The Greatest Thing Richard Dawkins Has Ever Done

The Greatest Thing Richard Dawkins Has Ever Done

Watch this video beginning to end, but be warned: after you finish it, you’ll receive a phone call from a mysterious person telling you that in seven days, Richard Dawkins will crawl out of your television and turn you into an atheist:

EDIT: For those who don’t have the patience or ability to appreciate the video, fellow Skepchick contributor/Queereka editor Will Robertson has provided this pseudo-transcript (SPOILERS!):

- Dawkins: Blah blah design blah blah natural selection blah blah. Blah blah planes are designed, birds are not blah blah. Speciation blah blah.
- Dawkins: Life began with a single bacterium-like ancestor living between 3-4 billion years ago. Really? I’m pretty sure this is speculation.
- Dawkins: Genes are replicators. But not the only kind! THERE ARE ALSO MEMES!
I feel my pulse shoot up. This is about to give me a brain aneurysm.
- Dawkins: Blah blah memes blah blah anything that spreads by imitation is a meme. Blah blah selfish gene selfish meme blah blah.
- Dawkins: Blah blah 1976 blah memes are like viruses, religion is specifically a virus of the mind! Aren’t I smart???
- Dawkins: Memes are the same as genes, but they work differently! (wot?)
- Dawkins: Your memes continue on after you die but your genes may or may not! FAMOUS WHITE GUYS MEMES WORK HARD!
- Dawkins: I’d rather spread memes than genes anyway!
good news for his sex partners! And for us!
- Dawkins: Internet memes have hijacked his original idea! HOW DARE THE INTERNET! They are altered deliberately, and designed.
I see where this is going! Internet memes are like creationism!
- Dawkins: Mutation in the mind……
weird trippy video thing starts
Disembodied Dawkins head floating around on screen on stage like we’re all on acid and this is all a nightmare
A horrible auto-tuned song + music video on the screen is going–it hurts, make it stop.
- Dawkins: Something about hedgehogs.
Horrible song continues.
Only 1 minute and 40 seconds left!
This feels like the scene from LOST where Desmond (I think?) is locked in a room with a video on repeat
Dawkins returns to stage, is either really or pretending to play some fucked up electronic woodwind recorder instrument.
A dolphin was eaten by Nessie in the background
Fade to black, applause applause applause

Avatar of Rebecca Watson
Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org and appears on the weekly Skeptics' Guide to the Universe podcast. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

75 Comments

  1. Avatar of greenstone123

    That was awesome!

  2. Avatar of George Worroll

    Umm… Is this Richard Dawkins or Timothy Leary?

  3. Avatar of vexorian

    “Disembodied Dawkins head floating around on screen on stage like we’re all on acid and this is all a nightmare”

    I must not be the only person that thought the transcript was kidding.

  4. Avatar of Buzz Parsec

    So how exactly does the pernicious Internet affect memes differently from 1850′s newspaper advertisements for quack medicines (something that was mentioned in this month’s Book Club book)?

    • Avatar of Phillip Hallam-Baker

      The fact that memes are obviously Lamarkian was always a problem with Dawkin’s notion of ‘memes’.

      I discuss the problem in my book ‘The dotCrime Manifesto’. Lots of people try to use biological models of evolution as models for computer science. The term ‘computer virus’ comes from that model. But just as creationism is a terrible approach for a biologist, using Dawinian models for security threats is a dreadful error for computer security.

      Development of computer viruses is the product of intelligent design. So strategies like diversity don’t have the same payoff as security controls against computer viruses as against biological. In fact they often have zero or negative payoff. The cost of diversity in biological systems is quite modest because evolution does not care about the individuals who die as a result, only the survivors matter. Telling a customer that their machine is broken because they had the bad luck to have the wrong type of diversity does not impress them.

      So when Dawkins is claiming the Internet debased the idea of memes he is really complaining that reality did not match his theories. It is the approach of an ideologue. The problem with an ideologue is not that their idea is wrong, it is that they only have one idea in their head and they apply it to every single problem.

      Karl Marx was not an ideologue, he had plenty of ideas. But his supporters were so crazy that he once wrote to Engels to say ‘All I know is that I am not a Marxist’. There are many ideas from Marx that survive today, like the concept of ‘capitalism’. But rather few people still believe that every problem of the modern world was solved by a man who died before the telephone, internal combustion engine or powered flight were economic driving forces.

      Biological models turn out to be worse than useless in computer security. But they are hard to kill because the ideas themselves are powerful, it is the misapplication of them that is the problem.

      I got interested in this stuff because of Watson’s takedown of the EP folk in the shopping video. Again the problem is that for some people Darwin is an ideology. There we have a situation where evolution is clearly applicable but the experimental method is wildly inappropriate. I know from my experiences with security usability that experimental results in psychology tend to be very fuzzy indeed. Anyone can get to a 95% statistical confidence interval, that isn’t very hard. What is almost impossible is working out how not to bias your results. For my purposes the bias does not matter a great deal as we are engineers building a system. Like the medieval masons, the only empirical test we care about is if the cathedral falls down.

      Give an ideologue an experimental result and they will process it to find support for their all purpose theory. RW does not need to have as much knowledge or be as smart as Dawkins to defeat his arguments, all she needs is to be a little less ideological.

      Oh and yes, there is an elevatorgate implication. I think that like Lindsay, Dawkins was reacting to a particularly ideological vein of feminism that was popular in the 70s and 80s as the second generation of feminists were staking claims to de Beauvoir’s legacy. The second generation in a philosophical movement is often the weakest. Socialism went through a similar difficulty after the death of Robert Owen. It gets even worse when other people get to choose the leaders of the second generation. Lenin rose to power due to the backing of the German Kaiser who plucked him up and sent him off to Russia on a closed train.

      The new wave is not ideological feminism, it is skeptical feminism.

      I don’t think that RW or Greta or the rest are anything like the ideologues we fought back in the 1990s when we were trying to stop the US government censoring the Internet. Back then there was a holy alliance of the Christian right and people claiming to represent feminism and they wanted to get rid of all the porn on the Internet. Which is why I spend quite a bit of time on the PICS censorship mechanism that W3C was promoting. The original plan was that it was going to be like the movie ratings which I wanted to stop at all costs. Instead I persuaded Tim Berners-Lee that the spec should support any censorship (rating) scale and this would be identified by a URI. This change in the spec had the intended effect, the unholy alliance was only going to hold until the technical apparatus was in place. The factions would struggle for control of the censorship board once it was established. Eliminating the single point of control pitched the groups back at each other’s throats.

      The whole episode was deeply bizarre. The guy running the show tried to keep me out of that loop because techies like myself can’t be expected to understand the subtleties of national politics. Which is rather funny given that I was a delegate to a national party convention at 21 and my cousin was chairman of the UK Conservative party at the time and I had been the person who used his political connections to sell the Web to the Clinton-Gore administration in the first place.

      The Internet did not botch or corrupt the idea of a meme, the original idea was botched.

  5. Avatar of Megan McCauley

    So long and thanks for all the pish, prof.

  6. Avatar of Louis Doench

    That is one bad ass shirt!

  7. Avatar of Megan McCauley

    I wasted eight minutes on that, and now I feel like I’m tripping. “Memes spread through human culture” Got it.
    “Brain to Brain” Okay. Check.
    “Blog to Blog” I can get with that.
    “Species to Species” Ya…no. What?
    Species to species meme transfer?

    • Avatar of rubbsdecvik

      “Species to species meme transfer?”

      Clearly you haven’t been around a bunch of African Grey parrots. I met my in-laws’ birds and my impression of their impression of my in-laws has kind become a joke among us.

    • Avatar of A Viescas

      Defining a meme as something that spreads through imitation implies a lot of species to species meme transfer — mostly animal to human as humans imitate animals, but also human to animal (certain types of training).

  8. Avatar of Garbledina

    What. The fuck. Did I just watch?!? I would ask if his grandson helped him out with that presentation, but he expressed his lack of interest in breeding. It was a rather floundering attempt at “spontaneously” creating a viral video.

  9. Avatar of Rei Malebario

    WTF?!?
    I thought he started out strong, I was thinking “Hey, maybe he’s got cool again – that IS a hell of a shirt!”. But then it just turned bwuh.
    What the hell is that?

  10. Avatar of Jack99

    I enjoyed Will’s takedown much more than the clip itself.
    Clearly we are meant to feel sorry for the highly evolved dolphin. So, the dolphin is meant to represent Dawkins? The pleisiosaur represents the primitive – what? Religion? The Internet? Feminism? The proles who criticise the Great One?

  11. Avatar of Heina Dadabhoy

    So South Park was right: Dawkins is going to start a religion. It’s not going to be one where people fight over names, though. It’s going to be an acid cult.

    • Avatar of delphi_ote

      “Acid trip” is way more credit than this video deserves. It implies something at least a bit subversive and genuine. This is more like a 15 year old’s impression of a psychedelic experience.

      • Avatar of trinity

        Seriously, whoever made that video has never done a psychedelic.

  12. Avatar of Will

    I see where this is going! Internet memes are like creationism!

    Yeah, I was way off.

    That videos go viral is not proof of concept for memetics. Memetics is a bunch of pseudoscientific bullshit.

    • Avatar of Dan

      I get that nobody likes Dawkins, but most of this isn’t really fair criticism. By the way, I think memetics is a useful model for certain kinds of cultural transmission. For example, musical techniques that were previously isolated in England rapidly spread all over Europe following the Council of Constance, to which a number of delegates brought their court musicians. It looks very much like an epidemiological model.

      • Avatar of Megan McCauley

        Yeah, this is unfair. The correct opinion for all right thinking people is to get dewy eyed over an arrogant misogynist playing crap electro pop about meaningless waffle.

        • Avatar of Dan

          Yeah that is totally what I said. Thanks.

          • Avatar of Megan McCauley

            So you weren’t defending this as being quite clever?

          • Avatar of Dan

            Notice how that and what you said before are actually nothing alike? Yes, I thought it was fairly interesting and I thought that the reaction was a knee-jerk poisoned well type of response. Just because people are arrogant douchebags does not mean they don’t occasionally do or say interesting things (see also complete dismissal of memetics, although Will usually has something to back up those kinds of opinions and I suspect he’ll produce it). I would bet that a similarly bizarro video featuring Neil deGrasse Tyson would get a more thoughtful response, that’s all.

      • Avatar of Will

        I beg to differ. Memetics is a bunch of crap. It is roundly dismissed by anthropologists (you know, the people who actually study culture; see this article for an example of why anthropologists find memetics to be nonsense). There is no mechanism for memes to spread as there is for genes. It’s an attempt to extend a Darwininan framework beyond biological evolution, as if Darwinism can be a catch-all explanation for any type of change. There is no way to empirically test the claim that this is how culture changes over time. There’s a reason that the Journal of Memetics went out of print in 2005.

        It’s easy to point to the rapid spread of ideas and say, “Oh, look! It’s like a virus! It’s epidemiological!” It’s not so easy to do the same thing with the more gradual and subtle ways that culture shifts and changes over time. Memetics is a just-so story that has no basis in the reality of how culture evolves.

        I don’t like Dawkins for a number of reasons. But the fact that I don’t like Dawkins doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that memetics is pseudoscience. I don’t like a lot of his ideas separate from the reasons I dislike him. So I would appreciate it if you would please not try to dismiss my critique as being based solely on my dislike for Dawkins.

        • Avatar of Dan

          I actually said that you usually back up your opinions and so I thought it was likely you had other reasons. This turned out to be correct. I’ll read the article. I don’t think that memetics is responsible for all cultural change in the way you mention, but I really don’t see the problem of using it as a framing device for some kinds of transmission.

          • Avatar of Will

            The problem with using it as a framing device is that it doesn’t actually describe how things work, so it obfuscates the reality of culture change. It is a just-so story. Just because it sounds neat and appears to be useful does not mean it is actually describing anything.

          • Avatar of Dan

            So what other term should we use for idea transmission that operates in the way described? While it’s clear from the blog post you cited that some memetics proponents are seriously overreaching, it also appears that the author was being deliberately obtuse with some of the points (as if Communism couldn’t be described as a meme complex that accepts some variation).

          • Avatar of Will

            …Transmission does not operate in the way described by memeticists. That’s what I’m trying to tell you.

            If you are asking me what term should be used for the spread of ideas that you mentioned in your example with music, cultural transmission works just fine. Or cultural diffusion. Or imitation. Or any other number of terms that don’t apply some pseudoscientific claptrap to the process of culture.

            This is all stuff anthropologists have been writing and theorizing about for the better part of a century. There are even older theories in culture theory that look oddly similar to memetics, but they are not considered useful anymore. There are also theories that go the other way with regards to scale–if memes are suborganic, there are people like Leslie White and Alfred Kroeber who proposed that culture is superorganic (something we also don’t really find useful anymore in anthropology). Here’s a couple of articles by Jon Marks that might be helpful: one and two.

          • Avatar of Dan

            That was what I meant, yes. Thanks for the articles. I’ll give them a look when I get the chance.

        • Avatar of Tim

          Memes yes, memetics no. The word meme can be useful without having a fixed and constrained definition, as evidenced by the fact that it is still being used long after it stopped being faddish, years after it first became a topic of conversation, and even more years since it was invented.

          But as Will points out, memetics has been dismissed as a science, and quite some time ago. Since the idea (it isn’t a theory) cannot be used to make predictions, it fails the is-it-a-science test. But the idea of memes seems to be a meme itself. (How meta is that.) I think it is a harmless word (one syllable vs un-it of cul-tur-al trans-mis-sion). It is short, but I don’t think that means it obfuscates anything.

          Anyway, imo the only thing that that makes this vid any kind of meme is how cringe-worthy it is. It makes me cringe because I like RD and what he does, and this makes him look buffoonish – again, imo.

          • Avatar of Dan

            This is sort of what I was getting at, especially since it is already an established part of the cultural discourse. I also don’t really think the people who designed this piece were intending it as a defence of memetics as science, whatever impression the fake lecture might give.

          • Avatar of Will

            The problem is that Dawkins is not using “meme” as a sort of useful word to express the simple idea of cultural transmission. He says they are “the same thing as genes.” This is not simply a useful framing device, it is putting a process underneath cultural transmission and culture change that simply does not exist.

            That a word is still being used does not tell us anything about the underlying truth of the concept behind that word–cf. creationism. Memes as Dawkins et al. use them do not describe anything real–there are no “units of cultural transmission.” That’s not how culture works–it is not broken up into discrete units and transferred from one brain to another without any human agency involved.

            Memes–the “hijacked” version–is something altogether different.

    • Avatar of Dan

      The video also seems to be at least in part a tribute to animutations, which constituted some of the first major internet memes. I thought that was rather clever, personally.

      • Avatar of delphi_ote

        Man, I always loved it when animutations broke out into the weird instrument solos at the end. You pretty much had to put one there. Most people opted for the Theramin, but that would’ve been a bit too on the nose for Dawkins. He knows how memes were waaaaaaay back in the early 2000′s (was there even an Internet back then?!) but Dawkins put his own spin on it.

        These lamos just don’t GET Dawkins like we do, man.

  13. Avatar of TheOmni

    I thought he was playing an Eigenharp at first, but after double checking it appears that it something slightly different. I kind of want to know what it was.

  14. Avatar of delphi_ote

    Would it really have been that hard to use actual memes? Show some awareness of the culture you’re supposedly participating in? Internet memes aren’t just autotuned spoken word and random images with splashes of white text. It’s like someone showed him a few memes, but he doesn’t know anything or care about where they come from or the underlying culture that created them.

    Sorry. I just realized I used the word “awareness” unironically up there in a paragraph about Dawkins. That was an oversight. Won’t happen again.

  15. Avatar of miserlyoldman

    Dateline! Dawkins self-autotune blows up on Newgrounds circa 2001! Meanwhile, people in the year 2013 wonder why their eyes have betrayed them!

  16. Avatar of Steve Caldwell

    I didn’t know that Richard Dawkins could play the holophonor:

    http://theinfosphere.org/Holophonor

  17. Avatar of Dan

    I have put up a somewhat different analysis on School of Doubt. Everyone is welcome to comment there if they like.

    • Avatar of delphi_ote

      Not long enough.

      • Avatar of Dan

        1000 words is super intimidating I know. But I do answer some of the questions you pose.

        • Avatar of delphi_ote

          I don’t remember asking, “What would an overwrought opinion of this video look like?” but thanks for answering all the same.

    • Avatar of Dan

      This link is now broken. Updated here

  18. Avatar of Ken

    Ok ok I get it already, Dawkins proved himself to be a massive jerk, so nothing he has ever done is to be considered useful anymore, everything he ever does going forward shall be mocked regardless of ad hominem fallacies and we must employ willful ignorance to protect us from any of his older works such as the concept of Memes, that were influential before we knew he was a jerk.

    That’s Skepticism…. Right?

    • Avatar of Dan

      Okay nobody is saying that is what is happening, even me.

    • Avatar of Will

      Yep! Thanks for summarizing it for us. Glad to have it so condensed into one little comment for easy reading.

  19. Avatar of Ken

    To be clear… I’m exaggerating and I agree with the assessments of Dawkins’ character.

    But that’s what this article feels like. Like an unnecessary reminder that we’re just supposed to hate Dawkins. Hey look at what the guy we hate did, let’s laugh at him.

    Dan, thanks for bringing context to this topic with your own article.

    • Avatar of Veronica

      This is not about hating. Hating is silly and counter-productive.

      This is about Dawkins becoming one of those people who because they are recognized in their own field lets this get to their head and makes them think they are experts on other subjects too. Like in his case anthropology. In addition he is a tactless baboon when it comes to things like feminism and to an extent religion. I agree with his general ideas about religion though. I just think he’s a horrible promoter of secularism and atheism.

      • Avatar of Will

        Yes. This.

        For example, he recently proclaimed that Napoleon Chagnon is “a Living World Treasure. Arguably our greatest anthropologist.” Odd that most of the anthropological community would fiercely (pun intended) disagree with him. But hey, he’s SIR RICHARD DAWKINS, so he gets to decide who is the best of the best anthropologists for us. Our discipline doesn’t even need to consider it anymore, because SIR RICHARD DAWKINS has proclaimed it. (By the way, it’s no coincidence that Chagnon’s work is heavily influenced by sociobiology and that since much of the anthropological community has dismissed sociobiology and thus many of Chagnon’s claims (which had no empirical basis, see here), Dawkins sees him as some sort of martyr for the cause–yes, the irony apparently escapes Dawkins).

        I mean seriously. He has no freaking clue about anthropology. And yet he makes claims like that?

        So, yes. What Veronica said.

        • Avatar of Ken

          So we shift to thinking that since we hate Dawkins, he can’t have an opinion on anthropology (informed or not), so mock the video which Dan has shown you’ve taken out of context. Ok.

          I’m sure you are aware Will, that it’s not like Anthropology is a science anyways, or at least that’s a common view since the AAA said as much a couple years ago. Meaning an outsider’s opinion should have a weighting just a bit closer to that of the well informed anthropologist story tellers, errr former scientists.

          • Avatar of Will

            So we shift to thinking that since we hate Dawkins, he can’t have an opinion on anthropology (informed or not), so mock the video which Dan has shown you’ve taken out of context. Ok.

            Do try to keep up. I was responding to Veronica’s claim that Dawkins is egotistical and thinks he is an expert in fields that he is not. He can certainly have any opinion he wants to about anthropology, and I can call his opinions stupid and uninformed. I haven’t taken the video out of context at all–do please go look at Dan’s edited piece on School of Doubt. I was mocking the video because I find it ridiculous and I hate memetics. I was not mocking the video because I hate Dawkins. See the difference?

            I’m sure you are aware Will, that it’s not like Anthropology is a science anyways, or at least that’s a common view since the AAA said as much a couple years ago.

            Actually, I am more aware than you are! What happened in reality (and was explained in one of the links in the comment to which you were responding–clearly you didn’t read it) is that it was proposed by a committee that the word “science’ be removed from the long-range plan. That proposal was put up to a vote and it was rejected. If you go look at the actual long range plan that resulted from that kerfuffle as well as the AAA statement on the controversy, it’s pretty clear that the AAA is not anti-science. Sure, not all anthropologists are scientists. Anthropology as a discipline is an interesting mix of sciences and humanities. It is not a monolithic discipline that can easily fit into any one category as the nature of our discipline takes a holistic approach incorporating understandings of biology, environment, culture, language, history, and the material world.

            I suggest you go educate and inform yourself about anthropology from somewhere other than Dawkins or Nicholas Wade of the NYT.

  20. Avatar of miller

    I had initially assumed that this was a video taking one of Dawkins’ recent talks, and subtly lampooning it in an autotuned burst of color. Interesting that it was made with Dawkins’ support? Now I’m not sure if it was really trying to make fun of memes, or if I’m just biased because I think memes are ridiculous to begin with.

    I don’t consider my anti-memetic position to have any source in anti-Dawkins sentiments. Sure, Dawkins coined the term, but mostly as a botched metaphor to illustrate biological evolution. (See this interview http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/egghead/2004/12/the_man_behind_the_meme.2.html). I’m much more annoyed by Dennett and Blackmore, who seem to take it more seriously.

    • Avatar of vexorian

      Since I am not an anthropologist, I need more detail about how Dawkins is wrong in regards to anthropology topics. Because just a mere “he is not an anthropologist” sounds like “shut up and sign”.

      • Avatar of Will

        The one that chaps my ass the most is memetics because it is a pseudoscience that completely ignores over 100 years of anthropological theorizing about culture.

        It’s not “he’s not an anthropologist” so much as “he’s not an anthropologist but makes authoritative statements about anthropological topics anyway.” The example I gave about Chagnon, where he says that Chagnon (who is a problematic figure in anthropology at best, and reviled by many within the discipline, enough that Marshall Sahlins, a preeminent sociocultural anthropologist, resigned from the NAS because Chagnon was admitted in) is the discipline’s greatest practitioner…go read the link to Jon Marks’ blog that I gave, it explains why Chagnon is anything but the greatest anthropologist. You know damn well that people listen when Dawkins speaks, and so the fact that he says something like that will make people un-skeptically believe it. Then because Dawkins posts some uninformed crap about the AAA and science in anthropology, I have to argue with people like Ken in the comments here who think they know something about the discipline because Dawkins said so.

        Or how about that Dawkins (along with others including Wilson, Pinker, and Dennett) tried to pressure a reviewer by saying if he gave a positive review of Darkness in El Dorado (a controversial book about Chagnon) that it would ruin his career so he should either not give a negative review or withdraw from reviewing. This is trying to prop up a figure (Chagnon) in the public that the discipline of anthropology has long ago moved past and dismissed his conclusions.

        Off the top of my head, another thing that Dawkins has done is described contemporary peoples in foraging societies as “primitive” (so have Pinker and Diamond, among others). That is something we absolutely reject in anthropology. They are not frozen in time, ahistorical living fossils for us to examine to understand our past.

        Anyway, I haven’t exactly kept a running list of all the things Dawkins says or does that I find to be anthropologically problematic. There are things I’ve noticed over the years because I’m embedded in anthropology and so I notice them when they happen. I’m sure some googling on the topic would bring up some more examples.

        • Avatar of vexorian

          Thank you. This is exactly what I wanted.

          (I of course meant shut up and “sing”)

        • Avatar of Ken

          Will i said it’s a common view now that anthropology is not a science because of that fiasco, not that the AAA stuck to their dreams of removing science.

          You complain about Dawkins ‘ just so stories, while apparently your field thrives on it.

          Again I say you are a hypocrite for calling Dawkins on this while you pretend to be an expert in the field of abiogenesis.

          And come on, even Dawkins admits that the concept of Memes is a flawed analogy, more of a thought experiment.

          But keep on hating because Dawkins, instead of because of his character flaws.

    • Avatar of vexorian

      Sorry, my comment was directed at another reply, I just got confused by the location of the reply button. Very embarrassing.

  21. Avatar of Dan

    I would like to say that, on balance, I was unfair and read too much into this article. My initial reaction was (ironically) unmeasured and clouded by some presuppositions I had myself. I do still think that the video is more interesting than people are giving it credit for, but I will be updating my own article in the near future to reflect a fairer assessment.

  22. Avatar of delphi_ote

    “Life began with a single bacterium-like ancestor living between 3-4 billion years ago. Really? I’m pretty sure this is speculation.”

    It really depends on what we mean by “life.” Unless you count things like self-catalytic reactions or viruses as “living” none of what he said there is controversial. All evidence points to cellular life starting within those very wide error bars of a half billion years each and all modern life being descended from a common ancestor. It’s only “speculation” in the denialist sense of the word.

    • Avatar of Will

      What evidence exactly? As far as I’ve read or heard, it’s based on probability statistics that looked at common proteins (found this article that summarizes the last I’d heard/read about this). I’m not widely read in abiogenesis or evolutionary biology (I tend to focus more on hominin evolution), though, so if you can point to anything else I’d be grateful. It just seems speculative to me considering we can only make interpretations and inferences. How could we possibly know it was a single organism and that a few or a bunch did not come into existence at the same time and place such that their genetic makeup was pretty much identical or at least that they shared the same proteins that studies such as the one in that article cite?

      • Avatar of Ken

        Right, which you think is a justification for mocking Dawkins when it’s obvious his bacteria – like statement was meant as a broad layperson explanation where time and context excluded a deeper statement. Ok then. Right. It’s not about hating the guy we are supposed to hate.

        Will, using your apparent reasoning, I suspect you are not an expert practicing in the field of a biogenesis. Therefore you should consider your opinion on this topic as worthless as how you view Dawkins’ opinions on anthropology.

        • Avatar of Will

          Wow, it’s like you didn’t even read my comment despite responding to it! Are you trolling??

          • Avatar of Ken

            I am not trolling, I’m pointing out your hypocrisy.

            Surprise, the guy who denies just hating every thing to do with Dawkins because it’s Dawkins, plays ignorant. You can hate him for his character flaws without pretending that “1+1=2″ is wrong if it comes from his mouth.

            You are carrying on as if he should only have presented a fully detailed description of the most plausible abiogenesis hypotheses with a full list of disclaimers… To a lay audience during a work of performance art.

            Give it a rest, we know you hate him and therefore can’t conceive that bacteria – like could just mean anything with a crude cell wall protecting the right chemical reactions.

            It’s like you’re not even trying to think critically, but just hate because Dawkins.

      • Avatar of delphiote

        “It just seems speculative to me considering we can only make interpretations and inferences.” If you’re not an expert in a field, you really should be careful about casting that kind of aspersion. Especially toward a field like evolutionary biology. They’ve made incredible strides in the past few decades. The molecular evidence they’ve amassed in the past couple years alone is mind boggling.

        “How could we possibly know it was a single organism…” It sounds like you’re questioning universal common descent. People are all over the place on most ideas related to abiogenesis, but universal common descent is pretty well established.
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_descent#Evidence_of_universal_common_descent

        “…a few or a bunch did not come into existence at the same time and place such that their genetic makeup was pretty much identical or at least that they shared the same proteins that studies such as the one in that article cite” You’re up on hominin evolution, right? This is basically the same kind of question as “How do we know there weren’t two or more mitochondrial Eves with very similar mtDNA sequences?” Well, sure. Maybe. But all the population genetic evidence points back to a single common mtDNA ancestor for all humans. Applying Occam’s Razor, why assume anything more complex than that? In terms of things biologists care about, like effective population size, there’s not really any difference between 1 and 5. It’s as near to one as our measurements will take us. An argument about a “small population” and “a population of one” is just semantics.

        • Avatar of Will

          f you’re not an expert in a field, you really should be careful about casting that kind of aspersion.

          Sure, which is why I hedged my language. ;) And why I asked for more information when you brought it up.

          They’ve made incredible strides in the past few decades. The molecular evidence they’ve amassed in the past couple years alone is mind boggling.

          Any particular research or sources you would recommend looking for? I really don’t have a lot of time to go searching in great detail, so anything you can point me towards to speed that up would be most appreciated. =)

          People are all over the place on most ideas related to abiogenesis, but universal common descent is pretty well established.

          Yeah, the all-over-the-place is what stuck in my mind. I could have sword I’d read or heard something about multiple organisms as opposed to a single organism but meh I can’t really remember and don’t feel like looking for it right now. Maybe it was on SGU a while back? Who knows.

          This is basically the same kind of question as “How do we know there weren’t two or more mitochondrial Eves with very similar mtDNA sequences?” Well, sure. Maybe. But all the population genetic evidence points back to a single common mtDNA ancestor for all humans.

          I get what you’re saying, but I’m not sure this is a fair analogy for a few reasons. One, mtDNA Eve is not the single source of all human life as the bacterium in Dawkins’ example is. Two, mtDNA Eve refers to different people depending on genetic drift and/or selection. We only have evidence going back so far–there were mtDNA Eves before and there will be others after as lineages die off. Thus, common ancestors for humans change over time as people die off. In other words, mtDNA Eve does not refer to a specific person but is a definition that certain women fit at different times depending upon a host of factors (including the collection of more data). This would not be true for a single-organism that began all life. Third, mtDNA Eve is not an ancestor for all humans, but for all living humans. There were other humans living during the same time as and before mtDNA Eve (and were thus not her descendent). mtDNA Eve only indicates an unbroken mitochondrial lineage, not a general common ancestry of humans. In fact, evidence I am familiar with says that last common ancestor for living humans is extremely recent–as recent as 5,000 years ago.

          In terms of things biologists care about, like effective population size, there’s not really any difference between 1 and 5. It’s as near to one as our measurements will take us. An argument about a “small population” and “a population of one” is just semantics.

          That’s not terribly convincing.

          • Avatar of delphiote

            “Yeah, the all-over-the-place is what stuck in my mind. I could have sword I’d read or heard something about multiple organisms as opposed to a single organism but meh I can’t really remember and don’t feel like looking for it right now.”
            The big challenge was the idea of horizontal gene transfer from people like Woese. That idea seems to be pretty well shot down, though. The remaining open possibility is multiple independent origins with a single last common ancestor. I think that’s the story you’re remembering. Here’s a quote from the Nature article that puts it pretty clearly:

            “Does this mean that life arose just once, more than 3.5 billion years ago? Not necessarily — logically, it is possible that life arose more than once, but that only one of these original life forms has descendants that survive today. It is also possible that there could have been more than one origin of life that has extant surviving descendants. The claim is simply that all known life has at least one common ancestor, a last universal common ancestor (LUCA). Such a LUCA may also not have been the first organism on Earth. These subtleties concerning origins have recently been discussed by the philosopher Elliot Sober.”
            http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v465/n7295/full/465168a.html

            Again, I think it boils down to semantics. What do you mean by “life” and “organism” and “begin”? I don’t think it’s worth arguing about, but I think what Dawkins said is basically a clear articulation of what a lay audience would understand the scientific consensus, not just rampant speculation. That’s the cost of popularizing science. You have to round off some of the ambiguities.

            “That’s not terribly convincing.”
            That’s how measurement works, though. Is your office a mile away, or 1.2 miles away? All life seems to share at least one common ancestor, possibly more, and seems to have come from the same population. The simplest way to talk about that is our sharing a common ancestor.

  23. Avatar of trinity

    I really wish that Dawkins would stick to biology. He knows fuck all about sociology or anthropology.

    • Avatar of dxman

      Well yes, Dawkins does best in biology, but I’m not so sure your sentiment is that constructive. I mean if he’d stuck to biology, there’d be no God Delusion, and whatever the scholarly merits of that book, it *has* had an impact on the out-atheist movement and awareness.

      I treat Dawkins’ work on a case-by-case basis. He’s doen lots of good work, accurate and needed, but at the same time there’s lots of his stuff I don’t care much for.

      • Avatar of Will

        I treat Dawkins’ work on a case-by-case basis. He’s doen lots of good work, accurate and needed, but at the same time there’s lots of his stuff I don’t care much for.

        Yes. This exactly. =)

    • Avatar of Numenaster

      Indeed. At TAM 2011 Dawkins spoke a bit about how children conceive of and process phenomena, and it sounded like a “just-so” story to me. Moments later I caught up with Bruce Hood in the hallway and asked him about it. Mind you, Bruce actually does research on child psychology, so he knoweth whereof he speaks. He confirmed that Dawkins got it wrong, pretty much diametrically.

  24. Avatar of kitty

    Great post. I believe the character you were thinking of is Carl, not Desmond. Although feel free to keep picturing Desmond.
    ~Liz

Add Comment Register



Leave a Reply