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It wasn't until I got to ch 11 that I realised Neil had written a book about evolution without ever using the word "evolution" or if he did I missed it. I wonder why he did that?
Ayway the book was great, I wish it had been around 20 yrs ago when I was struggling through undergraduate anatomy. It's an interesting subject but Neil actually made it fun, especially the Bozos!
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Re: Ch. 11: The Meaning of It All
I generally liked the book and found it very interesting. It is well written and contains details about fossil hunting which one does not easily find. I found the following passage deeply troubling on moral grounds:
"Imagine trying to jerry-rig a Volkswagen Beetle to travel at speeds of 150 miles per hour. In 1933 Adolf Hitler commissioned Dr. Ferdinand Porsche to develop a cheap car that could get 40 miles per gallon of gas and provide a reliable form of transportation for the average German family. The result was the VW Beetle. This history, Hitler's plan, places constraints on the ways we can modify the Beetle today; the engineering can be tweaked only so far before major problems arise and the car reaches its limit.
"In many ways, we humans are the fish equivalent of a hot-rod Beetle. Take the body plan of a fish, dress it up to be a mammal, then tweak and twist that mammal until it walks on two legs, talks, thinks, and has superfine control of its fingers--and you have a recipe for problems. We can dress up a fish only so much without paying a price. In a perfectly designed world--one with no history--we would not have to suffer everything from hemorrhoids to cancer.
"Nowhere is this history more visible than in the detours, twists, and turns of our arteries, nerves, and veins. Follow some nerves and you'll find that they make strange loops around other organs, apparently going in one direction only to twist and end up in an unexpected place. The detours are fascinating products of our past that, as we'll see, often create problems--hiccups and hernias, for example. And this is only one way our past comes back to plague us.
"Our deep history was spent, at different times, in ancient oceans, small streams, and Savannah, not office buildings, ski slopes, and tennis courts. We were not designed to live past the age of 80, sit on our keisters for ten hours a day, and eat Hostess Twinkies, nor were we designed to play football. This disconnect between our past and our human present means that our bodies fall apart in certain predictable ways.
"Virtually every illness we suffer has some historical component. The examples that follow reflect how different branches of the tree of life inside us--from ancient humans, to amphibians and fish, and finally to microbes--come back to pester us today. Each of these examples show that we were not designed rationally but are products of a convoluted history."
The author has apparently indicated that he was not intending to make an analogy with the very dark implication that Hitler is to Porsche is to VW Bug is to Hot Rod VW Bug as the Creator (or Designer) is to nature is to primordial fish is to human beings; however, the analogy comes in an argument against design which is clearly an argument against belief in a Designer and by implication ID and Creationism. There is also nothing in the text that mitigates the use of the analogy, that is, Shubin expresses no regret in the text that Hitler, perhaps the most infamous person in history, is the designer and first cause of particular technological example which he uses as an analogy for primordial life or the primordial fish. There is in the text not so much as an "alas." For good measure I will add that the analogy comes in a chapter with the title: "The Meaning of It All" which clearly suggests that the author is pointing to or thinking of higher things in this particular chapter. I do not think the analogy is an accident and I deem it a very dark and nasty joke on the author's part. I was so troubled by the passage that I almost did not finish reading the book.
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