Your Inner Jesus Fish

Your Inner Fish

I guess at some point I’m going to have to read Neil Shubin’s book, Your Inner Fish. People in the blogosphere keep pulling out interesting tidbits.

Life started in the oceans, so there is much within us that harkens back to our youth in the high seas. The Panda’s Thumb points us to an article that you can find in the University of Chicago Magazine or over at RichardDawkins.net. The article is excerpted from Shubin’s book. Here is one choice excerpt:

In many ways, we humans are the fish equivalent of a hot-rod [VW] 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.

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.

He then gives several fascinating examples of how problems such as heart disease, obesity, sleep apnea, hernias, and hiccups are the direct result of our prior evolutionary incarnations as fish, amphibians, and early mammals. He also repeatedly shows how none of this exhibits intelligent design.

Yet more overwhelming evidence for evolution. Yet more overwhelming evidence against creationism. You’d have to be extremely ignorant or extremely stupid to be a creationist these days.

Reality bites

9 Responses to “Your Inner Jesus Fish”

  1. Arkonbey Says:

    You’d have to be extremely ignorant or extremely stupid to be a creationist these days.

    I totally agree with this. However, nothing makes someone man the intellectual barricades faster than being called ‘ignorant’. If we are to show them the light of science, we must tread carefully. Show them the path that is obviously correct, don’t tell them that their path is stupid. If we do our jobs right, they’ll see that on their own.

  2. blue collar scientist Says:

    I read Your Inner Fish on an airplane between Portland, Oregon and Anchorage, AK, about a 3.5 hour flight. I read a bit faster than the average person, maybe, but this is by no means a difficult read. It is highly engaging and entertaining writing, as well as being incredibly rich with information and very understandable. I’m recommending it to everyone at this point.

  3. Ron Britton Says:

    BCS:

    Yours is just one more of the flood of recommendations I’ve seen for this book. Especially compelling is this quote from your review:

    It is the best science book I’ve read in some years

    Now I have to get it.

  4. Ron Britton Says:

    Arkonbey:

    Ignorance is a curable condition. You are right that people get defensive when that word is hurled their way. I guess I’m allowing them to save face by accepting that word instead of the alternative (stupid).

    If you look at the creationists who come by here and leave comments, they are — every single one of them — incurably ignorant. That puts them into the stupid category. I try to educate them, but they reject all attempts.

    The curably ignorant are the kids in the public schools. They are reachable, which is why we have to protect science education from the stupid. There’s also a chance we can reach the merely misinformed adults. Hopefully, the collective information available on the internet, in popular science books, and on the better TV documentaries can reach them.

    Many of the articles here attempt to reach the merely ignorant. Hopefully they’ll read those articles and then go on their way. If they stick around and see me intellectually slaughter the brain trust at the Discovery Institute, well, that’s unfortunate for them. You should never see how hot dogs are made.

  5. Brian Says:

    I become more convinced every day that the only way to respond to the “incurably ignorant”, as Ron described them, is by using unrestrained scorn and ridicule. Such people are far beyond the reach of rational arguments and instead inhabit a world ruled by the emotions of fear, hatred and arrogance. If their emotions are all they are listening to, then I want to make sure I get their attention. I don’t have the slightest hesitation anymore to belittle such beliefs just because they fall under the category of religion and are somehow supposedly immune to criticism. I frankly do not expect to convert any of these dunderheads to my way of thinking, but if anyone else is reading the exchange and is somewhat “curable”, perhaps my tirade might make a positive difference.

    As for direct appeals to more salvagable intellects, there are indeed times when we simply have to let science speak for itself, and hope that an innate sense of reason is present and able to assert itself on that person’s behalf. One can generally tell if the subject in question is too far gone if their grammar is atrocious, their spelling horrendous, their Caps Lock on, and their arguments poor. In such an intellectual triage, all we can do is make them more uncomfortable and try not to ease their suffering. But for someone who seems genuinely confused, or not too far gone, a different approach is needed, a “good cop”, if you will, to try to encourage the growth of reason. Such opportunities seem rare, I know, but if we are fortunate they will become more common.

  6. RayCeeYa Says:

    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.

    My favorite example is the inability of primates including humans to produce vitamin C. The vast majority of plants and animals can produce their own vitamin C but humans and primates and a few other species can’t. Not only that but humans and primates all have the same non functional gene that uses to produce Vitamin C.

    If that isn’t evidence of a common ancestry then I’m a goat.

  7. Sue Blue Says:

    Now, y’all know it sez in the Bible that all that stuff, the flaws n stuff like our apendix and tails and that vitaman C thing – all thats cuz of Satan! GOD mad us all perfict in THE GARDEN OF EDEN, then Satan had to go and messed us up. He made us think our branes could be smarter then GODs and thats how we mad up sience and evilution n flaws …

    Seriously, this is the reasoning (almost verbatim) that I recently heard from a fundie on this subject. You’ve heard of the “god diddit” explanation…when that won’t fly they resort to the “Satan diddit” explanation.

  8. Parrotlover77 Says:

    It’s a pretty lousy argument when their all powerful god is usurped by a silly little demon with a god complex.

  9. Timothy E. Kennelly Says:

    I generally liked the book and found it very interesting, however, 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 savannahs, 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.

    One reader of the text, not me, has suggested there is a plausible attack on those who believe in a Designer or Creator as it would seem that they are as blind as Hitler’s followers. I take this suggestion very seriously.

    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, the most infamous person in history, is the designer and first cause of the particular technological example which he chose as an analogy for primordial life or the primordial fish. There is in the text not so much as an “alas.”

    For good maesure 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.

    Timothy E. Kennelly