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Will 2012 Be the Year of the Atheist?
Posted: 10 January 2012 07:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
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Diane Jonas Locker - 02 January 2012 05:15 AM

As a newcomer to these circles, it seems that there are two important things that atheists need to keep in mind:
(1) not all religious people are anti-atheists (a very small minority, granted, but potentially vitally important as allies in the struggle for separation of church and state and freedom of thought);
(2) getting the word out and getting people connected is both vital to the ability to make a difference, and easier said than done.

May 2012 be, indeed, the Year of the Atheist—and may all agnostic and “questioning” seekers of human good and a better world with a future worth living join the cause.  (Amen—“so be it”—old habit, but one I’m considering retaining… )

The same goes for atheists.  Not all are anti-theist.  I could care less what one believes, as long as they do not bring it to me and impose it on me.  The moment they do that, then I’m going to be breaking it down, at least in my head, as to why it is so asinine.

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Posted: 11 January 2012 04:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
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LOL—whew! I was beginning to wonder why skeptics/philosophers were debating the scientific nuances of evolutionary theory—like when “the evolutionary paths of “modern enlightened man” split off from a “common” human ancestor…”  I can’t help but mention some recent research which seems to continue to indicate that humans interbred for some period of time with our extinct hominid cousins the Neanderthals and the Denisovans—here’s one article I read not long ago (it’s from October, but I’m behind on my reading): http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/333652/title/Beneficial_liaisons 

I also happen to think that the “natural causes” which eliminated Neanderthals were human aggression. So, if human cultural ritual proclivities are associated with elevated aggression, which initially had some survival advantage, could skepticism be a remnant of our Neanderthal heritage, which might gradually be recognized for its survival benefit since aggression is now more likely to eliminate all human life than extend it? (The religious right would, I suspect, like to label all skepticism as “Neanderthal,” except they can’t because they don’t believe in evolution—or, heaven forfend, interbreeding.)

Here’s to 2012 as the turning point in survival of the human species—Atheism/Skepticism as the key to peaceful and sustainable population of the planet!

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Posted: 11 January 2012 05:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
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Thanks Diane, for that interesting link. This might explain a lot about the presence of DNA from the various branches which had split off, but met again at a later date, in a different place.

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Posted: 11 January 2012 06:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
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I try to follow the latest research on the Neandertals very closely, and I think it may be a bit premature at this point to say what role some of the DNA from the archaic humans may play. I imagine we’ll be bombarded with all kinds of “breaking news” from the journalists as this research progresses, but I would advice anyone to take all these “aha!” with a grain of salt until the evidence is a little more conclusive.

In anything, from what I can see, the more we know the less we know—at least for now. The whole thing is getting a lot more complicated than most anthropologists could imagine only a few years back.

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Posted: 11 January 2012 06:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]
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Also, for those of you who are interested in this topic (especially the Out-of-Africa enthusiasts), check out Chris Stringer’s new book coming out in March, Lone Survivors: How We Came to Be the Only Humans on Earth.

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Posted: 11 January 2012 08:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]
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And one more thing: I already commented on this elsewhere, but if you get your genome sequenced through 23andMe, you can find out how much of Neandertal DNA you have (for me it’s 2.8%). It’s only the beginning, but soon they should be able to tell us which parts of the genome those are, and in some cases we may even find out what what difference it makes.

The more people participate, the more accurate and sooner the results. Do it! Get your DNA sequenced!

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Posted: 11 January 2012 08:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]
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And one more post (I promise it’s the last one), this time regarding religion: Jonathan Haidt is coming out with a new book in March, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion.

Here is the book’s description from Amazon:

“A groundbreaking investigation into the origins of morality, which turns out to be the basis for religion and politics. The book is timely (explaining the American culture wars and refuting the ‘New Atheists’), scholarly (integrating insights from many fields) and great fun to read (like Haidt’s last book, ‘The Happiness Hypothesis’).”

Could be interesting.

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Posted: 11 January 2012 09:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]
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George - 11 January 2012 08:26 AM

And one more thing: I already commented on this elsewhere, but if you get your genome sequenced through 23andMe, you can find out how much of Neandertal DNA you have (for me it’s 2.8%). It’s only the beginning, but soon they should be able to tell us which parts of the genome those are, and in some cases we may even find out what what difference it makes.

The more people participate, the more accurate and sooner the results. Do it! Get your DNA sequenced!

I forgot you were on 23andMe too. It would be hilarious if we were actually distant relatives, I have some from your (European) neck of the woods.  LOL

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Posted: 11 January 2012 10:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]
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How much Neandertal DNA do you have, Asanta?

BTW, I am sure we are distant relatives. wink  If you want to know how close, let me know and we can share our genetic data.

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Posted: 11 January 2012 12:23 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]
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I’ve been wondering about something—Neanderthals were a separate species, H. Neanderthalensis—right? So how could they have interbred with H. Sapiens? Or have they been reclassified as a subspecies of sapiens? I was taught the former in school, way back in the day.

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Posted: 11 January 2012 01:10 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 26 ]
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Yes, by a definition, two separate species should not be able to produce a fertile offspring. They will either have to redefine the term “species,” or include Homo sapiens, Neandertals, Denisovans (and Zeus knows whom else, as there had been a number of ancient humans in Africa, for example, who added their genetic share to the African peoples) in one species. FWIW, I would say they are all one species. Some anthropologist are even willing to go as far as including H. erectus in that same species. Again, my hint is they could be right (I wish they were, it would explain a lot), but it is too soon to tell.

[ Edited: 11 January 2012 01:13 PM by George ]
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Posted: 11 January 2012 01:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 27 ]
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FreeInKy - 11 January 2012 12:23 PM

I’ve been wondering about something—Neanderthals were a separate species, H. Neanderthalensis—right? So how could they have interbred with H. Sapiens? Or have they been reclassified as a subspecies of sapiens? I was taught the former in school, way back in the day.

This is known in biology and philosophy of biology as “the species problem”. There is no good, clean definition of a species in biology; being a species (like being any sort of everyday object) is a vague matter, and there are very real boundary issues. Quoting from Wiki:

It is also true that there are many cases where members of different species will hybridize and produce fertile offspring when they are under confined conditions, such as in zoos. One fairly extreme example is that lions and tigers will hybridize in captivity, and at least some of the offspring have been reported to be fertile. Mayr’s response to cases like these is that the reproductive barriers that are important for species are the ones that occur in the wild. But even so it is also the case that there are many cases of different species that are known to hybridize and produce fertile offspring in nature.

So the fact that humans and Neanderthal could interbreed doesn’t necessarily demonstrate that they weren’t different biological species. I think this is well into that vague area of sort-of-yes, sort-of-no.

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Posted: 11 January 2012 01:54 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 28 ]
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Well, species mating in zoos are not really a reflection of what happens in the wild. Among biologists (not sure how relevant philosophy of biology here is) it is understood that hybrids not only need to be able to have an offspring but that they actually do have an offspring in the wild. That said, it does happen, but the frequency of that happening is so rare, it’s not even worth mentioning.

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Posted: 11 January 2012 02:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 29 ]
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I should add, that the amount of the Neandertal DNA found in today’s population is too significant to be a result of some rare and insignificant occasion. AFAIK, most experts now seem to agree that Homo sapiens and Neandertals were not different species. At least not biologically. Chris Stringer—of all the people (!)—will say that Homo sapiens and Neandertals were biologically the same species but not behaviorally (whatever that means).

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Posted: 11 January 2012 03:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 30 ]
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George - 11 January 2012 02:05 PM

I should add, that the amount of the Neandertal DNA found in today’s population is too significant to be a result of some rare and insignificant occasion. AFAIK, most experts now seem to agree that Homo sapiens and Neandertals were not different species. At least not biologically. Chris Stringer—of all the people (!)—will say that Homo sapiens and Neandertals were biologically the same species but not behaviorally (whatever that means).

I agree,  as long as the species or sub-species are biologically closely related there should be no inherent problem with cross mating. IMO, all hominids share a significant amount of DNA and as long as the process of recombination is the same, there should theoretically be no prohibition of crossbreeding. The Mule is such an example of crossbreeding, though they are sterile and are not able to establish a seperate branch on the evolutionary tree.
We can find examples almost everywhere, including in humans. The reason it does not happen all the time is the preference of “sameness” in selecting a mate.

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