Book Review: Science and Human Origins – Chapter One: Part One

This little book is one of a class that was more common twenty years ago, when any acute literary critic thought he could demolish Darwin. Mr. Syme has, however, the advantage of having read some of the best works both for and against Darwinism, and is thus able to support his views by quoting writers of eminence. He begins boldly. In the table of contents of the first chapter we find such headings as, “A fatal admission—Darwin’s definition misleading—Refutes his own theory.” But when we look for the proof of these statements we find they rest on misconception, misrepresentation, or misquotation. A few examples will show that this is the case. – Alfred Russel Wallace 1891. Another darwinian critic. Nature 43 (1119): 529-530.

The above quote from Alfred Russel Wallace comes from his review of On the Modification of Organisms by David Syme. As the quote shows, criticizing Darwin as been a cottage industry since on the Origin of Species was published in 1859. As the above quote also shows, the reliance on misconception, misrepresentation, and misquotation has been a standard tactic in the arsenal of creationists for over one hundred years. As we will see below (and in future posts), the latest entry, Science and Human Origins, in the cottage industry continues this illustrious tradition.

Science and Human Origins was written by Ann Gauger, Douglas Axe, and Casey Luskin. Science and Human Origins was published by the Discovery Institute earlier this year and created quite ruckus in the science blogosphere when it did. You can see this post (and the links therein) for additional details. Originally I was just going to review the section on fossils but have decided to review the entire book – or at least those parts I feel competent to deal with. This post looks at chapter one. Continue reading

Book Review: Carnivores Of The World

I have been meaning to review this book for quite some time now. Carnivores Of The World is a field guide that covers all 245 species of terrestrial carnivores (the Pinnipedia are not covered). It is publish by Princeton University Press as part of their field guide series. The book is written by Luke Hunter (president of Panthera – an organization devoted to the conservation of the world’s wild cats). The carnivora are the fifth largest mamalian order and contain, as mentioned above, 245 species. The book divides these up into thirteen families (Felidae, Hyaenidae, Herpestidae, Eupleridae, Prionodontidae, Viveridae, Nandiniidae, Canidae, Ursidae, Procyonidae, Ailuridae, Mephitidae, and Mustelidae). Each of these families is discussed as a whole in the introduction with the key features of each being identified. In the chapters following the the introduction, the individual species are discussed. For each species the following information is provided; common name(s),scientific name, length and weight, pelt color and variation, subspecies (if any), distribution and habitat, feeding ecology, social and spatial behavior, reproduction and demography, and status and threats. Continue reading

Mini Book Review: Daniel Lieberman The Evolution of the Human Head

I just bought a copy of Daniel Lieberman’s The Evolution of the Human Head the other day. I’m only on chapter three (hence a mini review), which gives an overview of the embryological development of the head. However, based on what I have read so far I would highly recommend it. The central premise is that hominins vary very little postcranialy – arguable, but somewhat correct – but vary quite a bit cranially. The book sets out to explore why this is the case and so far has been a fascinating read. I’ll do a full review when I have finished the book.

That Makes Me Like Him More!

Via Abnormal Interests comes news that Mark Twain’s autobiography is finally being published in full. I’m stoked, nay, I am chuffed about it. From the Independent:

“He had doubts about God, and in the autobiography, he questions the imperial mission of the US in Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. He’s also critical of [Theodore] Roosevelt, and takes the view that patriotism was the last refuge of the scoundrel. Twain also disliked sending Christian missionaries to Africa. He said they had enough business to be getting on with at home: with lynching going on in the South, he thought they should try to convert the heathens down there.”

Book Review: Vampire Forensics: Uncovering the Origins of an Enduring Legend

Then, when we had got down to the sea shore we drew our ship into the water and got her mast and sails into her; we also put the sheep on board and took our places, weeping and in great distress of mind. Circe, that great and cunning goddess, sent us a fair wind that blew dead aft and stayed steadily with us keeping our sails all the time well filled; so we did whatever wanted doing to the ship’s gear and let her go as the wind and helmsman headed her. All day long her sails were full as she held her course over the sea, but when the sun went down and darkness was over all the earth, we got into the deep waters of the river Oceanus, where lie the land and city of the Cimmerians who live enshrouded in mist and darkness which the rays of the sun never pierce neither at his rising nor as he goes down again out of the heavens, but the poor wretches live in one long melancholy night. When we got there we beached the ship, took the sheep out of her, and went along by the waters of Oceanus till we came to the place of which Circe had told us.

“Here Perimedes and Eurylochus held the victims, while I drew my sword and dug the trench a cubit each way. I made a drink-offering to all the dead, first with honey and milk, then with wine, and thirdly with water, and I sprinkled white barley meal over the whole, praying earnestly to the poor feckless ghosts, and promising them that when I got back to Ithaca I would sacrifice a barren heifer for them, the best I had, and would load the pyre with good things. I also particularly promised that Teiresias should have a black sheep to himself, the best in all my flocks. When I had prayed sufficiently to the dead, I cut the throats of the two sheep and let the blood run into the trench, whereon the ghosts came trooping up from Erebus- brides, young bachelors, old men worn out with toil, maids who had been crossed in love, and brave men who had been killed in battle, with their armour still smirched with blood; they came from every quarter and flitted round the trench with a strange kind of screaming sound that made me turn pale with fear. When I saw them coming I told the men to be quick and flay the carcasses of the two dead sheep and make burnt offerings of them, and at the same time to repeat prayers to Hades and to Proserpine; but I sat where I was with my sword drawn and would not let the poor feckless ghosts come near the blood till Teiresias should have answered my questions.

The Odyssey Book XI

As the above quote shows, the idea of the dead returning and drinking blood extends back in time quite far. Where does the idea of vampirism come from? Is there one legend that can be pointed to, or is the vampire the result of the mixing of a wide variety of myths and legends? Following on that, is the vampire a uniquely European phenomena? Or can we find that legends about the vampire, like humans, have spread throughout the world? Continue reading

More Books Have Arrived

As I mentioned the other day I ordered some books for Christmas. The remaining five have arrived. These are On the Origin of Phyla by Valentine, The Counter-Creationism Handbook by Isaak, Tarsiers: Past, Present, And Future edited by Wright, Simons, and Gursky, Shaping Primate Evolution: Form, Function, And Behavior Edited by Anapol, German, and Jablonski, and The Hunt For The Dawn Monkey: Unearthing The Origins Of Monkeys, Apes, And Humans by Chris Beard.

Reviews, time permitting, to follow.

Merry Christmas To Me

For Christmas I got to order some books off of Amazon (or in ID speak the ‘Zon). Two have arrived. the first is Tarsiers: Past, Present, and Future edited by Wright, Simons, and Gursky. The second is Patterns of Injury and Illness in Great Apes: A Skeletal Analysis by Lovell. I’ll probably review them, time permitting.

Book Review: Darwin In Galapagos Footsteps To A New World

I was somewhat surprised to receive a copy of Darwin in Galapagos: Footsteps to a New World. Since I moved here from ScienceBlogs I haven’t really requested any review copies of books. Mainly because my audience has shrunk dramatically. Darwin in Galapagos: Footsteps to a New World is an interesting book, published this year, that focuses on Darwin’s time in the Galapagos. Written by K. Thalia Grant (daughter of Rosemary and Peter Grant) and Gregory B. Estes, the book attempts to trace Darwin’s path through the Galapagos. Continue reading

Mark Twain and Joan of Arc

Awhile back I did a favor for a friend and to my shock they bought me a gift card to Barnes and Noble. I finally got around to going a few days before Christmas and after spending about two wandering around the store I finally bought Mark Twain’s Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc – one of a few works by Twain that I had not read. I was surprised at how restrained and stylish the book is. Clearly the twelves years Twain claims to have spent researching the book and the three years spent writing allowed Twain to write in a style he normally didn’t use – not that Twain was a bad writer or lacked a polished style. The humor one associates with Twain are confined to narrow sections that concerns the “Paladin” and one brief section concerning Joan’s uncle and his experience with a funeral. What I privately refer to as Twainisms (I’ll explain what these are in a future post) are also noticeably absent.

The introduction to the version I have says Twain’s voice is that of the translator and goes on to say that the reader will only appreciate and understand the work if one separates Twain’s voice from that of Sieur Louis de Conte – the alleged writer of the manuscript. I think this is complete nonsense. I started out trying this and the story just was not working. Once I forgot about the introduction and approached the book on its own terms the story was much better. But then I’m not a critic so I could be wrong. At any rate, I’m glad I’ve read it, it is one of Twain’s finer pieces. What do you think?

Happy Birthday Mark Twain

Sometimes I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on or by imbeciles who really mean it. – Mark Twain

When I was younger, I could remember anything, whether it happened or not.
– Mark Twain

Yup, today is Mark Twain’s 174th birthday (if I have done my math right) Twain was born on 11/30/1835

Most people are bothered by those passages of Scripture they do not understand, but the passages that bother me are those I do understand.
– Mark Twain

Update: As Duane points out it is actually Samuel Langhorne Clemens’ birthday. Being an ardent fan, I am of course, embarrassed at my faux pas. Continue reading

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