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Episode 43: Dr. Eric Meikle – Anti-evolutionism and Human Uniqueness

16 Feb

Continuing in their quest to talk about evolution, Erik and Gabe chat with Dr. Eric Meikle about the Nye-Ham debate, anti-evolutionism in the education system, and what makes humans unique in the animal kingdom. T’was a total blast, so listen up!

Dr. Eric Meikle is a physical anthropologist and the Education Project Director for the National Center for Science Education (NCSE). He has done a lot of awesome work in the origins of humans, and countering groups who want to bring anti-evolution material into science classrooms in the public schools.

Listen to this episode

The show:

  • The recent debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham
  • Countering anti-evolutionism in the public education system
  • What (if anything) makes humans unique compared to other animals?

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7 Comments

Posted by on February 16, 2014 in Guest, New Episode, Science

 

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7 responses to “Episode 43: Dr. Eric Meikle – Anti-evolutionism and Human Uniqueness

  1. Kevin Dawkins

    February 21, 2014 at 4:27 pm

    No discussion of memes as something that makes humans unique? I mean, sure, memes seem to require language, and you talked about that, but other animals with relatively sophisticated non-linguistic communication still have some rudimentary cultural transmission. For example, a lot of ethologists consider different groups of chimpanzees to have different cultures, or at least something like proto-cultures. For a more specific example, tool-use ideas among chimps are passed between individuals by observation, possibly even genuine teaching. Could you call “termite-stick” a meme, and “rock-slammed-against-hard-surface-to-crack-nut” another meme? If not, maybe proto-memes? Is this one of those questions of being on the extreme end of a continuum, or is there something qualitatively different about our memes/culture from what chimps have?

    Also, I like how the tags include “Bill Nye” but not “Ken Ham”…just “ham”. Not even with a capital H. Apparently this episode is not kosher.

     
    • Totally a different Kevin, not the same one from above.

      February 21, 2014 at 4:28 pm

      Yeah, Kevin Dawkins is right! He’s really smart!

       
      • nontheology

        February 24, 2014 at 2:27 am

        Kevin Dawkins is a jerk.

         
    • nontheology

      February 24, 2014 at 2:48 am

      Yeah, that’s an interesting question about what is and isn’t a meme. I’m inclined to say that if someone regards chimps as having minds, then these would count as memes, insofar as they’re being passed along from one mind to another, and changing under selective pressure, etc… I’m sure it is something on the end of a continuum, at least because humans have created formalized institutions for developing, modifying, and passing along memes to others.

      You also raise another interesting idea that hadn’t occurred to me, which is the evolution of our ability process and propagate memes. I suspect there is pretty strong selective pressure in favor of that kind of capacity once you have minds around competing for resources and the like.

      p.s. You’re clearly referencing stuff you learned from Robert Sapolsky, whom you learned about from me, which pretty much means I wrote the above comment.

       
      • Dan from episodes 30 and 38 (AKA Kevin Dawkins above)

        February 25, 2014 at 8:44 pm

        The entire idea of memes (“the meme meme”…think about it) comes from Richard (not Kevin) Dawkins’ first book, The Selfish Gene. The idea of the human brain evolving into a meme-vehicle and its implications are presented in his second book, The Extended Phenotype. I’ve recommended both of these books to you on numerous occasions. Of all the smarty-pants books I’ve read, which are a lot of books, I would recommend these two books above all others.

        P.S. I posted as Kevin Dawkins above because I think I’m hilarious…but then I decided I wanted credit for the awesome things I say.

         
  2. Arthhur

    February 23, 2014 at 12:03 am

    About the comment above from Dawkins, yeah, I was thinking they were going to talk about memes too. Could have had a lot of other things come up too, like hygiene, theory of mind, charity… Don’t humans have some part of the brain that is unique to us as well?

    Also, I have to say I was pleased with how moderate the guest was in terms of religion. He was going out of his way to avoid disparaging belief in God in general, and was specifically criticizing the kind of corrosive fundamentalism espoused by Ken Ham. I am a Christian, but have no quarrels with evolution (even as it applies to humans!), the age of the universe, or anything else that we have learned from science. Glad to hear the perspective from someone like that, since I think it’s kind of uncommon among atheists.

     
    • nontheology

      February 24, 2014 at 2:38 am

      Hey there Christian listener! I knew we had to have a few somewhere. Welcome!

      Yeah, there were a lot of things we could have talked about that people think are unique to humans. We could devote several episodes to that topic, and not come close to covering everything. Anyway, no, as far as I’m aware there isn’t any part that’s unique to the human brain. We have all the same brain parts as found in monkeys, just more of them.

      I too appreciated that he didn’t seem to have any bone to pick with theists in general. A lot of times, people tend to lump all atheists in with Christopher Hitches, believing that religion poisons everything, but it’s good to remember that this is not always the case. There is a broad spectrum of opinions in the atheist community. That being said, I don’t know anything about what Dr. Meikle believes (or disbelieves) about the existence of gods.

       

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