understanding of science. On what basis, then, can it be said that “Mitt Romney, would ‘devastate a long tradition of support for public research and investment in science’.?” This statement was pure demagoguery.

 

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Of course this article is misguided.  Saying that scientists tend to be liberals and democrats is totally right.  It is like saying that the police and the military tend to be conservative and republican.  But it’s totally logical and there’s no reason to be worried about that.  Science is the realm of doubt, of challenging established truths, of constant progress towards better knowledge of reality.  It is the antithesis of conservatism, and conservatives are overwhelmingly republicans.  If you’re a scientist, you cannot endorse candidates who prefer dogmas to evidence.  Therefore science in general cannot and should not be bipartisan in the current state of American politics.

 

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It would seem much easier to try to keep the more fanatical elements in the Republican party out of Congress than to try to educate them once they are there. If anything, I think scientists have a  public duty to become vastly more partisan and politically engaged- to expose fraud and ignorance wherever they find it- if they find it more often among Republicans it is not automatically a failing of theirs… You cannot compromise with fanatics without compromising your principles.

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As somebody who recently got his PhD in engineering from one of America’s top universities, I wholeheartedly agree with the ideas expressed here. The problem is that things are getting worse, not better, in the sense that the scientific endeavor is becoming increasingly a liberal/Democratic one as studies on party registration by professors at top universities shows. Right now scientists that dare to register as republicans are and endangered species in American campuses. In 20/30 years from now when those who remain retire, they will be non existent. That is not to say that there will not be people with conservative leanings getting degrees even PhDs in science/engineering. However, they are increasingly being pushed away from staying in academia by a community that is hostile to those who do not conform to liberal orthodoxy on everything outside science itself. When a recent PhD graduate considers his/her career options and has the choice between going for a path in which his ideas outside the lab will be continuously trashed (academia) vs one in which political leanings are less of a problem (industry), it is clear which of the two is more appealing. Some would say that this is not a problem at all. It is, if one agrees with the point of view that good scientific ideas are independent of one’s political views. Some of the scientific geniuses in the XX-th century held political views that would have been rejected by today’s academic establishment. I am thinking about people like John Von Neumann or Kurt Godel, both of whom were supporters of Eisenhower (and God believers, something that is anathema in many of today’s academic circles). So if science is promoting the Dawkins of the world (whose scientific contributions are very mediocre and will be forgotten as soon as he is dead) and pushing away the John Von Neumanns or Kurt Godels of the world, we definitely have a problem.

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As a strong conservative (Libertarian), female scientist, I’ve found  that I don’t stand a chance amongst the rest of my liberal-minded peers.  There is constant pressure to either change my ideologies or a closed-minded assumption that I must not be a “real” scientist since I don’t share liberal ideals. I’m not using my real name here on the off-chance that someone on my tenure committee discovers that I lean Republican.

I’m certain that there are other conservative scientists out there that are equally in hiding. Coming from this background, I can fully understand why US citizens no longer trust scientists nor want to support science. On this social level, we don’t represent the entirety of the US people and their concerns.

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As a Republican, I find some of the comments on this article down right offensive.  First, the Republican party is NOT dominated by people who deny evolution.  That is nonsense.  It is part of the stereotyping that many liberal scientists do that is referred to by a few of the dissenting voices above.  Second, calling someone a “denialist” is not scientific.  Worse, it is anti-science.  Many legitimate (i. e. having the degrees, experience and background in research) are skeptical about the so called ”fact” of anthropogenic global warming that threatens destruction of the earth.  Real scientists address scientific questions with scientific answers.  Real scientists understand (I hope) that science is not about voting or consensus. It is about evidence.  Computer programs can make predictions but they are just that, predictions. So far the major evidence for global catastrophe caused by man made global warming is computer models.   When the predictions don’t happen as those programs have predicted then, it seems to me, real scientists admit that their theories have not proven to be accurate.  That’s what the debate is about.  Part of the danger of government funding of science has been that it has apparently tempted some scientists to try to suppress disagreement and debate about matters which are not yet proven. If you actually read some of the so-called “climate gate” emails, then you saw proof that some people were trying to suppress dissent and prevent the publication of dissenting points of view. 

What this author does not point out is that 75 or so years ago, many “leading” scientists advocated eugenics, it was the progressive way, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/feb/17/eugenics-skeleton-rattles-loudest-closet-left When scientists  lend their  names to policies and programs that are really not about science they endanger the scientific principle.

And as for being anti-reality– which party pretends that an embryo is not a potential human being?  Which party pretends that a 32 week fetus is not capable of life on its own?  Yet I never hear such people called life deniers.

Science is a method for discovering facts, not a philosophy or a body of sacred dogma.  Unfortunately in the past few decades, with the politicization of academia, science has become infected with the virulent Leftism that has tainted all fields of study.  With this bastard ideology produced by the fusion of science and political advocacy, scientism, the prestige of science is kidnapped and used in political controversies to attempt to silence debate by an appeal to the authority of Science with a capital “S”.  Mix politics and science together and the result is usually junk science and bad politics.  Good science can give us facts that are useful in making political decisions, but science is not a substitute for morality, history, philosophy, statesmanship, religion and all of those other facets of the human condition that go into deciding where we stand on political questions.  A free society must ever be unafraid to ask questions and to promote free inquiry and free thought.  Ossified political orthodoxies, which exist on most campuses, are ever at war with the fearless pursuit of truth.

 

 

 

 

19 Responses to Right, Left and Science

  • Scott W. says:

    Maybe I’m a Romantic, but I thought back in the day there were massive rewards for successfully demonstrating scientific findings were false. If there wasn’t such a system, there should. Couple that with an iron-clad rule that Congress can make laws based on scientific conclusions only if they have been subjected to rigorous and multiple double-blind researches as opposed to models.

  • I published in Science journal in 1999, and thus maintained a subscription off and on since then. Two years ago, we cancelled it because we were sick of the constant bombardment in the mail with literature asking us to donate and support extremely left liberal political policies, in the name of science. They were unabashedly partisan.

    For a while I was just curious to know how far it went — it was Obama this and Obama that, global warming this and global warming that, save our universities from anti-science people, etc. — until I’d had enough. I contacted them a few times to tell them I saw right through the partisanship and was disappointed. No response, just kept asking me for money.

    Very disappointing.

    Also, if you notice, much of what they call evolutionary discoveries are directed at trying to demonstrate that our ability to think evolved (so they can say there is no soul, no God), and that all kinds of sexual deviancy are really just normal evolutionary developments.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking article, Don.

  • Pinky says:

    It’s an interesting subject, but I’m not sure that I agree with the Nature editorial. The goal shouldn’t be balance in politics among scientists; it should be the removal of political considerations from science.

    A side note, but an example: when did we start listening to Nobel non-Peace Prize winners for advice on peace? Every year you see a group of physicists or whatever issuing their policy prescriptions on human rights and politics. The kind of person who wins a Nobel Prize is very smart, but he may typically be one who throws himself completely into his work. Better a smart person’s advice than a dumb person, but better someone who’s smart in the field he’s talking about than someone who’s spent the last 30 years looking at bacteria in a college lab. Of course the bacteria guy is going to think that Republicans are anti-science. He read it in the one newspaper article he’s seen in the past decade.

    The ugly parallel that I thought of when reading the article was racial balance. These days, we judge committees on whether they “look like America”. We root against a football team if they have a mostly-white coaching staff. But color has nothing to do with their quality or sportsmanship. Likewise, I don’t want to see a bipartisan scientific report filled with policy recommendations. I want to see sound science stated clearly, with costs, benefits, and risks spelled out for the policy expert and voter to consider.

    The missing virtue is humility. Science requires humility. Like its Enlightenment relative America, it requires checks and balances because it knows that humans are fallible. A humble scientist would never endorse a candidate as a representitive of his field of study.

  • I was a Radiation Monitoring System Engineer at a Westinghouse Pressurized Water Reactor about a decade and a half ago. The following statement in the article is 100% correct:

    “We have the example of distinguished Taiwanese scientists begging that attention be paid to the inadvertent experiment of exposure of thousands of persons to radiation by accidental contamination of reinforcing bars with cobalt 60. That inadvertent experiment seemed to show that the risks of radiation have been vastly overstated, and that, of course, threatens the radiation hysteria industry.”

    This effect is called radiation hormesis. More about this is discussed here:

    http://www.radpro.com/641luckey.pdf

    Please go to the right bottom side of PDF page 15 or physical page 35 to start reading about the Cobalt-60 contamination of structural steel in a Taiwanese apartment complex that led to an apparent rise in health and longevity of the residents.

    The current radiation exposure limits mandated by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission are so absurdly low that exposure to these limits is completely inconsequential. The fact of the matter is that a little radiation is GOOD for you.

    About 1.7 billion years ago a naturally occurring deposit of uranium in Okla, Gabon, Africa went critical and fissioned on and off for hundreds of thousands of years:

    http://www.physics.isu.edu/radinf/Files/Okloreactor.pdf

    The result was a subsequent proliferation of all manner of various life forms through the central part of the African continent.

    Junk science? That’s the anti-nuclear groups of UCS, WISE and NIRS, and the rest of liberal progressive Democrat Academia. That’s why when a previous contributor here referenced Academia for his source of information on all things nuclear and radiation, I just about puked. How about some really truthful information, say from a submarine reactor operator, or a radiation health physicist, or a commercial nuclear power engineer? Liberal professors in colleges and universities are just about “done educated into imbecility”.

    One more thing: I do not agree with materialistic evolution, either, and for good scientific reasons. The following web site run by astrophysicist Hugh Ross who is an Evangelical Protestant Christian has a ton of information that reconciles the fossil record with what the Bible says:

    http://www.reasons.org/

    The two things I believe in? Science and Divine Revelation in the Bible, Tradition and the Church. Pope JP II said in his encyclical Fides et Ratio that they go together, and he was 100% right. That encyclical ought to be required reading for every Christian regardless of denomination.

  • “A side note, but an example: when did we start listening to Nobel non-Peace Prize winners for advice on peace? ”

    Or, considering some of the Nobel Peace Prize Winners, any Nobel Prize winners on the subject of peace.

    People can be very bright in one area of life and complete idiots in others. One of Bertrand Russell’s wives noted that he was unable to boil water for tea even after she gave him written instructions as to how to do it. One of the problems in our society currently is that too much power has flowed to the legal profession and our government’ awash with laws and regulations that no one can fully comprehend and which are often contradictory, is proof of that sad fact. We have confused glibness, credentials and technical expertise in narrow fields of knowledge with wisdom and as a result have often exiled common sense and broad experience of life from our decision making process.

  • Art Deco says:

    A side note, but an example: when did we start listening to Nobel non-Peace Prize winners for advice on peace?

    The Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to Linus Pauling, Le Duc Tho, Yasser Arafat, Bernard Lown & Co., Desmond Tutu, Rigoberta Menchu, Jimmy Carter, Albert Gore, and Barack Obama. Of course we are listening to someone else.

  • Pinky says:

    Legal “experts” mishandling things at the beginning, journalists misreporting things at the end. The actual experts in the middle don’t stand a chance.

    And then, after all that is done, non-experts getting equal say. Everything from youtube to evangelical Bible study encourages each person to weight his opinion equally against the people who’ve actually studied the subject. (And comment threads permit the same thing.)

    I made a comment on Foxfier’s “culture war” thread about the importance of learning how to filter information. The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that this skill is *the* skill for the information age. Oh, I’ve got a good one: let’s say that we’ve left the information age and entered the excess information age. Handling garbage statistics and disguised opinions is increasingly important.

  • Robert says:

    I was recently told by a good friend who work at a local large college – specifically with sheep reproduction – that there is no difference in stem cells. Adult and embryonic is all the same just simple stem cells. I was going to comment but I knew it would go no where and mean nothing if I did… But the obvious is missing from that thought process. I am sure if the emrbyo had a chance to say something it would be different…

  • Mary De Voe says:

    Robert: ” I am sure if the emrbyo had a chance to say something it would be different…”
    The embryo has much to say. Scientists do not and often refuse to listen. The speaker in the video says that he is for Embryonic Stem Cell research. Informed consent from the sovereign person who is created equal to every other human being in the human species, self-evident truth, is forbidden. Embryonic stem cells are human body parts taken wihout consent or permission from the sovereign person.

    Stacy Trasancos: “Also, if you notice, much of what they call evolutionary discoveries are directed at trying to demonstrate that our ability to think evolved (so they can say there is no soul, no God), and that all kinds of sexual deviancy are really just normal evolutionary developments.”

    Some scientists say that there is no soul, no God. Man’s ability to think may have evolved, but man’s soul is metaphysical, no material parts and therefore cannot change or evolve. Man’s sovereign personhood is created and endowed to him by our Creator. Unalienable rights are not legislated for him by the state. The Majority of One, often discarded. Man recognizes the magnificent sovereign person as who he is created. The magnificent design of man’s body and soul dictates respect. The human being exists because God exists. God is life. If the human being is alive, then God is his life. Beauty does not need reason to exist, cannot sized or counted or captured.
    Scientists tell us that man only uses 11 % of his brain. This coming from a man using only 11% of his brain. If man’s thinking evolved, this means that 89% of science is faith. 89% of the atheist’s brain is religious. It is not all very scientific.
    Sexual deviancy in animals, I have observed scientifically, is a matter of dominance, not of lust. Lust is peculiar to man and is not of beauty and virtue.

  • Tony H says:

    I am not sure that the solution proposed by Sarewitz in the Nature article would be a complete fix for the problem. Having token dissenters or token conservatives in the academy and on journal boards will help, but will not change what I think is the real problem. There are a lot of scientists doing bad science out there and their peers, the academy, and the science journals are not calling them on it.

    Many bemoan the lack of scientific literacy among non-scientists, but the real problem is lack of scientific literacy among actual scientists. There is a lack of understanding of basic logic and confusion about what science can be certain of. The abuse of statistics by scientists is widespread. It lends itself to great parody. My favorite is this:
    http://www.jsur.org/ar/jsur_ben102010.pdf

    Besides the token conservatives, some additional solutions would be:
    1. Better training of scientists in logic, science theory, and how statistics can be miss-used (Mann’s hockey stick would make the perfect case study).
    2. Total transparency in the peer-review and article acceptance processes at science journals.
    3. The insistence that all papers include links to all raw data, program codes used and any other information needed to completely reproduce the author’s work.
    4. The insistence that anything written in a summary of a paper actually be supported by the facts presented in the body of the paper. (Anyone who’s looked at the IPCC reports knows exactly what I’m talking about.)

    I work in the energy industry. My industry is the perfect storm of multiple bad sciences (environmental extremism, global warming alarmism, nuclear paranoia) and idiotic government policies derived from them. I can’t express the level of my frustration at finding out that the extension of the wind energy production tax credit had been included in the fiscal cliff deal.

  • Ivan says:

    If I recall correctly Bertrand Russell wrote (in Why I am not a Christian) that what distinguishes a scientist from a religious believer is his innate scepticism, a stance that enables him ever able to change his theories in the light of experiments and experience. He can change his current beliefs as easily as he changes clothes without feeling much angst about it. Now this may have been true of Russell. the philosopher, mathematician and all-round gadfly; though I suspect that he like most others who turn away from Christianity , did so for reasons having to do with Jesus Christ’s severe injunctions on sex (which in fairness none of us can live by except through Grace,) rather issues of pure science. But this is not true of the average scientist working today. There is an inertia associated with the years of study and ideological training that cannot be easily jettisoned without impacting his career and life prospects, hence much of his defensiveness. Most people would have a warm feeling reading how Gottlieb Frege set aside ten years of work logic on account of an apparently decisive objection from Russell, but few of us would be as sanguine at the prospect.

    The modern scientist is a victim of the “Renaissance Man” effect wherein he has to be knowledgeable in a host of subjects. The average physicist knows far more than Einstein did in 1905, (the papers he wrote that year can be read by a diligent physics freshman,) but is unable to make a decisive contribution because of the sheer numbers of physicists at work today and the overwhelming complexity of the field. This is apart from the peer review process, where the editors are ever ready to spot any plagiarism unlike the case with Einstein where got away without attribution in at least two of his papers.

    The prestige of science today, has little to do with the work of the current generation of scientists, much of the science that has impact on our lives were the work of natural philosophers working in the empirical tradition of the nineteenth century as exemplified by such (most of whom were religious) men as Faraday, Maxwell, Babbage, Boole, Pasteur, Edison, Parsons and Kelvin to name only a few. To them and their influence on subsequent generations we owe the electric generators, telephones, engines, radio, penicillin, electronics and all the impressive systems and gadgetry without which modern life would not be possible. The Wright Brothers were mechanics.

    In those days it was possible to conduct experiments with very little money. According to Steven Weinberg it took only about sixty pounds of His Majesty’s money for Ernst Rutherford and his assistants to establish that an atom is mostly empty space with a hard centre. The search for the Higgs particle on the other hand required the use of multi-billion dollar facilities and subsequent examination for resonances by hundreds of highly-qualified scientists. A maverick scientist begging for cash to run an experiment counter to the prevailing orthodoxy would thus be on own, for who in government is prepared to go against a cabal that has billions of dollars behind it. The fear of being labeled a flat-earther, and losing one’s job is ever present

    Dissidence must be made costly in order to keep the plum jobs and financial backing, and is largely suppressed by blatant hypocrisy.Thus we have the spectacle of the global warming scientists who even while drawing billions from the government teat, and denying the contrarian scientists the same, accuse the sceptics of being in the pay of Exxon or Shell. As the fable of the Emperor’s new clothes indicates such a level of untruth cannot be sustained without the cooperation of legions. And the legions don’t work for free, they too demand their pound of flesh, hence we have a situation where if it is indeed the case that there is global warming, a neat solution would be to build more nuclear reactors which produces no carbon dioxide to replace the coal-fired generators. Instead we have the anomaly that thanks to the greens everything else except nuclear power is considered.

    Such ideological cooperation is apparent in many fields, and is clearly evident in the nonsense about the spread of AIDS. It is has been clear for many years now that homosexuals are seven to ten times as likely as normal people to get AIDS, (and let’s face it the sodomites among the heterosexuals are not queuing up to admit to sodomy) thus a valid hypothesis is that sodomy causes AIDS. But try to get funding to test this on a large scale. The howls of protest from Obama down to the kindergarten teachers, with possibly a jeremiad from Marvin Heir about a hidden plan for a second Holocaust this time of homosexuals, would quail any such attempt. Or for that matter try launching any studies into IQ differences between races.

    In totality then, given the nexus of patronage, ideology, money and influence that the practice of science in the US has to deal with, the confederates find a natural home Democratic Party. And thus the same type of fools who write books such as The Republican War On Science would never consider subjecting the Democrats to the same. This even as the average Republican tends to have a better education and greater common sense.

    For similar reasons it is usually the engineers having a comparable education with physicists, but not beholden to patronage and having to build reliable working systems instead of imaginary hand-waving, who tend to be skeptical of Darwinism and other grand theorising that have little support by way of clear experiments.

  • JL says:

    @Paul

    I, too, was skeptical of macro-evolution for a time, but the fact that the Church recognizes there is no conflict between evolution and Christianity and, indeed, now seems to subscribe fully to the theory, has helped assuage my doubts, which were admittedly not based on science. I am of the opinion that strict creationists and Genesis literalists suffer from a lack of imagination and an unfortunate tendency to limit the genius and power of God.

    The more interesting question to me has to do with how certain Catholic doctrines should be understood in light of what we now know about evolution. I speak specifically with regards to the ensoulment, the origin of our species, the unique nature of man, and common parentage.

  • @ JL,

    Thank you. I refer the reader to Pope Pius XII’s encyclical, Humani Generis:

    http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/pius_xii/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xii_enc_12081950_humani-generis_en.html

    The Pope states in paragraph 37:

    “When, however, there is question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty. For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains that either after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents.”

    We know the Pope was correct because in 1987, geneticists in the journal Nature examined the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from 147 people across all major racial groups. These researchers found that the lineage of all people alive today falls on one of two branches in humanity’s family tree. One of these branches consists of nothing but African lineage.The other contains all other groups, including some African lineage. The geneticists concluded that every person on Earth can trace his or her lineage back to a single common female ancestor who lived around 200K years ago. Because one entire branch of human lineage is of African origin and the other contains African lineage as well, the study’s authors concluded Africa is the place where this woman lived. The scientists named this common female ancestor Mitochondrial Eve. There was one Adam and one Eve exactly as Pope Pius XII states.

    Now I also refer the reader to Dr. Gerhard Schroeder’s work (he is an orthodox Jew and a physicist who does REAL science):

    http://geraldschroeder.com/AccordingToGod.aspx

    Please click on the “Articles” field in the horizontal bar near the top of the page. I summarize with math equations Dr. Schroeder’s thoughts on correlating days of creation with the 13.73 billion year history of the universe here (the equations are the same as those for radioactive decay which as a former Radiation Monitoring System Engineer, I do know something about):

    http://commentarius-ioannis.blogspot.com/2009/07/correlation-of-creation-days-with.html

    The one theological problem I have is this. Romans 5:12 states, “Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned.” If old Earth History Creationism is therefore correct, then death pre-existed Adam’s sin and that is not consistent with what St. Paul wrote. So this means that I am not as smart as I think I am because I can’t figure all this stuff out. But just because I can’t figure it out does NOT mean that science and divine revelation are inconsistent. Rather, it means that I am a fallible human being who “sees through a glass darkly now.”

  • JL says:

    @Paul

    Thank you for the references. Humani Generis is clearly something I must read on the matter. I’ve also heard that the-Cardinal Ratzinger’s “In the Beginning…” is particularly insightful. I’ll get to your other resources when I have the time and the resolve to plow through scientific text (which might admittedly be never!).

    Perhaps Paul refers more to spiritual death than the biological variety? The capacity for the soul to turn away from God and thus be lost? Whatever the case, the intersection of evolution and Catholicism is highly fascinating and extremely difficult for me to fully understand.

    The doctrine of common parentage is one to which I know Catholics must assent, but evolution still raises all sorts of questions and complications. If one species of near-humans was evolving toward human status, how did only two cross this threshold? What happened to the rest? Did they become “human” biologically, but, for whatever reason were not ensouled? And what can be said of other humanoid species, such as the neanderthals? Their apparent capacity to create art seems to cast doubt on GKC’s dichotomy of degree and type, a notion that I always found very explanatory and romantic. Were they not ensouled?

    I also do not quite fully comprehend Church teaching on Original Sin. I tend towards explanations of it and its effects as a sort of gradual propensity of man to turn away from God, thus resulting in a fallen state of creation, to which all are born into. However, the Church has consistently, as far as I know, maintained that the Fall was a single event in history. If this is the case, then I have no way of understanding how such a condition is transmitted from one generation to the next. Sin doesn’t seem like something that can be passed on through genetics, and Jesus clearly condemns this Jewish belief. So how then is the stain of original sin, something intrinsic to humans and not an extrinsic condition of their reality, passed on from father to son?

    Clearly lots of questions. But the dearth of answers, as you indicate, is hardly an indication that the Church’s theology is wrong nor incompatible with science. I just feel like a petulant, impatient child who wants his mother to refine an explanation of something in light of what he just learned in science class.

  • Folks, I taught an Apologetics course on Mitochondrial Eve that JL and I briefly disucssed here. This is the substance of that course. It demonstrates that there was a real Eve, and one day we will be able to demonstrate that there was a real Adam, too. Yes, I plagiarized shamelessly from Dr. Hugh Ross, Dr. Gerald Schroeder, Pope Pius XII, etc.

    A geneticist, Dr. Wesley Brown, in 1980 noticed that when the mtDNA of two humans is compared, the samples are much more similar than when the mtDNA of two other primates — for example, two chimpanzees — is compared. Brown found, in fact, that the mtDNA of two humans has only about half as many differences as the mtDNA of two other primates within the same species. This suggests that humans share a much more recent common ancestor.

    In 1987 geneticists in the journal Nature examined the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from 147 people across all major racial groups. These researchers found that the lineage of all people alive today falls on one of two branches in humanity’s family tree. One of these branches consists of nothing but African lineage. The other contains all other groups, including some African lineage. The geneticists concluded that every person on Earth can trace his or her lineage back to a single common female ancestor who lived around 200K years ago. Because one entire branch of human lineage is of African origin and the other contains African lineage as well, the study’s authors concluded Africa is the place where this woman lived. The scientists named this common female ancestor Mitochondrial Eve.

    Evolutionists maintain that the Mitochondrial Eve was not the first — or only — woman on Earth during the time she lived. Instead, this woman is simply the most recent person to whom all people can trace their genealogy. According to them, there were many women who came before her and many women who came after, but her life is the point from which all modern branches on humanity’s family tree grew. If true, then why is she the only one to have successfully passed down her mtDNA?

    When the researchers in the 1987 study looked at samples taken from 147 different people and fetuses, they found 133 distinct sequences of mtDNA. After comparing the number of differences among the mtDNA samples within races, they found that Africans have the most diversity (that is, the most number of differences) of any single racial group. This would suggest that the mtDNA found in Africans is the oldest. Since it has had the most mutations, a process which takes time, it must be the oldest of lineages around today.

    The two distinct branches contained the mtDNA found in the five main populations on the planet:

    African
    Asian
    European
    Australian
    New Guinean

    Researchers found that in the branch that was not exclusively African, racial populations often had more than one lineage. For example, one New Guinean lineage finds its closest relative in a lineage present in Asia, not New Guinea. All of the lineages and both of the two branches, however, can all be traced back to one theorized point: Mitochondrial Eve.

    So how did Eve end up being humanity’s most recent common ancestor? We shall investigate that, as well as some arguments lodged against the Mitochondrial Eve theory. But first, what is DNA, what are mitochondria, and why do scientists use mtDNA to track lineage?

    Biologists have been aware of mitochondria since the 19th century. In the late 1970s the value of using the DNA within mitochondria to track ancient human history became clear. Mitochondrial DNA differs in a few key ways from nuclear DNA — the variety of DNA located within the nucleus of each of one’s cells determines eye color, racial features, susceptibility to certain diseases and other defining characteristics. mtDNA, on the other hand, contains codes for making proteins and carrying out the other processes mitochondria undertake.

    The genes carried in the form of nuclear DNA are the result of a merger between mother’s and father’s DNA — this merger is called recombination. mtDNA, however, is derived almost exclusively from the mother. This is because the egg of a female human contains lots of mtDNA, while male sperm contains just a bit of mitochondria. A function of a single mitochondrion is generating power for the cell containing it, and sperm use a few mitochondria in the tail to power their race towards the egg for fertilization. These mitochondria are destroyed after the sperm fertilizes the egg, and thus any mtDNA that could be passed on from the father’s side is lost.

    This means that mtDNA is matrilineal — only the mother’s side survives from generation to generation. A mother who gives birth only to sons will see her mtDNA lineage lost. Examination of mtDNA so far has yielded only rare and unusual cases where paternal mtDNA survives and is passed onto the child. Mitochondria are also valuable to evolutionists because copies of the exact same mtDNA one has can be found in cells throughout one’s body. Within each cell, too, there may be thousands of copies of mtDNA. Conversely, the nuclear DNA in a cell usually contains just two copies. It is also easier to extract mtDNA than nuclear DNA, since it is found outside the fragile and more rapidly decaying nucleus of the cell.

    What all this adds up to is that a one’s mtDNA is the same as one’s mother’s, since there is no recombination to form a third version, distinct from both one’s mother’s and father’s but a combination of both. This makes mtDNA much easier to track from an anthropological standpoint. Humans have been around for a long time. In the hundreds of thousands of years we’ve been walking the planet, our numbers have grown. How is it that only about 200K years ago a single woman became the great-grandmother of us all? Does NOT human history go further back than that? We will now examine how humanity may have come close to extinction, setting the stage for Mitochondrial Eve to leave her enduring legacy.

    It was estimated that Mitochondrial Eve lived about 200K years ago. With a margin of error included, she would have been alive between 500K and 50K years ago. Given that Eve is thought to have lived during a time when there were other women alive, how is it that all of us alive today descended from her alone? There are a couple explanations for how only Eve’s mtDNA alone could have survived Most likely a combination of converging factors is responsible.

    The likeliest possibility is that an evolutionary bottleneck occurred among humankind while Eve was alive. This is a situation where a large majority of the members of species suddenly die out, bringing the species to the verge of extinction. This sudden decrease in numbers is NOT due to any kind of failure to adapt. Instead, it’s more likely the result of a catastrophe of some sort, for example, the result of a comet hitting the Earth or a super volcano eruption. Afterward, just a few members remain to repopulate the group and continue to evolve. Bottlenecks are suspected to have taken place at different times in humanity’s history Thus, it is credible that an event like this could have taken place during Eve’s lifetime.

    A 1998 report concluded that about 70K years ago, humanity was reduced to only about 15K people on the whole planet. With very few people spread out across the planet, humankind was on the verge of extinction. The event that caused the near-loss of our species was an eruption of Mount Toba in Sumatra. This volcanic eruption was so immense that it:

    Lowered global temperatures
    Killed off the animals and plants that nourished humans, and
    Spurred the coldest ice age the planet has seen, lasting 1,000 years.

    The Mitochondrial Eve theory evokes similar scenarios. IF the human population was reduced dramatically, AND there were NOT many women around to bear children, THEN the stage is set for one “Lucky Mother” to emerge as a most recent common ancestor. It is possible that after a few generations, the mtDNA of the other women died out. IF a woman produces only male offspring, THEN her mtDNA will NOT be passed along, since children do NOT receive mtDNA from their father. This means that while the woman’s sons will have her mtDNA, her grandchildren will NOT, and her line will be lost. It is possible that this was the cause of Eve emerging as the sole “Lucky Mother” who in essence gave birth to us all.

    Alternate Hypothesis – A reviewer of this presentation asked: Is it truly Eve we are talking about or is it not more likely that the “Lucky Woman” was Noah’s wife? She fits the conditions described exactly…except the literal readers of the Bible would place her more in the 5,000 – 10,000 BC range. While the Bible states we have one common mother in Eve, the events that have occurred since then would seem to make it impossible to ascertain what she was like. Only Noah’s wife, or the wives of his sons could be the focal point of our mtDNA since the Flood. And the Flood provides exactly the kind of cataclysmic event that would have created a bottleneck as described in this presentation.

    The reason why this alternative does not seem tenable is that the Great Flood of Noah appears to have been a localized event around the Black Sea area instead of an inundation that flooded the entire planet. If a world-wide flood had occurred, then today there would not be massive fresh water lakes with separate salt water oceans because such a flood would have equalized salt content everywhere. There are additional archeological reasons to think this was localized around the Black Sea area, as well as linguistic reasons pertaining to the use of the word “land” or “earth” in the Genesis account. One only objection to a world-wide flood is the migration of all diverse species from Antarctica in the south and the Artic in the north, and from North and South America that would be required across the vast oceans to the Middle East where Noah was located so that they could be housed in the great Ark for the duration of the flood. Such is simply non-feasible.

    Now back to Mitochondrial Eve. Although talk of genetic mutations and DNA sequences makes it seem complex, at its core, tracking mtDNA is based on a deceptively simple notion: People whose ancestors were once closely related should have almost identical mtDNA. mtDNA can undergo mutations over time, but it takes time for these mutations to occur. Logically, the fewer there are, the less time has gone by since two families’ ancestors diverged. Those people who have just a few differences in their mtDNA sequences would be more recently related than those sequences which bear many differences.

    Let us suppose your great-great-grandmother on your mom’s side — whom we’ll call Mildred — had a sister, whom we’ll call Tillie. Both shared identical mtDNA which they received from their mother. But imagine that Tillie and Mildred had a terrible argument, and Tillie moved across the country, while Mildred’s descendants — including you — stayed put. Tillie and Millie never spoke again. Both women gave birth to girls, and so their matrilineal mtDNA was passed on. But as the generations continued, the families of the two grew less and less aware of the existence of the other branch, until neither line was aware of the other. But the two lines are about to be inadvertently reunited. Researchers placed a national advertisement asking for test subjects for a study of recent human population trends using mtDNA for mapping. By coincidence, you and a distant cousin of yours on Tillie’s side of the family both decide to volunteer. After they collect a DNA sample from you, the researchers compare your mtDNA to the sequences from the other candidates. Lo and behold — they find that two volunteers are cousins. Comparing your mtDNA to your cousin’s, the geneticists should be able to tell about how long ago Tillie and Mildred had their argument. If they checked the local populations of your area and your cousin’s area, they should also be able to tell whether it was Tillie or Millie who migrated, by finding which population shared more of the mtDNA present in your family line. More people with the same mtDNA means that that sequence has been around longer. What’s more, they can also conclude that since you and your cousin share similar mtDNA, you have a most common recent ancestor, the woman who is mother to Tillie and Mildred. Since it takes a while for mtDNA mutations to occur, it would be pretty difficult for these imagined geneticists to pin down you and your cousin with accuracy. But when this technique is extrapolated over a period spanning tens or hundreds of thousands of years, it becomes much more viable. Not everyone accepts the Mitochondrial Eve theory, however.

    Evolutionary mapping through the use of mtDNA is inexact. As mtDNA study continued after the late 1970s, scientists discovered a property known as heteroplasmy — the presence of more than one sequence of mtDNA found in the same person. Even within a single person, there are differences between mtDNA that make comparing one person or group to another tricky. The 1987 study of the Mitochondrial Eve came under attack when it was pointed out that the “African” population the researchers sampled was actually made up almost entirely of African-Americans. Is it possible that in the few hundred years since Africans had been imported to the Americas against their will that African-Americans’ mtDNA had mutated enough so as to render the sample useless? In the face of the criticism, researchers took an additional sample of Africans living in Africa, but found virtually the same results.

    Another problem with mtDNA study is the differences in the rate of mutation. If a particular sequence of mtDNA was concluded to develop a mutation in 1,000 years, then would two strains of mtDNA from the same lineage with two mutations have diverged about 2,000 years ago? This is how researchers decided Mitochondrial Eve was living around 200,000 years ago. The researchers assumed that mtDNA mutates at a consistent rate. However, the rate of mutation for mtDNA is uncertain and immeasurable. If we look at the rate of mutation among a whole group of organisms, say, all people alive today — called the phylogenetic rate — we might conclude that mtDNA mutates at a consistent rate. But if we look at a single family line within that larger group — the pedigree rate – we will most likely find an entirely different rate of mutation.

    Since the “mutational clock” used by the researchers was called into question, they expanded the date for Eve’s existence to between 500,000 and 50,000 years ago. Decades after the Mitochondrial Eve study was published, the results are still hotly debated. Are we all descended from a most recent common ancestor who lived 200,000 years ago? Can mtDNA even tell us precisely? These questions remain unanswered by science and frame the future work of evolutionary geneticists. But the 1987 study changed the way we think about ourselves as humans. It pointed out that somewhere down the line of history, we are all related.

    Genesis chapter 2 states the following:

    The LORD God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being. Then the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and he placed there the man whom he had formed…The LORD God then took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it. The LORD God gave man this order: “You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and bad. From that tree you shall not eat; the moment you eat from it you are surely doomed to die.” The LORD God said: “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him.” …So the LORD God cast a deep sleep on the man, and while he was asleep, he took out one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. The LORD God then built up into a woman the rib that he had taken from the man. When he brought her to the man, the man said: “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; This one shall be called ‘woman,’ for out of ‘her man’ this one has been taken.”

    Pope Pius XII stated: “When, however, there is question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty. For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains either that after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parents of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. Now, it is in no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled with that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the teaching authority of the Church proposed with regard to original sin which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam, and which, through generation, is passed onto all and is in everyone as his own” (Humani Generis 37).

    The story of the creation and fall of man is a true one, even if not written entirely according to modern literary techniques. The Catechism states: “The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man. Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents” (CCC 390). Conclusion: If there is no Fall, then there is no Redemption.

  • anzlyne says:

    “The missing virtue is humility. Science requires humility” (Pinky)
    True True .. and really so does every field of study and every method in search of truth

  • Matt says:

    Very interesting essay and discussion…regarding human evolution:

    Even if in some sense true, it seems to me that it had to have reached ‘Omega’ (at the Incarnation?). Perhaps now its locus is entirely spiritual (i.e. we ‘evolve’ if/as we become holier, saintlier, imitating Christ), leading us to the Kingdom of God.

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