Samstag, 21. April 2007

The first woman about evolution of religiousness

I have not yet read the new book of primatologist Barbara J. King "Evolving god" (Amazon) - but it seems, that this is the first book about the evolution of religiousness written by a women. And it seems to me, that she has a very fresh and "female" look into religion. Isn't it a surprise to recognize that all other books about religion and evolution at the moment are written by men? (Look for example this list: Chronicle) It is very surprising, because we know from scientific insight, that woman have more interest than men in religion and religious activity. And even if Barbara J. King gives not a whole lot of more new good arguments and facts about the evolution of religiousness - most importantly is, it seems to me, that she gives a new "feeling" while reasoning about religion. Her main point is "belongingness". Have you ever heart about such a thing from another author writing about religion? And why not? - They are men!

"Biological anthropologist King contends that religion, conceived as a system not of beliefs but of actions, not as theology but as worship, is a consequence of primate evolution. It proceeds, she posits, from the sense of group membership that highly developed mammals, especially the great apes, demonstrate in many ways but most saliently for religion when they show concern for a group member that has died." (Amazon)

"King draws upon cutting-edge research in primatology to demonstrate that once animals are capable of emotional attachments and cognitive empathy, they are ready for—and even appear to require—certain intangibles like a belief in something greater than themselves." "It's true that the book requires some enormous argumentative leaps; it's a long stretch from demonstrating that contemporary primates have emotional attachments to claiming that they are then capable of creating religions, as King maintains human beings once did. But even readers who close the book unconvinced will be impressed by King's fresh insights and her lucid writing, which is a jargon-free, story-filled model." (Amazon)

... The origins of the religious impulse. King finds this in what she calls belongingness, "mattering to someone who matters to you," a trait found in contemporary humans but also in our human and non-human primate ancestors. (Amazon, Customer Reviews)

'Evolving God' has the added merit of pushing beyond the Abrahamic "big three," including a handy account of religious archaeology. King's touchstone is "belongingness," the idea that "hominids turned to the sacred realm because they evolved to relate in deeply emotional ways with their social partners, ... and because the human brain evolved to allow an extension of this belongingness beyond the here and now." David Barash (The Chronicle of Higher Education ) Barbara King says (according to Barash): "At bedrock is the belief that one may be seen, heard, protected, harmed, loved, frightened, or soothed by interaction with God, gods, or spirits."

Freitag, 20. April 2007

School shooter II - Was there a chance for him?

A lot of new information about Cho Seung-Hui.

1. About his grandfather and the sister of his grandfather, his great-aunt Yang-Sun, in South Korea: "Yang-Sun revealed the eight-year-old was diagnosed as autistic soon after his family emigrated to the US." She said: "Both his parents knew he had mental problems but they were poor and they couldn't send him to a special hospital in the United States. His mother and sister were asking his friends to help instead. His parents worked and did not have time to look after his condition and didn't give him special treatment. They had no time or money to look after his special problem even though they knew he was autistic." ( So, if you take this seriously, than Cho Seung-Hui was right to be full of hate against the rich people. They should listen more seriously to his words.

2. That he imitated several movie thrillers, mostly a famous South Korean movie called "Oldboy": " ... It tells the story of a man's struggle to understand why he is being tormented. In the final scenes Dae-Su furiously confronts his enemies with guns, hammers and knives. The result is a bloodbath." ( - Do we really need such movies?

3. One girl he had stalked two years ago said: "Once, he claimed he had been rejected by a girl and talked about wanting to beat her up." (= überfallen, verprügeln) (

And - may be - most interesting:

4. "Ross Alameddine sat near Cho for months in a class on horror films and literature. Both students were required to keep what were known as 'fear journals', in which they chronicled their reactions to the material covered in class and their own fears. (...) On Monday, Cho killed him." (But obviously not with the intention to kill exactly him.) " 'We had a whole discussion on serial killers,' one student said, who asked that she not be named because she wanted to avoid a crush of attention from the news media. Cho never spoke during the discussion, she said, but he took notes. The student was in another class with Cho: a 10-person workshop on playwriting, during which she grew fascinated by him. 'In all honesty, I took a huge interest in him last semester,' she said. 'I actually tried to follow him after class one day, but he got on a bike and I couldn't keep up. He had a red bicycle.' " ( (NYT)

It was a women he had looked for help - as the stalking shows. And there has been one, who took interest in him. And he didn't know that - as it seems.

Mittwoch, 18. April 2007

"A typical school shooter"

CNN gives information to understand the situation, that teachers and students were in with this (new) school shooter from Blacksburg (US) for at least two years. Mostly this words of a student. (After the class-reading of one of his plays: "Before Cho got to class that day" [last fall], "we students were talking to each other with serious worry about whether he could be a school shooter.") - And this video, in which the professor explains that she knew seriously, that he was a serious danger for the life of herself and her students: CNN.

Dienstag, 17. April 2007

Positive selection in chimps and humans

I have made a longer post on my german blog. (Studium generale) For more information look here. (Gene Expression) Nature, Science, New Scientists have articles now. But the best commentary, I have read until now comes from an australian physics departement exploring complex and nonlinear systems (!) (Nature, Comments):

It's a big jump from observing the number of genes which have a high proportion of non-synonymous mutations, to taking this to be a measure of how much the species has changed, how 'highly evolved' they are, or who is winning the evolutionary race - to use three phrases from the article in question. As many writers have beautifully and eloquently described (eg Gary Marcus' wonderful book The Birth of the Mind - How a Tiny Number of Genes Creates the Complexities of Human Thought) there are generally no simple correspondences between genes and phenotype properties. The genotype-phenotype map is complex, highly-structured and poorly understood. A more perceptive and thoughtful discussion of the possible interpretations of the reported data would be more welcome than the cheap pseudo-controversial headlines.
Also interesting: what is the possible impact of cultural evolution as a selective force?

Anne-Marie Grisogono

Samstag, 7. April 2007

A good book recommendation for young readers by Desmond Morris

Desmond Morris (The Naked Ape, 1967) was asked (American Scientist):

What book recommendations do you have for young readers?

For any young zoologist I would recommend Konrad Lorenz, King Solomon's Ring (1952). This will reveal just how much one can learn simply by sitting and watching animal behavior.

Donnerstag, 5. April 2007

Dangerous ideas

The american-jewish Online-Magazine "Jewcy" is going further to "improve" our thinking. (Jewcy) Most important is, I think, what it is reporting about social scientist Richard Herrnstein (author of "The Bell Curve" [1994]). I don't buy the rest of the argument of the article, that the IQ of children is formed at a larger extent by "good mothers" and good "kindergartens". Not IQ - but a lot of other traits are formed by mothers (and kindergarten's) - for example social traits. I only want to give the text here to show, of what sort of dangerous ideas Steven Pinker spoke of several months ago. (Edge) The article does not mention the fact, he is speaking about the whole time, that there is not only a black-white-IQ-gap of 15 points, but also a black-ashkenazi Jews-IQ-gap of 30 points (!) (and a white-ashkenazi Jews-IQ-gap of 15 points).

"... The social scientist Richard Herrnstein disagreed. (...) A perfect meritocracy, he proposed in a seminal 1971 Atlantic article, would allow the naturally brightest to end up on top. Those bright people would pair up and produce bright children and the American meritocracy would wind up looking less democratic than aristocratic. But unlike aristocratic Europe, where inbred imbeciles like George III ended up ruling empires,modern aristocracies would be fair . Even more alarming, this new, fair aristocracy would look like a racial caste system, Herrnstein theorized, citing a study showing a 15-point gap in the average IQs of whites and blacks.

In his important 1992 book, The End of Equality, Jewish pundit Mickey Kaus cautiously came to Herrnstein’s defense. Social mobility was beginning to decline, he theorized, because a perfect meritocracy had been nearly achieved. Those groups that had what it took to move up had already moved up. Meritocracy was like a centrifuge that spun the best to the top and left the dregs on the bottom. “At some point,” Kaus wrote, “we may run out of new groups to run through the centrifuge.”

Just as Herrnstein predicted, American society has become more aristocratic. (We even have George II, a dim-witted heir, running our country.) It is tempting, then, for Jews to take up the position Herrnstein outlined in 1971, essentially defending and legitimating hierarchy. After all, anti-meritocratic policies like legacy preferences at Ivy League colleges that used to hurt Jews now help them. (...)

Though Herrnstein was Jewish, many Jews were wary of embracing a view that sounded so much like eugenics, the pseudo-science that worked to legitimate the social order back when Jews were towards the bottom. Explaining away inequality as the result of black/white IQ differences sounded like something out of 1930s Germany—not the kind of argument most Jews want to defend. But once the racial element was removed, the argument became more appealing, even flattering. Perhaps there really was something superior about us. (...) claiming to be some kind of black-haired, brown-eyed master race (...)."

The article is speaking about really, really dangerous things. But I think it is doing it not in the right way. Not with enough responsibility. For example: It does not differentiate enough between facts and "wishes". - But because there is so much speaking now about Richard Herrnstein, I have looked for photos of him. There are not so many available in the internet, I have found only two:

Right: Genetics and IQ Conference, New York, 1990 (Herrnstein in the middle)
Bottom row, L to R: Mrs. H.J. Eysenck, Hans J. Eysenck, Arthur R. Jensen, Richard Herrnstein, Richard Lynn, Marian Van Court. Top row: Helmuth Nyborg, Linda Gottfredson, Ernst van den Haag, Robert Nichols, Michael Levin, J. Philippe Rushton, Chris Brand.

Dienstag, 3. April 2007

Diversification of positions concerning critique of religions

There is an article with a good overview about new trends in discussions between monotheistic religions and atheism. Pantheistic positions are not mentioned - as it is mostly. (E. O. Wilson is seen by some people as an pantheist, but sees himself as a deist.) I think, humanism in the sense of this article is also quite right, as is Wilson, as is Dawkins, as is Sam Harris. Everyone has his own important and necessary truth. So I think Harris is right: "Harris said he thinks there is room for multiple arguments in the debate between scientific rationalism and religious dogmatism."

Posted on Sun, Apr. 01, 2007

Atheists divided in their disbeliefs

Some humanists worry that “fundamentalists” will hurt the movement with their belligerence.
The Associated Press

BOSTON | Atheists are under attack these days for being too militant — for not just disbelieving in religious faith but for trying to eradicate it.

Who is leveling these accusations? Other atheists.

Among the millions of Americans who don’t believe that God exists, there is a split between people such as Greg Epstein, who holds the partly endowed post of humanist chaplain at Harvard University, and “New Atheists.”

Epstein and other humanists think that their movement is on the verge of explosive growth, but they are concerned that it will be dragged down by what they see as the militancy of New Atheism.

The most pre-eminent New Atheists include best-selling authors Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris.

Dawkins has called the God of the Old Testament “a psychotic delinquent.” Harris foresees global catastrophe unless faith is renounced. Religious belief is so harmful that it must be defeated and replaced by science and reason, they say.

Epstein calls them “atheist fundamentalists.” He sees them as rigid in their dogma, and as intolerant as some of the faith leaders with whom atheists have the most obvious differences.

Next month, as Harvard celebrates the 30th anniversary of its humanist chaplaincy — part of the school’s chaplaincy corps — Epstein will use the occasion to provide a counterpoint to the New Atheists.

“Humanism is not about erasing religion,” he said. “It’s an embracing philosophy.”

In general, humanism rejects supernaturalism, while stressing such principles as dignity of the individual, equality and social justice. Humanists believe that if there is no God to help humanity, people better do the work.

The celebration of a “New Humanism” will emphasize diversity within the movement. It will include E.O. Wilson, a humanist who has sought to team with evangelical Christians to fight global warming.

Part of the New Humanism, Wilson said, is “an invitation to a common search for morally based action in areas agreement can be reached in.”

Wilson said the tone of the New Atheists will only alienate important faith groups whose help is needed to solve the world’s problems.

“I would suggest possibly that while there is use in the critiques by Dawkins and Harris, that they’ve overdone it,” Wilson said.

Harris, the author of Letter to a Christian Nation, sees the disagreement as overblown. Harris said he thinks there is room for multiple arguments in the debate between scientific rationalism and religious dogmatism.

“I don’t think everyone needs to take as uncompromising a stance as I have against faith,” he said.

But, he added, an intellectual intolerance of people who strongly believe things on bad evidence is just “basic human sanity.”

“We do not jail people for being stupid, but we do stop listening to them after a while,” he wrote in an e-mail.

Harris also rejected the term “atheist fundamentalist.” He noted that, when it comes to the ancient Greek gods, everyone is an atheist and no one is asked to justify that to pagans who want to believe in Zeus.

“Likewise with the God of Abraham,” he said. “There is nothing ‘fundamentalist’ about finding the claims of religious demagogues implausible.”

Dawkins did not respond to requests for comment. He has questioned whether teaching children that they could go to hell is worse in the long term than sexually abusing them, and he compares the evidence of God with evidence for unicorns, fairies and a “flying spaghetti monster.”

Dawkins’ attempt to win converts is clear in The God Delusion, in which he writes of his hope that “religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down.”

A 2006 Baylor University survey estimates about 15 million atheists in the United States.

Sonntag, 1. April 2007

Adventurer and geneticist: Spencer Wells

A very good interview with geneticist Spencer Wells about his Genographic Project at PlosGenetics. He says about Hungary:

We've gotten some fascinating results and a lot of e-mails. For example, a Hungarian woman wrote in and said, “You've got to redo my test. You told me I'm native American or Siberian, and I know my ancestors came from Hungary—I can tell you the village they were living in in the sixteenth century.” The Hungarian language, Magyar, is actually related to languages spoken in Siberia, and this is one of the first cases where we've actually seen Siberian lineages showing up in the Hungarian population. They are there at very low frequency. We now through this project have over 350 people who are of Hungarian descent and we see these [Siberian] lineages at four to five percent on both male and female sides.

And he says about the traditional tribal genealogical thinking (here in southern Tajikistan):

... Most people are interested in their history, and indigenous people, who are the ones who give us the clearest glimpse of their genetic history, are particularly interested, because in many cases it is all they have—what they cling on to—their sense of identity.

I was just in Tajikistan a week and a half ago, and we were sampling all over the southern part of the country and asking people to name their grandparents and great-grandparents and so on. I could do that back to maybe to my great-grandparents. These people can do it back six, seven, eight generations. They've always lived in the same place and beyond that they know even more about their history, but not necessarily their names.

So they have a sense, a clear idea of where they came from, that something is passed from generation that ties them to their ancestors. You explain to them that that thing is DNA and that it will tell us not only about the people they can name but also people beyond that that they can't name ...

Some personal things about this blonde Spencer Wells:

My father (...) he comes from a military family. His father, whom he never knew because he died in World War II, graduated top of his class from West Point and was apparently a wild man out in the field. I think maybe I got some of my love of danger and going to strange places from him. ...

"Our spiritual need to be connected with nature ..."

Jane Goodall - a fascinating new interview. Here some snips:


If chimps are so much like us, why are they endangered while humans dominate the globe?
Well, in some ways we’re not successful at all. We’re destroying our home. That’s not a bit successful. Chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans have been living for hundreds of thousands of years in their forest, living fantastic lives, never overpopulating, never destroying the forest. I would say that they have been in a way more successful than us as far as being in harmony with the environment.


Large humanitarian initiatives in Africa, like those spearheaded by Bill Gates and Bill Clinton, understandably focus on the needs of people. Does that human focus conflict with the needs of the animals?
Sometimes. But even if you forget the animals, what these people sometimes totally ignore is the environment. If you cut down all the trees at Gombe, yes, the chimps will go. But you’ll also get terrible soil erosion, desertification, and flooding. People will suffer terribly. So in addition to addressing the physical needs of people—like water, sanitation, education—you also must address their impact on the environment and our spiritual need to be connected with nature. That’s really a psychological need that we have. I also have problems with the way a lot of aid is delivered.


What is it like to be such a public scientist? When you attend primatology meetings these days, how are you treated?
I’m the elder female. I’m mobbed, really. My role now is to talk about conservation and to try to inspire some of the young field biologists who are desperate because their study animals are disappearing. So I try to encourage them with stories like those about TACARE and how to involve local people so their study animals survive and they can continue their research. We each have to do our bit and realize that when you add up those bits, you have massive change.

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